Within its walls, Hale Ho‘ike‘ike safeguards the history and narrative of the land, honoring those who came before — and those who are yet to come.
Story by Judy Edwards
Cool winds flow out from the heart of ‘Iao Valley, carrying a hint of deep-green glades chilled by mountain waterfalls. The slope rises gently, then more steeply, to become one side of the valley. From here, the isthmus stretches before you, bracketed north and south by Kahului and Kihei bays. Straight ahead, Haleakala rises 10,000 feet, catching and holding the passing rains, as the sunlight shifts constantly with the movement of the clouds. This is a vantage point fit for a king, and is surely why Hawaiian royalty, the ali‘i, dwelled upon, and ruled from, this spot.
Maui had already been inhabited for at least 1,500 years by the time ali‘i nui (high chief) Kahekilinui‘ahumanu (better known today as Kahekili) was born in the early 1700s. The 24th ruler of Maui, Kahekili was both fearsome and fearless, and he tattooed an entire half of his body in honor of Kanehekili, the god of thunder, whom some say was his namesake. Kahekili built his royal compound on that slope at the mouth of ‘Iao Valley, and at the height of his power, he controlled every major island in the archipelago except Hawai‘i Island. Today, Hale Ho‘ike‘ike, (“House of Display”), also called the Bailey House Museum, sits on that very spot.
When I ask Naomi “Sissy” Lake-Farm, kumu hula (hula teacher), executive director of Hale Ho‘ike‘ike, and descendent of Kahekili, why the ali‘i chose this location for their royal compound, she opens her arms wide as if to gather in all possible reasons, then simply gestures toward ‘Iao Valley and says, “The water. The ali‘i were here because of Na Wai ‘Eha, the four waterways, the centerpoint of water.”
From the time of Kahekili to the days of Lake-Farm, a lot happened here. Kahekili eventually lost power to the up-and-coming ali‘i nui from Hawai‘i Island, Kamehameha I, who some believe was Kahekili’s son. Kamehameha died in 1819, and the following spring, the first American missionaries arrived and set up homesteads, schools and churches on land provided by Hawai‘i’s kings and queens.
The complex that Mauians would come to know as the Bailey House was built in 1833, though it didn’t house any Baileys until Caroline and Edward arrived in 1844. Its former occupants, Reverend Jonathan Smith Green and his wife, Theodosia, founded a sort of missionary base camp that became the Wailuku Female Seminary, a boarding school that trained young Hawaiian women in language and the domestic arts.
In 1847, the Baileys’ funding was cut off, but they managed to keep the seminary afloat as a day school for men and women. In 1850, they purchased the property from the Hawaiian Crown and planted several acres in sugar cane. Edward threw himself into farming and road building, and oversaw the construction of a church for the great Hawaiian queen Ka‘ahumanu, the favorite wife of Kamehameha I. Even though he lacked formal training, Edward began to paint, working in the grand landscape style that was popular at the time. In 1888, the couple returned to the mainland, and their son William eventually sold the property to the Wailuku Sugar Company.
“We honor the Baileys because they are tied to this place, too,” says Lake-Farm. “Edward Bailey … has a rich geneaology of descendants, and they help to take care [of this place].” The century turned. Sugar grew tall on the compound, and the winds hastening down from ‘Iao Valley combed through the silvery tassels on the cane, while gleeful kindergarteners ran across the sun-speckled Bailey House lawn.
During World War II, the military commandeered the premises for its Office of Civilian Defense. After the war, the property began to decline, but in 1951, the Maui Historical Society leased the land and buildings from the Wailuku Sugar Company for the generous rate of $1 a year, and began renovations. Hawaiian cultural artifacts were donated and collected from all over the state, and in 1957, Hale Ho‘ike‘ike opened on the refurbished grounds. Edward Bailey’s landscape paintings were hung on display, and soon afterward, the Society opened a small gift shop.
Over the next 30 years, tourism picked up speed in the islands. On Maui, Hale Ho‘ike‘ike welcomed curious visitors on their way to ‘Iao Valley. Here, they could view one of the largest collections of Hawaiian artifacts in the state, including handwoven nets, priceless royal adornments and the forlorn taxidermy of recently extinct forest birds. The second floor offered the remains of missionary-era life, including bedsteads, handpainted dishes and other furnishings of the 1800s.
The grassy, well-shaded grounds felt like a sleepy little oasis outside of time, and in the evenings, the wind stirred the branches and rustled the leaves of the towering mango trees. In 1991, Maui philanthropist Masaru “Pundy” Yokouchi, bought the land on which the museum sits and, in an extraordinarily generous move, made a gift of it to the Historical Society in 1992.
Again, the century turned. Nine years ago, Lake-Farm got a call. She had applied to be the executive director of Hale Ho‘ike‘ike, and they were offering her the position. “I dropped the phone,” she recalls. “I would be able to reconnect to my ‘ohana [family] through this place. I believe I was recruited by my kapuna, my ancestors, and that my kuleana [responsibility] here at the mouth of ‘Iao Valley began at birth.”
Her father, John Lake, a celebrated kumu hula (hula teacher), had an inoa po (a naming dream) about her while she was still in the womb. “In that dream, my parents were taking care of a bunch of keiki [children] at a schoolhouse in ‘Iao Valley, and nearby, two gentlemen were conversing in Hawaiian,” Lake-Farm says. “One man told the other to look up toward the Needle [a famous geological feature near the heart of the valley], and said, Kahakuhaupiokamakani. The other gentleman nodded and repeated, Kahakuhaupiokamakani. This means, the lady of the cold, piercing wind.”
Lake-Farm was born in the spring of 1969, at the same time as a big windstorm on O‘ahu was taking off the roofs of houses. Her Hawaiian name, Kahakuhaupiokamakani, linked her inexorably with the valley that inspired it.
As Lake-Farm grew up, another wind was blowing through the islands, bringing with it a renaissance of the Hawaiian culture. For more than two centuries, the Hawaiian identity had been suppressed in the shock of western contact, but now there was renewed interest in Polynesian voyaging canoes, Hawaiian chants and hula. The stories that were almost — but not quite — lost to time swelled and spilled over in the minds and hearts of Hawaiians. Once revived, those skills, and the deep knowing of Hawaiian culture, were freed like the winds that poured from the legendary Gourd of La‘amaomao, winds that can be called upon by chanting their names.
Now that wind, in the form of Sissy Lake-Farm, has freshened the metaphorical sails of Hale Ho‘ike‘ike. “The first five years [I worked here] were spent upgrading and rebuilding,” she says. “I made phone calls, wrote articles and held membership drives. I reached out to the community to let everyone know who we were, and that we are not newcomers here.”
The busy, time-traveling winds from ‘Iao Valley have ruffled the royal feather standards of the ali‘i, fluttered the pages of the missionaries’ schoolbooks and bent the stalks of sugar cane. Today, they fill the museum honoring Hawaiian history with fresh, new life. Over time, the grounds of the once-royal compound shifted in purpose — and now that purpose is shifting back, so much so that a descendent of Kahekili walks where he walked, and thinks about the world in which her children’s children will live.
“I hope that in a thousand years, people can still find the relevance here, so our kamali‘i [progeny] can know where they came from,” says Lake-Farm. “I can’t speak to those who lived a thousand years ago, but I can speak to my keiki, fingertip to fingertip, so they are rich in understanding.”