Destination: Hawaii

A Truth About Hawaii Spoken in Jest?

A Truth About Hawaii Spoken in Jest? Photo by mcgilljp via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo by mcgilljp via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Yup, I have to admit, I’m among those who laughed at the harsh Saturday Night Live sketch that has Hawaiian officials in a huff, as discussed by fellow World Hum blogger Pam Mandel. The Gallup Well-Being Index recently ranked Hawaii as the second happiest state in the nation, after Utah, but my limited experience with the state (three visits) introduced me to more hostility than happiness. I’m actually a little afraid of Hawaiians. I understand that they have reason to be pissed off, what with their paradise being paved over with hotels and low wages and all. It’s a problem with tropical paradises everywhere. So I’m not passing judgment, really. I’m just saying.

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Lt. Gov to SNL About Hawaii Skit: That’s Not Funny!

According to Hawaii’s Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona, “Hawaiian Hotel,” a Saturday Night Live skit (video below) in which two grass-skirted, uke-playing, hula-dancing, minimum wage entertainers abuse guests at a hotel restaurant is not funny.

The skit “went too far in its negative depiction of Hawaii’s native people and tourism industry,” Aiona said. He added he wouldn’t let “such distortions go unchecked” when the economy is doing so poorly.

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Purple, Pasty and Protected: Poi

Purple, Pasty and Protected: Poi Photo by king damus via Flickr (Creative Commons).
Photo by king damus via Flickr (Creative Commons).

I headed to Hawaii intending to learn to like poi, but I never did acquire much of a taste for it, finding the texture too much like that of a mushy apple. I don’t mind the flavor, it’s not like I’m offended by it, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat it. When I mentioned to a host at dinner—she was an immigrant to Hawaii— that I was determined to master the purple paste, she gave me this advice:  “Don’t bother. It’s like oatmeal or grits or any other staple food—if you didn’t grow up with it, it’s never going to taste that great.” I’m guessing she’d done some time herself trying to master this essential part of the traditional Hawaiian diet.

Poi is in the news. More accurately taro is the news-maker, or kalo—that’s the Hawaiian name for the crop and it’s what poi is made from—because of Native Hawaiian efforts to protect the plant from genetic modification. 

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Waikiki Beach Boys

If you want to hear about the golden days of Waikiki, your best bet is probably to head up to the Haleiwa to the Surf Museum. Since I’m no surfing aficionado, I wasn’t exactly roped in by the displays, but I sure enjoyed the time I spent talking with the museum’s proprietor, Hurricane Bob. Ask Hurricane Bob about what Waikiki used to be like, and he’s full of stories.

I couldn’t help but think of Hurricane Bob, the North Shore and Waikiki when I stumbled over this short documentary about the Waikiki Beach Boys. It crams a whole sensibility about Hawaii, surfing, Waikiki, and beach culture into just over six minutes. Six minutes well spent, I’d say.

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The Saint From Moloka’i

The Saint From Moloka’i Photo by Elika & Shannon via Flickr (Creative Commons).
Photo by Elika & Shannon via Flickr (Creative Commons).

He wasn’t named Father Damien at birth. He was Joseph De Veuster, a Belgian, a son of wealthy farmers. He became Father Damien at his ordination, and in 1873, after a few years on the Big Island and Maui, he went to work on Moloka’i, caring for the forgotten people of Kalaupapa, victims of Hansen’s disease—then called leprosy—abandoned to their fate on a remote peninsula.

Father Damien built churches and taught his religion, of course, but he was also instrumental in ensuring that the community had a working water supply. There’s a bronze statue of Father Damien, always covered in flower leis, “up top”—it stands outside a church he built in spite of the fact that the Board of Health expressly forbid him to visit with those “outside.” Father Damien contracted Hansen’s disease and died at age 49. Because of miracles attributed to the Moloka’i priest, Father Damien will officially become a saint on October 11.

