Wo Hing Temple

Museums abound in the city of Lahaina, which is a virtual living history museum itself. The elegant Wo Hing Temple is one of them. This is not the only Chinese temple in Maui, or in the rest of the Hawaiian islands, for that matter. Wo means harmony, and Hing means prosperity. You will see these words in calligraphy throughout the property at this Maui Buddhist temple. Today, it is known as the Wo Hing Museum and is on the National Register of Historic Places. This Wo Hing Temple and Society Hall was built about 1912 by the Chee Kung Tong, a Chinese fraternal society that helped to serve the social needs of sugar plantation workers. Many of these workers from China remained after their contracts expired, helping to create the diverse ethnic melting pot found on the islands today.

Wo Hing Temple
Wo Hing Temple

Buddhism, practiced primarily in India and Asia, is not a religion as we define one in the Western world. It is a way of life. To simplify the Buddhist beliefs, it is a practice of good living that allows a person to be progressively reincarnated on higher planes until full transformation—nirvana—is reached. Buddhism permeates every aspect of life among those who practice it. Thus, Buddhist temples are not restricted places where only solemn worship occurs once a week. They are an everyday part of the bustling life of every village and town, as was the Wo Hing Temple in Lahaina, and the other important Maui Buddhist temples including the Jodo Temple (one in Lahaina and one in Kahului) and the Rinzai Zen Mission in Paia. Some of these, such as the Jodo Temple, are Japanese.

Similarly, every structure, from the most humble to the most grand, will have an area set aside as a temple even if it is only a tiny corner, and worship is an everyday practice. The Wo Hing Museum was not purposely built as a temple but as a social hall and meeting place for the plantation workers brought from China in the mid to late nineteenth century. As such, this Chinese temple in Maui has a temple area set aside.

In Chinese, the word tong is literally translated as hall. In modern history, the word sometimes refers to the drug gangs on the West Coast of the mainland United States. Originally, they were fraternal organizations set up to assist imported laborers in maintaining ties with their homeland and eventually returning to China, which was the hope of many of them. This hall and Chinese temple in Maui was one of six built on the island, and it is one of only two that survive today. The Wo Hing Museum consists of the main hall, which contains displays and artifacts highlighting the history of the Chinese on Maui, and the original cookhouse built as a separate building to protect the main Wo Hing Temple from fire. The main hall contains the only public Taoist altar on the island. In the cookhouse, a theater shows some of the first motion pictures of the island, taken by Thomas Edison on his visits in 1898 and 1906. One of the things to do in historic Lahaina is take self-guided walking tours, and the Wo Hing Temple is one of the stops on these tours.

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