With the boom of the internet, advancing technologies, and all around greater access to information, travel has become an incredible source of economic growth for communities like that of Paia, Maui, but also a threat to the existing culture. Everywhere you turn in major cities and small communities alike, construction and growth allow for more access to previously undiscovered sites but also slowly price out the locals in the area. In today’s world we must ask ourselves while traveling, how do we engage, explore, and learn while still respecting and supporting the culture native to our destination? We sat down with Aunty Mopsy at her home on the Northshore of Maui, to discuss her perspective on her own growing community and its history.
Mopsy: “I am Francine Kekahuna Aarona, Kekahuna is the family name where we’re from here in Paia. We’re in the heart of Paia, well, the beginning of Paia. I was born here, raised here, and then went to school in Honolulu. I got married, raised my family in Honolulu but in between those times and going to school, my sister and I were on the first plane back here for the summer with my grandmother.”
Mopsy: “Yes, my Tutu (grandfather) died very young. He was in his forties. So my grandmother raised eleven children almost by herself. All here. The ocean has come, has gone, and when we say “you have to let mother nature do its thing”. You know they talk about sea walls and all that but you cannot stop mother nature from coming and going. And if you allow her to do that, then it will take but it will also give back at a given time. I’m 72 and it’s taken a little but the coconut trees are still here. It’s done its process, the debris comes up, we clean it up and we take care of it.”
Mopsy: “It was, in my day, it was known as a fishing village to me because there were a lot of fisherman. It was known for its fishermen around the bend. We used to call what they called “hukilau”. They would use circle nets and we would all gather and pull the nets in and whatever was the catch was shared among the people. It’s also known for body surfers and surfing. It was a Mom and Pop town where they had their business and they lived upstairs. That’s the majority of how I grew up. We had our little restaurants and pool halls and little bars like you see in the movies. Simple. For the most part we are really trying to keep it simple.”
Mopsy: I am the third, my children are the fourth. I also have the fifth generation and one sixth generation. We gather during the summer. My husband was a postmaster here on Maui, so he lived here, I lived on Honolulu watching babies for my daughter but I would come home on the weekends. My aunt used to live here in the house but after she passed it was my turn, as I’m the oldest of the cousins, to take care of the home. I told my children that I would come home here for the summer so that if they wanted me to watch their children they had to send them. So during the summer my grandchildren will stay with me. Sometimes I will have like nine of them. But now I only have three grandchildren that come but now my nephews are sending their children so last year I had five.
Mopsy: *laughs* You know I’m also known as “Aunty Mopsy Protect Paia”?
Mopsy: I’m known as Aunty Mopsy in my family and everyone calls me that. But “Protect Paia” is one of my pet peeves. We do have a gentleman that owns my surrounding [properties] and I guess he feels that he wants to make more of Paia than what it is. And that’s been a fight for me. We have community plans that he doesn’t like. My neighbor is a t-shirt maker so he printed out “Protect Paia” for me. Everybody calls me Aunty Mopsy but when I go before the planning commission or the council, I always introduce myself as Aunty Mopsy Protect Paia because when I go before them it’s always [about] issues that pertain to the development in Paia, laws that have been changed without amending other plans...the confusing thing about being on Maui is that we have a general plan, we have a Maui plan, and we have a community plan. And sometimes they don’t line up. So one will say, “You can’t do this”, but the other says you can; it creates a friction between the community. It creates issues that shouldn’t be. Things that the county should have done and didn’t do. How did I get my name “Protect Paia”? Because I am a voice. I read a lot. I try to understand all the legalities so I bring it forth to the council or to the commission. My grandchildren told me that if I want to say something, social media is the thing. It has been a roller coaster for me on facebook, on social media. I’m not a facebook person. I do have a page, “Protect Paia”...in the community plan it says “no hotels”. The definition of an inn is a hotel. I don’t care how small or big you want to look at it. Its just being legal, that’s my focus. Be legal, do what the community wants, not just what you want. Because you’ve tried to take take take so the community now is stepping up. I’ve been a voice for that. I have to remember that people look at me as a Kupuna so it makes me think of the things that I want to say and that it means something. I always try to be humble but firm. I try to get my point across in that firmness but still keeping respect. That is the mission that we’re on. We have gone to the commission four times and this gentleman has been denied four times. Where is it that you do not understand? The community is saying go the mile.
