Na ‘Aikane o Maui Cultural Center destroyed in Lahaina fire

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The Na ‘Aikane o Maui Cultural Center was destroyed by the Lahaina fire on Aug. 8, 2023. Photo Credit: Angie Diaz Photography + Films

The Lahaina fire destroyed lives, residences, businesses and many culturally significant locations and beloved spots of the old Hawaiian fishing village.

The losses include Front Street’s iconic banyan tree, a fishpond and the Na ‘Aikane o Maui Cultural Center.

Located in the heart of town on touristy Front Street, the two-story cultural center was a place where the Hawaiian community could gather to talk about issues facing their people, look at Polynesian artifacts, historical documents, maps and a place to provide meals.

“That is all gone,” said Ke‘eaumoku Kapu, head of the cultural center and caretaker of the property. “The place is burnt down to the ground.”

Na ‘Aikane o Maui Cultural Center burning in the distance in the Lahaina fire on Maui. (Photo credit: Christina Lizzi)

When the 80 mph winds picked up on Tuesday afternoon, Kapu tried to tie down the center’s roof, but the fire was already closing in.


“All I could smell was the smoke and feel the heat,” Kapu said. “The heat was unreal. I told my wife we had to go.”

As he and his wife drove away with nothing but a laptop, iPad, their wallets and the clothes on their back, Kapu said he could see the fire hit the cultural center.

Driving up the street to Pi‘ilani Highway, the “whole town was engulfed in flames.”

Kapu said if they hadn’t gotten out when they did they would’ve been stuck in traffic.

The 10,500-square-foot facility was the former Malu-ulu-o-lele Cultural Center that had a rich history of serving the West Side community.


In a Lahaina News story, Aunty Patty Nishiyama recalled, “It was a soup kitchen for plantation workers and their families during the ILWU historic strike against the Pioneer Mill.”

The state-owned building also hosted nonprofits, including Na Kupuna O Maui, Lahaina Open Space Society and West Maui Cultural Center. It also had served as a senior day care facility, temporary home of the Boys and Girls Club of West Maui, art gallery, dance studio, and concert and meeting hall, according to the newspaper.

Na ʻAikane o Maui took over in 2011.

Kapu explained at the time all the things that were planned for the cultural center, predicting: “This place is going to be loved by the people.”

And it was.


Christina Lizzi, an 11-year Maui resident, is an attorney who has represented Na ‘Aikane O Maui and Ke’eaumoku Kapu in a couple water rights cases, and other cases having to do with traditional & customary Native Hawaiian rights and practices, and the protection of iwi kūpuna.

Lizzi moved to Lahaina a month ago into an apartment next to the cultural center. She said winds were gusting all day Tuesday from the mountain. Debris was falling, damaging her car windshield and the roof of her apartment.

As the fire got close, Lizzi said: “You could feel the heat.”

Driving out of Lahaina, she described the town as apocalyptic.

Lizzi escaped the fire, but is especially heartbroken over the loss of the cultural center: “It’s all gone.”

The community has already rallied around Kapu and Na ‘Aikane o Maui and is seeking donations to replace what was lost.

Kapu said he hopes to meet with the state and ask them to give the nonprofit the land so they can rebuild, restarting “one brick at a time, and I’m not willing to lie down and give up.”

Pacific Media Group reporter Megan Moseley also contributed to this report.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat.
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