|In the Beginning
Approximately five million years ago, an undersea eruption created two volcanic mountains, Mauna Kahalawai and Haleakala. Mauna Kahalawai, now an extinct volcano, became the rugged West Maui Mountains. Majestic 10,023-foot Haleakala, meaning "house of the sun," last erupted in 1790 and is now considered a dormant volcano. Centuries of lava flows and erosion created an isthmus between the two mountains. This vale composed of rich volcanic soil gave Maui the nickname "Valley Isle."
According to ancient legend, the Hawai'ian islands were created by Maui, the "god of a thousand tricks," who pulled the islands from the ocean with his magic fishhook. This mythical demigod also lassoed the sun god "La" from atop Haleakala, releasing it only after it promised to move slowly through the sky, thus providing abundant daylight and warmth for the islands.
Maui County, now four islands, was originally one land mass called "Maui-Nui." During the polar ice age, the glaciers thawed and the oceans swelled to separate the mountain peaks into the islands of Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Kaho'olawe.
The First Settlers
Around the twelfth century A.D, the Tahitians arrived in Maui. They were led by chiefs who became the ali'i, the Hawai'ian ruling class. The Tahitians established the "kapu" system, the rigid social order that became the foundation of ancient Hawaiian culture. Additionally, they introduced their religion with its many goddesses. Haleki'i and Pihana, two archeological sites in the Iao Valley, are religious structures built by Tahitian ali'i. The full name of Pihana is actually Pihanakalani, meaning "a gathering place of the ali'i."
For several centuries, warfare raged among competing ali'i on Maui and between chieftains from the neighboring islands of Oahu and Hawai'i. In 1550 AD the Ali'i Pi'ilani unified all the Maui districts, and after he died his two sons battled for control of the island. With the help of warriors from Hawai'i, Kiha-a-pi'ilani prevailed to become the supreme ruler of Maui.
Maui Becomes Part of the Monarchy
The Influx of Westerners
Unfortunately, the Westerners also brought diseases that over the next century would obliterate the native Hawaiian population. Viruses such as measles that were endemic in Westerners had a devastating effect on the previously unexposed Hawaiians. Soon the ratio of Hawaiians to immigrants began to drastically decrease.
Commercial Growth and the Advent of Tourism
Agriculture also flourished because of foreign influence. In 1828, Kamehameha III built the first sugar mill in Maui, a water-powered mill designed by two Chinese technicians. George Wilfong, an entrepreneurial whaler, established Mauis first sugar plantation in Hana. During 1853-1854, a smallpox epidemic killed many native Hawaiians, resulting in a depleted work force. Immigrants from China, Japan, the Philippines, and even Europe flocked to Maui to work in the sugar cane fields. American businessmen began to invest in pineapple and sugar plantations, and in 1875 negotiated a reciprocity treaty with the governor of Maui to protect their investments.
The expansion of foreign power and influence ultimately led to the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893. In 1894, American pineapple tycoon Dole became the governor of the Republic of Hawaii, which was annexed to the United States in 1898 and made a U.S. territory in 1890. During the early 1900s, Japanese immigration swelled; Mauis population was forty percent Japanese by 1925. The American military presence in Hawaii was also expanding during this time, and the U.S. Navy established its Pacific headquarters in Pearl Harbor.
The opening of the Pioneer Hotel in 1901 signaled the beginning of tourism in Lahaina. Visitors Mark Twain and Robert Lewis Stevenson praised Maui, and Lahaina became a vacation hot spot for the rich and famous. After World War II, sugar production declined and tourism experienced phenomenal growth. Mauis first resort hotel, Hotel Hana, was opened in 1946. After Hawaii became the 50th state in 1959, investment capitol poured in for development of vacation resorts. Kaanapali, dubbed the worlds first "master planned resort," and site of such mega-resorts as the Ka'anapali Beach Hotel and the Hyatt Regency, was built in 1961, followed by the development of the Ritz Carlton and Kapalua Bay resorts in West Maui. In the 1970s, sunny South Maui, with its great snorkeling beaches and constant sunshine, was discovered. Over the next few years, several plush resorts and championship golf courses were developed in Wailea. Most recently, the opening of the magnificent Maui Prince resort signified the spread of commercialization to the very southern tip of Maui, Makena Beach.