I know that there will be growth. When A&B shut down, when it got rid of agriculture*, you could see the writing on the wall that there will be development. But what you want to do is have smart development. You want them to respect the culture and the people that live there. What is so wrong in living a simple life? A quiet life? It’s not that we don’t like visitors. Some of them came 30+ years ago. They came, they settled, they bought land...but those people support us today because when they bought into that land they not only bought into the land itself but they bought into the culture and the way of life. They respected our way of life. You know a lot of people tell me, and sometimes I have to be careful because they go, “Where are all the brown people behind you?” and I said, “They’re right there. They may be white but they’re more brown than the brown [people] that are here.” I look at them as people, it doesn’t matter whether they’re brown, black, yellow, they’re people that respected their culture, that inherited the culture. That’s the most important thing. I have so much respect for them.
You want to know where they (the people who are from Maui) are? They are busy working. When they get home they tend to their children’s needs and then they go to sleep so they can get up at 4 o’clock the next morning to prepare. That’s where they are. Sometimes they don’t have time to come and testify on something that they haven’t heard about. Their lives are so busy. The ones that are gaining all of this, they know that. They know that all of these people are too busy. They’re not going to read about what you’re doing; they’re not even going to pay attention to what you’re doing so I’m just going to lie over them...so here I am. I’m retired. I have time on my hands. I can choose to not pay attention to what’s outside. I can live in my little secluded area here and just be happy, but I have somebody pinching my little butt. And that’s my grandmother. I have a picture hanging and when I walk in the house or when I leave I see her and I say, “Okay, okay. Alright. I will.” That’s why. I have the time, the passion...I never liked reading when I was going to school but by golly I stay up all night reading all the fine tuned words and try to make some sense of it so that when I open my mouth, I know what I’m talking about. When I share it with the people that are busy working, too busy to come out, I can make sure they understand. Then they say to themselves, “Well, I’ve got a little time.” They will find the time now. They will come out because they know that whatever they have is in jeopardy. Whatever is down the read is going to happen and if they don’t try to be a voice to share what their feelings are...if he has his way, Paia will never be the same because he owns a lot of properties around us. If our county is weak, he will just continue to scale.
Mopsy: We’re working on tour people to make sure that they have in their repertoire things that they need to advise the tourists. The heartache is that tourists consider this space so beautiful, that they get over anxious and they go into areas that they shouldn’t. Areas that are dangerous to them yet it looks so beautiful. One time every week you hear somebody drowning, somebody falling from a cliff, and you tell yourself, “What are they doing up there?” Everybody that I see, the tourists, the renters that come, I tell them, “If you do not see local people in the water, do not go there. Don’t go there.” There’s a reason. We go back to the word “sacred”. There’s sacred areas that we just abide by, we respect. Respect is a big word for my people. For my children, my children’s children, my grandchildren. I’ll ask them “What is Grandma’s pet peeve word?’ and they’ll tell you, “Respect”. Because you need to respect yourself, you need to respect others, you need to respect the haina. We are a very spiritual family. We believe in God, but I believe, I truly believe that he allows our ancestors to walk among us. To caution us of all these little things that have happened before our time. It’s unexplainable. We can’t explain anything. I’ll give you one prime example that just happened two days ago. My granddaughter just graduated from UH Manoa, we were all in Honolulu and my other granddaughter came home from San Jose State. Now we know that there’s still ʻIolani Palace in Honolulu. That’s where our queen Liliʻuokalani was held captive in a room in the palace. That’s when they overthrew us. She wrote this song “Aloha Oe”. My granddaughter went there in the evening because they’re going to start having night tours in the palace. They didn’t start yet but she went on the steps and all of a sudden she started singing “Aloha Oe”. She went through the first verse and the lights came off, especially the light in the room that the Queen was held captive. And then my other grandson came over and saw that and he started singing with her and after they completed the song, they were cheering and the lights went on. They came home and they shared that with me, she goes, “Grandma, can anyone believe that?” and I said “Sure. You were there. You saw. You believe.” You honored her by singing her song to her, you were leaving the palace and wanted to bid her farewell. I said, “Many will not experience that, but by golly God allowed you to experience that.” So it’s your experience in your lifetime. I have so many experiences on this land. We have two graves over there. They belong to plantation workers. The japanese people came to work in the fields, portugeuse people as well. We had at one time 12 graves. And the reason for that is, we never had cemeteries in those days to bury so that’s why people buried in their yards. And that’s why when developments happen you find bones. And it’s not just here it’s everywhere in the world that they find remains because of that factor. All they have to do is be respectful of that. Do the right protocol and that’s it. Those two graves are my kuleana*. They’re actually a husband and wife and they come from this small island in Japan. I think they had two children. Japanese people normally tell their stories on their gravestones of who they are, their surnames, I do have other information in my journal.
