A Glimpse into 19th and 20th Century Hawaiian Life


Malu ʻUlu o Lele, the debut book from two Maui-born authors, provides a glimpse into the everyday lives of Kānaka in Maui Komohana (West Maui) during the 19th and 20th centuries.

The book, which was edited and written by Uʻilani Tanigawa Lum and Keely S. Kauʻilani Rivera, is a thoughtful curation and interpretation of newspaper articles from Ka Nupepa Kuokoa between 1861 to 1927.

Through this collection of colorful stories—from one citizen’s description of various rain characteristics to an account of children swinging from trees while listening to the speech of an aliʻi – readers are transported to a time when communities were rooted in the natural world of West Maui.

“As kupa of Maui, we both felt like this book was an incredible opportunity to highlight these stories that are living in something not often touched by the broader public,” said Tanigawa Lum, an attorney and director of operations for the nonprofit organization Kāhuli Leo Leʻa.

For more than two years, Tanigawa Lum cataloged some 1,200 nūpepa entries. She and Rivera, who are lifelong hula sisters, took another two years to curate and translate the articles and write the book. “We both felt pressure to make sure that what we put into the book was accurate – accurate enough to give people a foundation from which to do more research beyond the book,” said Rivera, a kumu at Ke Kula ʻo Nāwahīokalaniʻōpuʻu, a Hawaiian immersion school in Keaʻau.

What emerges from their efforts are 200-year-old stories that resonate today.

“Often the way our aliʻi governed was indicative of Kānaka Maoli’s familial relationship to ʻāina and responsibility to ʻāina. That example can be relevant, and should be relevant for us now,” said Tanigawa Lum. “And how communities of Maui Komohana interacted with our natural and cultural resources and how that dictated everyday life is, again, a great example for us today. As we find ourselves up against issues such as climate change, the stories embedded in nūpepa give us the answers to how we should respond. It’s a great blueprint for how we act as an island people.”

Photo: Uʻilani Tanigawa Lum
Uʻilani Tanigawa Lum
Photo: Keely S. Kauʻilani Rivera
Keely S. Kauʻilani Rivera

Tanigawa Lum and Rivera wanted to give readers a wide representation of life found in the nūpepa stories – from the everyday triumphs, rumors, and complaints of ordinary people to the more historically significant events involving aliʻi. Once the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi, Lahaina was often central to the activities of government. The details embedded into each story are what bring history to life in this new book.

“As Hawaiian language speakers, we have a desire to learn more and go through the wealth of knowledge our ancestors have left us but, unfortunately, may not have the time,” said Rivera. “Learning about where we come from is such a huge thing and being able to connect with those stories 200 years later was awesome.”

Malu ʻUlu o Lele is part of a larger effort to remember and reclaim the fuller history of West Maui. Published by the North Beach-West Maui Benefit Fund, the book is distributed by the University of Hawaiʻi Press.