Hawaii cultural figures lead community in ‘healing’ vigil following deadly Maui wildfires

Lani Williams and her mother, Sincerity Mirkovich, hug Benny Reinicke, who saved them from the Maui wildfires. — ABC News

(HONOLULU) — A statewide, one-day vigil will be held Friday in Hawaii to aid in emotional and spiritual healing following the deadly fires that have devastated Maui.

As the sun rises over Maui, local cultural practitioners will guide the community in a chant to thank and recognize the sun for being a source of life.

As the sun passes overhead at noon, they will chant to recognize the creation of the Hawaiian Islands. And as the sun sets in the West, where it is believed the souls go when people die, they will chant to honor their ancestors and “those who have gone before us.”

Cultural leaders in Hawaii believe the community is in need of healing following the devastating wildfires on Maui, as residents prepare for a long journey toward recovery and rebuilding.

The vigil will foster healing through traditional ceremonies — such as hula and pule, or dance and prayer — for those in mourning, according to Maui-based kumu hula and Hawaiian elder Hōkūlani Holt-Padilla. More than 1,300 community organizations have committed to participating in the vigil.

At least 115 people were killed in the blaze and thousands of others have been displaced. Federal agencies are continuing the long road ahead toward recovery and rebuilding, while the community fights to meet the needs of its people.

Vigil organizer Kamana`opono Crabbe told ABC News the disaster response and humanitarian relief from across the country “has been tremendous” and has helped “alleviate a lot of what we call kaumaha. Kaumaha is this overwhelming sense of gloom and despair.”

Crabbe, who is also the executive lead for Rediscovering Hawaii’s Soul initiative, said while other needs like financial and physical well-being have been front-and-center in the aftermath, the emotional recovery of the community should also be a priority.

“It’s soul searching for us as a people and the real deep need for not just the relief effort for Maui, but to enter into prayer and ceremony, which is a very Hawaiian — Kanaka Maoli — tradition for us.”

He added that different denominations and cultural groups also will be part of the effort, to show that the island and those beyond it are “unified in solidarity.”

Holt-Padilla said people grieve in their own time, and their goal is to continue to provide a space for people to do so among their community members.

“There’s an urgent need for prayer, cleansing, and reflection so that together, we can help Maui and Hawai‘i heal,” Holt-Padilla said. “This vigil will help to create a space for grief and healing and the opportunity for Hawai‘i to be united.”

Organizers say the rituals are intended to honor and mourn those who have died and what has been lost, as well as to cleanse the land.

Commemorating aina, which describes the relationship between people and their land, is at the core of the day’s events.

“We’re Island people,” said Holt-Padilla in an interview. “All of our living is within our view. Our world ends at the horizon. So we cannot drive to another state to get water. We have to live and survive and flourish in the place that you can see with your own eyes.

The vigil, called “Kīpuni Aloha no Maui: Embrace Beloved Maui,” will take place at sunrise, 6 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. local time; then at noon, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.; and then at sunset, 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Events will be held across the state on Maui, Oahu, Hawaii or The Big Island, and Molokai.

Those who wish to partake virtually can tune in live on ABC Honolulu affiliate KITV-4, Akakῡ Community Media, KAKU 88.5 FM, Maui Stream, Nā Leo TV, Hō‘ike TV, Hawai‘i News Now, KHON-2, online on HawaiiSoul.org/Maui and on YouTube.

“While the road to recovery will be long, the outpouring of support from all of Hawai‘i’s people and from those beyond our shores has been a bright spot and provides hope to build an even stronger Maui Nui and Hawaii,” said Rediscovering Hawaii’s Soul, a coalition of local community leaders that is co-hosting the vigil.

The vigil is backed by Hawaii Gov. Josh Green, as well as other officials across the Islands, including Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen, Kauai County Mayor Derek Kawakami and more.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

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