Our recent trip to Hana to look at historic churches with the popular Kaunoa teacher Sonny Gambonia took us about 10 hours from Haiku round trip, including lunch and several stops.
That's some improvement since the days of 1837 when an overland trip to Hana from Wailuku took 56 hours, and a trip back on a sailing canoe, six.
On Aug. 22, 1828, the missionaries William Richards, Lorrin Andrews and Jonathan Green, journeying to Hana via Haleakala Crater, dropped down from the rim to a small village on the Halehaku seashore.
The next day they came across a "pavement" built by the 17th-century chief Kihapi'ilani, that afforded the missionaries "no inconsiderable assistance" in ascending and descending the region's steep and difficult palis. "It extends more than 30 miles, and is a work of considerable magnitude."
They reached Honomanu that evening and were joined by the Princess Nahi'ena'ena, who arrived by canoe and spent the Sabbath with them. "A horn was blown and at an early hour the house was thronged with attentive worshippers." The next day, the princess addressed the people, a coup for the missionaries since the Hawaiians revered their chiefs and did as they suggested.
Nahi'ena'ena, then about 13, was the sister of Liholiho (Kamehameha II) and Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III), by Keopuolani, the sacred queen of Kamehameha I. Her mother had died and she clung to Richards as a surrogate father, initially devoting herself to the Christian teaching.
This was short-lived. Nahi'ena'ena was a princess of extremely high rank, considered divine, born to the rituals and rhythms of old Hawaii. Of all three siblings she had the hardest time reconciling the old religion with the new and it tore her apart.
Some 30 years later along Kihapi'ilani's trail, edifices arose proclaiming the victor in that struggle.
After that trip, Richards suggested a mission station be established in Hana, where the people were the best-looking and most well-fed of all he'd seen. The thatched Wananalua Congregational Church was built in 1838, on a site behind the ancient hilled fortress of Ka'uiki, where Kamehameha battled the forces of Maui during the conquest of the kingdom.
Work commenced in 1842 on the current building, a basilica plan with plastered lava and rock walls 2.5-feet thick. The resident missionary was the supremely unpopular Daniel Conde, mean-spirited and argumentative.
The next church constructed along Kihapi'ilani's trail was the beautifully maintained Kaulanapue'o Church in Huelo, famous for the owls that lived in the hala grove on the site, hence the name, "The Owl's Haven."
In 1853, the trees were cleared, and a rugged path made down a bluff to the sea, where men dived two or three fathoms to detach fragments of coral rock for the walls that were passed, relay fashion, from hand to hand back up the cliff. Coral was burned in a large pit makai of the site to make lime for mortar. Women and children gathered sand and the men carried stones from the ocean's edge and 'ohia beams from the forest above.
"It's in the top 15 of old buildings on Maui, and the best shape of them all," Sonny told us. Save for a repaired wall after an earthquake in 1938, the building is essentially the original. One thing he would change. "A stately old building like this needs a better door. The door isn't worthy."
We journeyed next to the similarly constructed Keanae Congregational Church at the tip of the peninsula, built in 1860. It is grandly named "Lanakila Ihiihi o Iehova Ona Kaua," which translates as "Sacredness, Success of Jehovah, the Son of God."
It was the only building in Keanae to remain on its foundation after the devastating April Fool's Day tsunami of 1946. It, too, with care has weathered the years well, although a quarter of the roof was destroyed last February. (Call Sandy Hueu at 248-8031 to help with repairs.)
In a simple, untended grave lies Uncle Harry Kunihi Mitchell, one of the heroes of the fight to reclaim Kaho'olawe from the Navy. He was the Maui kupuna who mentored the brash young members of the Protect Kaho'olawe 'Ohana in the early days of illegal landings, and at whose kitchen table so many plans were laid.
He was a Hawaiian in touch with the ancestral claim to Kanaloa, as the island was once known, resting in peace at a Christian church.
* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose "Keiki o ka 'Aina" column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.