Alamy
January 14, 2015

Visitors often say that traveling to Hawaii is like being in another country—only you don’t need a passport, the currency is the same, and there’s no need to learn a new language. Visitors are largely correct: Hawaii was actually its own country for over 83 years, and it’s the only place in the United States that once had a palace and monarchs. The history of Hawaii as part of the United States is still relatively young (it became the 50th state in 1959), and there is a strong contingent of local Hawaiians that are adamant it’s an occupied nation (technically they’re correct). Though the Hawaiian culture was once suppressed (the language was even banned in schools), the “Hawaiian Renaissance” that began in 1978 is still in the midst of a revival. With every year that passes in Maui there is a greater resurgence of the culture, and experiencing this island culture firsthand is what separates Hawaii from being just another beach town found anywhere else in the world. For a fascinating look at Hawaii’s past—and a better understanding of its present—make the time to visit some of the following sites or shows.

Kahanu Garden

Like a sliver of land that the United States forgot, this National Tropical Botanical Garden is like walking around ancient Hawaii. The 464-acre garden is home to Pi‘ilanihale—a towering, 3-acre religious structure that is the largest in all of Polynesia. Enter through a breadfruit grove and a wild forest of hala, and the most informative visits are the guided tours that take place on Saturday mornings.   

Maui Nei Walking Tour

Lahaina might look like a tourist town today, but every chapter of Maui’s history—from it’s status as the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom to whalers, missionaries, sugar barons, and tourists—is represented in one square mile of Lahaina’s teeming downtown. This walking tour helps visitors dig deep into Lahaina’s storied past, and explores historic and sacred sights you might otherwise walk right by. 

Malama Honokowai Valley

Deep in the valley above Ka‘anapali is a village site frozen in time. Once abandoned by ancient Hawaiians when the stream water was diverted for sugar, volunteer groups are slowly revitalizing this traditional link to the past. Help remove invasive species and plant indigenous trees, and learn the powerful history that lives in lush Honokowai Valley. To volunteer, meet at the Pu‘ukoli‘i train station at 9am on Saturdays. 

Old Lahaina Luau

Sure, there are oceanfront luaus all over the island, but what separates Old Lahaina Luau from the rest is an insistence on historical accuracy. You won’t find fire dancing—since that’s actually Samoan—but you will find a scintillating and educational performance on the history of ancient Hawaii.  

‘Ulalena

In a fusion of history with modern performance, this captivating show at the Maui Theater explores Hawaii’s past. Hear the legends, myths, and chants at the core of Hawaiian culture, and go on a weaving, musical journey from the past through Hawaii today. Authentic, transformational, and completely riveting.  

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