HONOKOWAI - Honokowai Valley was once a thriving ancient Hawaiian ahupua'a system with around 600 self-sufficient families living in harmony with the land. With the arrival of the sugar plantations in the 1800s, the natives were driven out of the valley when their water was diverted for the sugar cane fields. By the time of the valley's rediscovery, invasive species covered everything, and almost no native plants remained.
The valley's rediscovery was mainly due to Edwin Lindsey Jr. and his efforts. Also known as "Uncle Ed," he was already a prominent figure in the local and island community when, in 1999, he acquired the use of the lands in Honokowai Valley. The deal was made in association with Ka'anapali Land Management and stated that he had use of the valley for preservation purposes.
"We are not trying to own it, but we want the rights to be in it and work towards cultural easement," said Ed Lindsey's wife, Puanani, of gaining access to the land in the valley.
The project soon became known as Malama Honokowai, with its main purpose lying in restoring the valley to its former splendor and uncovering the three buried miles of archeological sites.
Ed soon found out that his plan would be impossible to do without a lot of help. So, in 2002, he and Puanani created the volunteer-based nonprofit Maui Cultural Lands Organization to stabilize, protect and restore Hawaiian cultural resources. MCL also set out to educate the children of Maui about the Hawaiian culture using the valley as their classroom. It was through his work with the local community that Ed Lindsey became known as a leader, teacher and above all a kupuna.
Besides Ed Lindsey and his wife, Puanani, the valley's real heroes are the tireless and dedicated volunteers who have been with the project since the beginning. Ed felt strongly about the work of the volunteers and once said, "People who help the land and the culture, who give unselfishly for the sake of the land, they are the heroes, the real warriors."
Every Saturday, MCL and the volunteers meet at the Pu'ukoli'i train station in Kaanapali at 9 a.m. and ride the treacherous journey down into the valley. Once in the valley, they work until around 2 p.m., mainly pulling weeds and planting native plants.
When asked why he likes working in Honokowai Valley, longtime volunteer David Jenkins replied, "I like the people, meeting and getting involved with the Lindsey family, the regulars and visitors to the islands and also the work itself and just taking care of the valley."
Many of the volunteers feel similarly, although Puanani feels that, "It is my kuleana, my responsibility. It is my enjoyment, something I look forward to doing."
While the valley does have many volunteers, it is not enough. To this date, only one mile of the archeological sites out of the three are uncovered. During this past decade, MCL has tried to reach out to the local community to come and help, but their results - while substantial - are not enough.
Jenkins said, "Most of the workers up here are middle aged... newcomers to the islands." Without the many needed hands, the future plans for the valley, such as establishing a safe haven for drug and alcohol victims, have to be put on hold.
Another even greater setback than the lack of local volunteers for the project was Ed's death in 2009. The local community was hit hard with the loss of their influential leader and kupuna.
Luckily, the valley was not left without a caretaker. Following Ed's death, Puanani and their son, Ekolu, took over the operation and have been working on it ever since.
"Ed once believed that there was enough work for five lifetimes in the valley. He was one, I am two, my son is three and the other two go to my grandchildren," said Puanani of the work she and her son are doing.
There definitely is enough work to be done to last five lifetimes in the valley, but luckily there is Puanani, MCL and all of the tireless volunteers to work toward their goals.
(Sophia, an eighth-grader at Seabury Hall and West Maui resident, wrote this article as a school project.)