Paul Theroux on ‘Multilayered and Maddening’ Hawaii

Travel Blog  •  Jim Benning  •  05.14.12 | 10:43 AM ET

Paul Theroux lives in Hawaii but finds aspects of the archipelago’s culture to be mysterious and nearly impenetrable. When he set out to talk with natives about local traditions, he was met with silence and monosyllabic replies, even when he turned up with gifts of honey from his own bees.

I had never in my traveling or writing life come across people so unwilling to share their experiences. Here I was living in a place most people thought of as Happyland, when in fact it was an archipelago with a social structure that was more complex than any I had ever encountered—beyond Asiatic. One conclusion I reached was that in Hawaii, unlike any other place I had written about, people believed that their personal stories were their own, not to be shared, certainly not to be retold by someone else. Virtually everywhere else people were eager to share their stories, and their candor and hospitality had made it possible for me to live my life as a travel writer.

(Via @nerdseyeview)


5 Comments for Paul Theroux on ‘Multilayered and Maddening’ Hawaii

GypsyGirl 05.14.12 | 3:08 PM ET


DEK 05.16.12 | 11:53 AM ET

It would be interesting to find how old that tradition is.  Did early visitors report such a thing?  Or is it a modern practice, a reaction to the threatened submersion of their native culture by the influx of rich and overbearing foreigners?  Or bad experiences with anthropologists who retold their stories wrongly?

And it is not unheard of to regard a story as property.  Certain Native Americans regard certain stories, which they have inherited in oral form, as personal property, much to the irritation of white-eyed writers.

If Native Hawaiians feel themselves dispossessed of their independence and way of life, it may be only natural to hang on to whatever is theirs, and honey is easier to come by than ones personal story.

shawn 05.17.12 | 1:18 AM ET

great. . . .

Lenore Greiner 05.20.12 | 7:51 PM ET

It’s so true.  As a former Oahu resident, nobody seemed to know anything of local history or have an explanation of local customs for me.  And their suspicions about late arrivals meant that, as a haole in Hawaii, I was always suspect and certainly not wanted.  Despite the gregariousness of the people, whom I loved, I got most of my info at hula gatherings and festivals from a outsider who had been living there for over 20 years.  Go figure.

Lily Hummer 05.29.12 | 7:20 PM ET

I would love to correspond with Mr. Theroux.  I am traveling to Oahu in June 2012 to research just the subject he finds impenetrable.  Please pass on my e-mail if possible.  Thanks. lily

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