I do have a daily journal and whenever people come they sign, it’s just to remember the journey we shared here. My grandmother always told us to keep this path open. There’s a pathway for the Night Marchers. There’s stories about the Night Marchers and the royalty how they walked the beach. They do. I’ve seen or witnessed in growing up...of course I nearly swallowed my tongue, but my grandmother was with me by those steps. Just little things like that. I don’t know if you can see but that tree over there...again, [the developer] built that wall which is illegal and I told him, “Don’t cover that pathway.” Well, he did. One day I came out and was like, “Oh my god somebody broke the fence!” Well it wasn’t somebody. It was the Hao tree that he wanted to claim. It’s really my aunt planted that tree. He has not touched that fence since then. He has not touched the Hao tree.
It was where they roamed. It was normally royalty. You have books that will tell you about the Night Marchers in the mountains, in caves, and you can actually go through a cave in one of the NIght Marcher stories and the people will end up someplace else. There’s so many stories and whether it be true or not, you just respect them. If you’ve experienced it then you say “Mahalo” allowing you to experience that. And it’s a story that lives on in you. There’s this thing called “pikipiki'ō”. We used to eat that and at night we used to put all the rubbish in the bucket and my uncle would walk it down. I would be sitting or standing with my grandmother watching him and he’s carrying the bucket and then pretty soon you see a shadow helping him carry the bucket. And I’m yanking on my grandmother and she’ll just tell me, “He’s fine.” So he goes and takes it and comes back up. It’s something that you keep to yourself.
This house and that house, we’re the only two Hawaiian families that live on the shoreline here in Paia. We have another family that used to have the fish market. We’re the four old time residents.
Mopsy: To pay attention to the surroundings. I always grew up with that: “Pay attention to the surroundings around you” Be mindful who comes and goes. Be respectful both ways. Be steadfast and hold on to what is yours. Our biggest thing is to “malama ka’aina” take care of the “aina” (land). We’re just stewards of the land. Even though we own this property, we’re just stewards here on Earth trying to take care. I think the ocean has been great to us, it comes it goes, it takes a little, but it brings back. As long as we respect that it will respect us and be kind to us. It has been all these years. We try to teach our children that. We need to teach our children to be respectful of others. If you’re going to go away, go and learn, get a job and then come home and take over. And when I say take over...take over as a lawyer, take over as a mayor, as a councilman. Go get educated. We have everything here. We have education. We have sustainability and more and more we are trying to grab onto that. In my time we were bred Westerners, we were forced to do this. My children’s time it kind of lifted the ban and then they learned the language, the new renaissance started. Their children, however, my grandchildren, that’s who you should fear. They are pursuing their dreams of their kupunas. They’re trying to hang on to what is theirs. They go away to college but then some of them they don’t make it because they’re not happy. So they come home. We want them to stay there and learn but they say “What’s wrong with here? We can get schooling here.
The world has so much experience and so much to offer. I say go and get those experiences. Go and get the education that we really don’t have here, but bring it back home. And so far, my grandchildren have done that. They’re fierce. I don’t know I might be afraid of their next generation.
Everyone is trying to hang on to what they have. I think if our visitors are aware of that I know they love our place, I know it’s a beautiful place, but if they give up what they have there, make sure that they become sustainable. Meaning, they have a job here. They can make it good because a lot of them feel that “Oh this is the life of the land” and the majority are homeless. 99% are from elsewhere. We cleared Baldwin last year. 90% of them were from away. You will seldom find our own there because they’re hiding or families tend to take care of families.
They can come and know that you can fall and we will pick you up. That is what has been handed down to me and that is what I hand down to my children. You know that saying “blood is thicker than water?” When it comes to blood, they will surface. When they get older they realize and they respect each others differences. We may not all agree on one thing but if we respect each others opinions, we’re okay.”
*A&B is in reference to the Alexander Baldwin sugar company
*The word kuleana refers to a reciprocal relationship between the person who is responsible, and the thing which they are responsible for.