By Susan Haynes
October 14, 2002

A popular sign around Maui reads, "Slow down. This ain't themainland." Developer Pete Martin heeds the advice. "I can see youon Friday," he tells an appointment seeker, "but we'll have to befinished by 3. That's when I go mountain biking."

Over in Kahului, the island's largest town, Alan Ireland pauses,menus in hand, at Manana Garage. Why did he switch from a 30-yearmanagement track with such restaurants as New York's 21 Club andDallas' Mansion on Turtle Creek to open this hot spot for NuevoLatino cuisine? "For the same reasons a lot of people buy one-waytickets here--the beaches, the climate, the beauty," he says. "AndHawaiian people have chosen not to participate in the Americanexcessiveness of ambition. I like that."

Japan-born Paige De Ponte agrees. "On Maui, people have asaying: 'Too much, not good. Plenty, all right.'" She lefthigh-fashion photography in New York and Milan to create Kumula'auHale Private Residential Club in the town of Pa'ia. "On Maui,nobody cares if you're famous or rich," she says. "If you care,then you shouldn't move here."

"There's a different definition of wealth here," says Kularesident Thom Search, who came from Florida 23 years ago. Theathletic, 50s-something grandfather guides sunrise bike rides downfrom Haleakala Crater. "We're big on 'ohana [family]. A strong family life is wealth," headds.

Reverence for family at least partly explains the wide berth fortolerance on this island. Haoles (white people), Japanese,Hawaiians, Filipinos, Chinese, and Hispanics thrive on animpressive degree of cultural harmony. Newcomers are welcomed fromaround the world--Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Canada.

"I love living in a place where diversity informs everything youdo," says Lynne Woods, president of Maui's chamber of commerce."There is no perception of 'minority, majority.' And there'sacceptance of varying belief systems."

Within this mix also lies a struggle, especially amid Hawaiiana.That's parlance for the resurging interest in Hawaiian history,language, arts, and customs. In historic Lahaina, the Friends ofMoku'ula organization represents the trend. Across from the Friendsoffice, a baseball field and parking lot cover the rich wetlandsand pond island of Moku'ula, one of Hawaii's most sacred sites forhundreds of years. Aloha spirit is helping Friends raise funds fora multimillion-dollar environmental and cultural restoration. Saysproject assistant Shirley Kaha'i, "You don't need to yell orscream. Just speak sincerely and from the heart."

Those allied with Friends and other indigenous groups tend toresist plans such as Pete's latest--to develop Olowalu, a 15-minutedrive south from Lahaina. The Hawaiian name evokes its origins asan ahupua'a, a land division that gave a wedge of mountain,stream, and ocean--in other words, subsistence--to each Hawaiianchief and his people. "Then Olowalu became a sugar plantation,"Pete says. When sugar was no longer king, Pete bought 700 acres,parceled it into about 40 lots, and wants buyers to build homes inthe traditional island style of the plantation manager's house."There will be an 80-acre cultural reserve whose management boardare members of the Hawaiian community," Pete continues. "We have tohave ho'oponopono [to make it right]."

That's an important mission here. In 1993, President Clintonsigned a resolution apologizing for the 1893 U.S. overthrow of theHawaiian monarchy. Though some dismiss the act as merely symbolic,it has fueled debate over the islands' potential return tosovereignty. "Even the Hawaiians don't agree on the matter," Lynnesays. "There's everything from 'we want our land back' to 'go withthe system--don't rock the boat.'"

Whatever the outcome of Maui's issues, it's likely that thespirit of aloha--an empowering word--will prevail. In 1986 Hawaii'slegislature enacted The Aloha Spirit law. Hawaii Revised Statutes,section 5-7.5, pays homage to the ways of the ancestors, whobelieved in mutual regard and collective existence. At its roots,aloha means an exchange of breath, the life force, and Hawaiianssummon that essence when they say it.

(published 2002)