Native Hawaiians and longtime Lāhainā residents worry the aftermath of the wildfires that incinerated much of the former capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom will exacerbate the colonial trends that set the stage for the devastating conflagration and other ongoing crises. The official death toll is now 99 and is expected to rise.
“I’m more concerned of big land developers coming in and seeing this charred land as an opportunity to rebuild,” Richy Palalay, who has “Lāhainā Grown” tattooed on his forearms, told the AP at an evacuation shelter over the weekend. Adding, hotels and condos “that we can’t afford, that we can’t afford to live in — that’s what we’re afraid of.”
History of colonial greed
Lāhainā used to be a wetland, Kaniela Ing, a seventh-generation indigenous Hawaiian living on O’ahu and the national director of the Green New Deal Network, told HEATED. “Lāhainā wasn’t always a dry, fire-prone region. It was very wet and lush, historically,” Ing said. ”But at the dawn of the 18th century, sugar barons arrived and illicitly diverted the water to irrigate the lands they had stolen. … So on one hand, the climate emergency caused this. On the other, it’s also that history of colonial greed that made Lāhainā the dry place that it is.”
Along Maui’s west coast, what were modest starter homes in the early 2000s now sell for $1 million. “So a lot of more recent arrivals — typically from the American mainland who have more money and can buy homes at a higher price — were to some extent displacing local families in Lāhainā,” Sterling Higa, head of Housing Hawai’i’s Future, a nonprofit organization advocating for more housing in Hawai’i, told the AP.
“We need to be doing wellness checks for disaster survivors, not just for the first month, but even for years out,” Ing added. “If you look at the far right, they’re doing this. Proud Boys are out doing disaster relief. So we need to be the ones doing it. Stop talking, stop navel gazing, and mobilizing people who already care about climate, and start asking people what they need.” (Modern colonialism: AP; Historic colonialism: HEATED, Democracy Now; Lāhainā deaths: AP)