Auē, Auē, Auē…


By Kealoha Pisciotta, OHA Interim Federal Public Policy Advocate

When there has been a death in the family, when we suffer the loss of a loved one, we close the store, we set aside business as usual. We properly attend to our beloved ones that ua hala ‘ia (have passed) and to those whose lives are forever changed by their leaving.

For us Hawaiians, the destruction of Lahaina is like when the levees broke in New Orleans, or when fire swept through Paradise, California.

People call Hawaiʻi “paradise,” but for us it is our homeland. What has burned away in Lahaina wasn’t just a tourism destination. And its significance to the Hawaiian people goes back millennia before the missionaries and the whalers who built there, and before our beloved aliʻi made it the capitol or the seat of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi.

It is impossible at this time to measure the depth of what has been lost. And it has yet to be determined who will be held responsible for this tragedy, if anyone.

What we do know for sure is that more than 100 have perished and a thousand more are still unaccounted for.

As Kānaka Maoli, Hawaiians, our kuleana in this moment is to act accordingly and mālama (care for) the ones who have passed as well as those left behind. That is the decent thing to do. That must be the priority. Not discussions about “building back better.”

The future of Lahaina will be determined by the Hawaiian people. It would be inappropriate at this time for us to consider what that might look like because we do not yet know the totality of what we have lost. We cannot honor this cherished place, made more hallowed now because of the lives lost there, until we recover the remains of the missing and begin to mourn.

We are working to meet the immediate physical needs of shelter, food, clothing, supplies, healthcare and so forth. Mauna [Kea] medics have been redeployed to help on the front line. Kiaʻi (guardians) from multiple islands have mobilized shipping containers to send critical supplies – and in some cases were first to arrive.

People from around the world have come to the aid of the people of Lahaina in so many ways. This is profoundly touching, and we are very grateful.

We are concerned about the stories and rumors about FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency), developers and government authorities; some are true and some not. We want Hawaiians to feel safe to sign up with FEMA and for any assistance that they may need and most importantly, to trust that no one can cheat them out of their land, genealogy, kuleana or anything else because the whole world is watching.

What we know and trust from our past disaster relief experiences and from Mauna Kea is to trust the power of our collective prayers of aloha and the good will of the people the world over…because in the end, aloha will always prevail.

For these reasons, we are calling upon President Joe Biden and Gov. Josh Green to support this time of reverence and mourning – and to stand in aloha with the people of Lahaina, by giving us time to do what we must do before asking us to decide the future of Lahaina. Please kindly refrain from making statements that place more pressure and time constraints on us to come up with answers or plans.

Urban planning for Lahaina now, while our hearts are breaking, while our eyes burn with tears and the embers of our memories, and while our iwi (bones) remain exposed to the sun (unburied) is not what the Hawaiian people can – or should have to – participate in at this time. Let us mourn and let us recover. Stand in aloha with us.

This is much more than a death in the family. It may be that the people of Hawaiʻi have suffered a thousand deaths in our collective ʻohana. We must do right by them first.