Note: I wrote this essay in 2020, many years after visiting it in 1980. It has always stayed in my memory of Lahaina. Because of the terrible tragedy that Lahaina recently suffered with a devastating fire, this beautiful monarch is one of the many victims. Now tree surgeons from around the Hawaiian Islands are trying to save it by creating large holes and slices in the soil around the tree to help air, water and nutrients penetrate the soil. It has been said the tree is in a coma.
Lahaina Town’s monstrous one-hundred-fifty-year-old banyan tree covers a whole block across from the harbor. One can sit on a bench under the tree’s spread and see the harbor twinkling through its branches, but it’s the banyan that commands the eye, not the water. The tree’s many trunks (36) reach deep into the island’s soil wherever it pleases, its growth a blatant advertisement for how flora thrive in the tropics under the sun and the rain and the trade winds.
A monument to persistence, it has withstood the test of modern civilization, standing tall as Christian missionaries imparted their puritan ways on the mores of the Polynesians and remained steadfast with the downfall of Hawaiian royalty. It continued to grow despite the land-hoarding plantation owners more than a century ago, and still spreads its roots today despite the corruption of Hawaiian culture by real estate developers.
This new monarch, a true Hawaiian, stands proudly against the backdrop of blatant commercialism; on one side of its shade, trinket shops thrive with endless tourists, and on the other, millionaire yachts float delicately on the sparking sea.
Little wonder Lahaina Town officials pamper the iconic banyan knowing its sovereignty pays their salaries.