Hawaii mourns Lahaina victims while seeking comfort at vigils

Sep. 2—Organizers of "Kipuni Aloha no Maui " ("Embrace Beloved Maui ") said the various vigils, held at sunrise, noon and sunset, were rooted in traditional Native Hawaiian healing practices and ceremonies.

KAHULUI—More than 200 people—many dressed in red to represent Lahaina pride—attended a midday ceremony Friday on the Great Lawn at the University of Hawaii Maui College in Kahului as part of daylong "Kipuni Aloha no Maui " vigils held across the islands in support of those who suffered losses in the Aug. 8 wildfires in Lahaina and Upcountry.

Kumu hula Hokulani Holt lead the gathering in partnership with other kumu hula, cultural practitioners and leaders from Maui's faith communities who shared Hawaiian oli and song, Christian hymns, a Buddhist chant, prayers and other words to comfort and uplift.

Wailuku resident Kui Gapero, 39, said he was there as a member of the Royal Order of Kameha ­meha and had assisted with a sunrise awa ceremony at Waihee Beach Park as a student of Holt's.

"Any moment we can lift our voices up and heal the aina, heal our people, I'm down for it, " he told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Like many on Maui, Haiku artist Avi Molinas, 58, is still struggling to come to grips with the enormity of the Lahaina disaster. He said more than $400, 000 worth of his Hawaiian wood sculptures and paintings burned along with the Wyland Gallery on Front Street, adding that Lahaina was a vital art hub on Maui now lost.

Additionally, several members of his wife's large family in Lahaina saw their homes destroyed, and some are believed to have died or are missing. He came to the vigil seeking solace among others in the community.

"I tried to work at home, but I cannot. I am so in shock. I don't know, I'm in an empty space now. I'm lost. I'm totally lost, " Molinas said.

Organizers of "Kipuni Aloha no Maui " ("Embrace Beloved Maui ") said the various vigils, held at sunrise, noon and sunset, were rooted in traditional Native Hawaiian healing practices and ceremonies, and were meant "to aid the emotional and spiritual healing of those on Maui who suffered devastating loss from wildfires " and offer "a space for grief and healing."

The Maui vigils ended with a sunset ceremony at the Ka 'anapali Golf Course, and similar events were held at noon in Hana and at Keawanui Fishpond on Molokai.

On Hawaii island an all-day vigil occurred at Four Corners at Kumukahi in Puna, with other ceremonies in Hilo and Kailua-Kona. On Kauai, vigils were held in succession in Wailua, Lihue and Waimea.

Following a sunrise vigil near Sandy Beach in East Honolulu, kumu hula Mehana Hind lead a noon ceremony with other kumu hula and cultural practitioners at Thomas Square.

Among those offering messages of hope and perseverance at the Kahului vigil was Pastor John Crewe of Lahaina United Methodist Church on Front Street, whose 100-year-old sanctuary is now in ruins. The church was founded primarily to serve the Japanese laborers who came to Lahaina to work on the sugar plantation. Worship services are now held in English and Tongan.

Crewe told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that more than 80 % of Lahaina UMC's 75-member congregation lost their homes in the Aug. 8 fire. A church caretaker was able to save one of its preschool buildings and the parsonage, but Crewe was displaced along with thousands of other Lahaina residents.

He's been holding services at the Aston Paki Maui condominium in Honokowai and has made arrangements with another church to convene there going forward.

Crewe's message and the words shared by other speakers Friday emphasized gratitude for coming together and the sense of connectedness brought out by the disaster.

"I know that this community here is very strong, and this process of coming back from this, if it can happen anywhere, it can happen here, " he told the Star-Advertiser. "And I feel that community in Lahaina and all over Maui."