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Pork on the Pali: Prohibited

Pork on the Pali: Prohibited Photo by The Pug Father via Flickr (Creative Commons).
Photo by The Pug Father via Flickr (Creative Commons).

It’s a top tourist destination on Oahu; don’t blow it by traveling with the wrong meat.

There’s a Hawaiian superstition that says it’s forbidden to take pork across the Nu’uana Pali. Your rental car will die, you’ll fall off the edge, maybe you’ll be chased by bees or rocks will fall on you. Who knows what bad luck you’ll encounter if you don’t leave your bacon on the Honolulu side. Here’s the story from Wikipedia, though it checks out with a bunch of other sources, too:

According to legend, the Hawaiian volcano goddess Pele and the demigod Kamapua’a (a half-man-half-pig) had a turbulent relationship, and the two agreed not to visit each other. If one takes pork over the Pali, the legend goes, one is symbolically taking a piece of Kamapua’a from one side to the other, and it is said that Pele would stop that from happening.

Still unexplained? How Spam is transported from the harbor to towns on the leeward side of Oahu. Maybe it’s OK if you go the long way, around the south end. Whatever you do, finish up that Hawaiian pizza before you head up to see the view.


Hawaii vs. Office of Hawaiian Affairs

Photo by k*8 via Flickr (Creative Commons).

A brief disclaimer: I’m not an expert on legal matters and while I’ve been doing lots of reading, there’s still lots I don’t understand. Because of that, I absolutely welcome your more enlightened comments on the case. I’d just like to get you interested in what’s happening and why it’s a big deal, I’m going to keep it brief and send you elsewhere to more expert commentary. Now, in summary:

The Hawaiian State Supreme Court previously ruled that the state (Hawaii) could not sell lands ceded in the overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy until a settlement on those lands had been reached with the Hawaiian people. The gist? The lands were ceded to the U.S. government by those who had no right to do so.

The state of Hawaii is appealing the decision—it wants the right to sell those lands. It says that its ability to manage the lands is impeded by this ruling. That’s the bare bones of the case. But Native Hawaiians see a lot more at stake in the Supreme Court’s first case tomorrow.

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World Hum’s Most Read: Feb. 14-20

World Hum’s Most Read: Feb. 14-20 Photo by Sophia Dembling
Photo by Sophia Dembling

Our five most popular slideshows from the past week:

1) Dipping Into the Ex-Boyfriend Archives
2) My Travels, My Feet (pictured)
3) Inside Slum Tourism
4) Hawaii: Holoholo Wale
5) Return to Nepal


Gov. to Hawaii: Tear Down This Clothesline

Gov. to Hawaii: Tear Down This Clothesline Photo by s2art via Flickr (Creative Commons).

From the Pacific Business News:

A similar bill, jokingly referred to as the “right to dry bill” passed the Legislature in 2008 but was vetoed by Gov. Linda Lingle.

House Bill 1273, introduced by several environmentally conscientious House representatives, includes language that says a residential board may implement “reasonable restrictions with regard to the placement of the clothesline so long as the restrictions do not prohibit clotheslines altogether.”

Ah, the politics of a tourism-driven economy. I’m going to stick my neck out and guess that the reason the gov vetoed the bill was hefty lobbying about aesthetics from resort developers and tourism boosters. “All that underwear is going to wreck our view!”

Confession: I’ve shot photos in any number of European towns of laundry drying on the line. The Italians seem to do a nice job making laundry aesthetic. I’d be hard pressed not to be giddy at the sight of a line full of Aloha shirts flapping in the Hawaiian breeze.


Time Travel to Honolulu

It’s politically incorrect, not entirely accurate historically, and oddly, the producers chose to intersperse “Aloha Oe” with “The Skater’s Waltz” in the sound track. But the boards are huge, the leis are fluffy and plentiful, and the footage of Waikiki Beach? Wow, it looks nothing like what I saw last year:

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The Unfortunate End of Captain Cook

captain cook statue Photo by avlxyz via Flickr (Creative Commons).
Photo by avlxyz via Flickr (Creative Commons).

