Lahaina, a historic town on the island of Maui, was devastated by the wildfire that swept through the area on August 8, 2023. The fire destroyed most of the buildings along Front Street, once the Hawaiian Kingdom’s capital and a bustling whaling port. Among the few landmarks that survived the blaze was Lahaina’s banyan tree, a majestic and symbolic presence in the heart of the island.
A Witness to Centuries
The banyan tree is not only the largest in Hawaii but also in the United States. Its sprawling canopy and multiple trunks cover nearly two-thirds of an acre. Sheriff William Owen Smith planted it in 1873, after receiving it as a gift from missionaries in India. He intended the tree to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first Protestant mission in Lahaina, which Queen Keōpūolani, the widow of King Kamehameha I, had requested.
Over the years, the banyan tree has seen many historical events and cultural changes in Lahaina. Residents and visitors alike have gathered under its shade for art fairs, festivals, concerts, and ceremonies. The tree has also inspired and enlightened many people, as Hindus and Buddhists consider banyan trees sacred.
Symbol of Endurance
Source: Satellite image (c) 2023 Maxar Technologies
The fire that ravaged Lahaina threatened to destroy this iconic tree, but fortunately, it managed to survive with some damage. The tree’s leaves were scorched, its bark was charred, and some limbs were broken. However, arborists who inspected the tree found signs of life beneath its surface. They saw some live roots and tissue that indicated the tree had a chance of recovery.
To help the tree heal, arborists implemented a regimen of irrigation, compost, and soil aeration. They also monitored the tree’s moisture, movement, and vital signs with instruments. They hoped the tree would absorb the nutrients and regenerate new growth in the coming weeks, months, or years.
Beacon of Hope
The survival of the banyan tree was a glimmer of hope for Lahaina after the fire. The tree represented the resilience and spirit of the town, as well as its rich history and culture. Many people expressed their gratitude and love for the tree on social media, sharing their memories and photos of it.
The banyan tree also symbolizes the connection between Lahaina and India, where it originated from. The two places share a common heritage of colonialism, oppression, and resistance. They also share a common vision of peace, harmony, and diversity. The banyan tree is a reminder of this bond and a bridge between cultures.
As the banyan tree stands today, with its branches scorched yet resilient, it symbolizes the endurance of Lahaina’s history and the unity of its people. This living testament to time embodies the spirit of a community that rises above challenges, drawing strength from the roots that anchor it to the earth. With each passing year, the banyan tree adds another ring to its story, chronicling the evolution of Lahaina and offering a glimpse into the past while reaching toward the future. In a similar way, Tenere is supporting the preservation and restoration of forests around the world by donating part of our profits to tree-planting initiatives. By using Tenere, you can save money while also contributing to a greener and healthier planet, just like the banyan tree that provides shade and beauty to Lahaina.