Aia i Lahaina: Remembering Legacy
By Wilson “Manuwai” Peters
On Friday evening, March 25, 2011 at his parents’ home in ‘Aina Koa, Honolulu, we said our final goodbyes to long time Maui resident, my cousin Anthony “Akoni” Akana. Akoni bravely fought diabetes for several years that left him blind and a double amputee. Upon his passing, we lost one of those special people in our lives who, throughout the course of his life contributed greatly to making Maui a special place to live. He was a proud part of the hotel and visitor industry in Ka`anapali and was a staunch proponent of hula and mele. He successfully bridged Hawaiian cultural practices with the visitor industry there and stood for integrity of the culture in the industry, spearheading several unique initiatives.
Beyond the memories of laughter and smiles that he conjured up in us daily with his witty and kolohe style, he leaves with us a significant and rich legacy for future generations: a collection of dozens of mele in the Hawaiian language and a vision; the restoration and preservation of Moku`ula and Mokuhinia islet in Lahaina, Maui.
Considered one of Maui’s most sacred of lands, it was home to the highest chiefs of pre and post-contact Hawaii. The area included a large spring-fed natural wetland containing taro patches and fishponds and the residences of ali`inui. It was here that the Hawaiian Kingdom maintained its legitimacy, tradition and spirituality. At the time of its rediscovery, it had been long forgotten and buried under a county park.
Along with other employees of Ka`anapali Beach Hotel, he helped create the nonprofit Friends of Moku`ula Foundation in 1990. As the foundation’s executive director, he worked tirelessly to get community, government, and financial support to contract archeologists, acquire land access, and begin the process of restoration and curation.
It is well known that Kihawahine, ancient mo`o resided in these ponds and was its guardian. Akoni mentions Kihawahine in many of his compositions and it is though these mele that we come to remember the significant places and people that make Maui so unique. Many of Akoni’s mele have captured ancient place (including wind and rain) names of West Maui that otherwise would have been lost to obscurity.
The last time I saw him on a hospital bed, my brother and I sang one of his best known compositions, Aia i Lahaina. The song has been beautifully rendered on the CD Ka Manawa Pono by Maui musical master, Uluwehi Guerrero. The song captures the spirit of Lahaina and is homage to Kihawahine, protectress of Moku`ula and its sacred chiefs. We lovingly remember and thank Akoni for reminding us of who we are and the power of Maui to manifest our highest dreams. E Akoni – may the spirit of Kihawahine guard you on your journey.