The story of Captain Cook’s death—the anniversary of this unfortunate event just passed—is an object lesson in cultural misunderstandings.

Cook and his crew first blew into Kaleakakua Bay while the Pleadies were rising, during the festival of Makahiki. Hawaiian custom deemed that during this time, there was to be no fighting, no conflict of any kind.

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Must Be Something In the Water

A whale calf either washed up or beached itself on Kauai’s west side. The calf was first spotted by a tour-boat captain, there’s still no known cause of death. From The Garden Isle.

The USS Port Royal, a billion-dollar warship, got stuck on a reef just outside Honolulu. It spent a few days there while measures were taken to lighten the load so it could be freed—that happened early Monday morning. Here’s the story on MSNBC.

Dead fish—including many of the famous humuhumus—are showing up in the waters around the privately owned island of Ni’ihau. The Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Aquatic Resources is still trying to find the cause but in the meantime, fish is off the menu for the residents of Ni’ihau. From the Honolulu Advertiser.


Iz, Gabby Pahinui and the Sounds of Hawaii

Big Iz’s “Over the Rainbow” is an iconic ukulele track—it’s often the first thing folks ask me to play when they learn I have a uke. If you’ve heard the full track—it slid into U.S. consciousness a few years back via a toy store advertisement—then you’ve heard the bit at the beginning where Iz says, in his perfect, soft voice, “K, this one’s for Gabby.”

Iz is referring to Gabby Pahinui. Even though Gabby died in 1980, he’s credited with being the master of slack key. You can take his title as the father of Hawaiian music more literally, too: three of his sons, Cyril, Martin, and Bla are recording artists. For me, Cyril’s sweet falsetto and the sound of slack key guitar evoke the islands like nothing else. I’ve had the good fortune to see Cyril Pahinui on the mainland and in the islands—he’s often on tour with Led Kaapana, another slack key super genius.

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Where Kawelo Makes Fire

You need a four-wheel drive vehicle to get to Keahiakawelo, the Garden of the Gods, on Lana’i. The dusty rough track ends at Polihua Beach, an isolated stretch of white sand and unswimmable surf (the tides are dangerous; don’t even think about it).

If you take the boat from Maui, you’ll share the deck with locals carrying enormous ice chests, household appliances (we watched a guy load a washing machine) and piles of groceries. There are also a handful of rugged backpackers, motorcycle riders and well-heeled tourists in khakis and sunhats carrying golf clubs.

The carved stone marker towards the top of the road says “Garden of the Gods” but Keahiakawelo actually means “the place where Kawelo makes fire” or “the fire of Kawelo.”  According to the Hawaiian legend, the landscape was transformed into bare, red rock slopes by Kawelo’s burning every single stick of vegetation in a competition against another kahuna to see who could keep the fire going the longest.

I learned this from Kepa Maly of the Lana’i Culture and Heritage Center—the center must be one of the most under-visited facilities in the islands. I also learned that there are artifacts that show human habitation of Lana’i from 1,000 years ago and had my brain short out on the idea that an entire island (it’s actually 98%) could be owned by a pineapple company and then a hotel company. The island still has a weird colonial vibe, and before I was taken down by seasickness in the Maui channel, I was glad to be moving on.


Island Eats: Spam Musubi

spam musubi Photo by bandita via Flickr (Creative Commons).
Photo by bandita via Flickr (Creative Commons).

Blame WW II. It was the food of soldiers stationed in the islands and somehow, it stuck—cans of the meat-like product making their way past the gates of military bases and into Hawaiian daily life. According to an older article in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, islanders go through 7 million cans of Spam annually. Spam seems to show up everywhere Hawaiians are found—Hawaiian center fielder for the Phillies Shane Victorino took heat last year from PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals) for admitting that Spam musubi was one of his favorite foods. And stalkerish reporting on every action taken by our new president on his last trip to the islands revealed that he ordered Spam musubi for lunch while on a golf outing.

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