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Hawaii is a paradise...

This blog focuses on hiking Kalalau on the island of Kauai and cultural concerns for all of Hawaii --- if you are primarily interested in Kalalau you should proceed to the second entry and skip this potentially uncomfortable first entry.

I think discovery is a relative term, because when Captain Cooke “discovered” Hawaii in 1778 it is estimated between four and eight hundred thousand natives inhabited this remote island chain.  Although I’m pretty certain the Hawaiians already knew they existed, Cooke made his fellow Europeans aware of this group of people and gets credit for making a discovery from his culture’s perspective.

Hiking towards paradise
  When we returned to Kauai I was intent upon exploration and made discoveries that served up a profound personal experience.

One of the greatest aspects of the Hawaiian Islands is that each of the seven major islands possess distinctly different, though equally inviting environments.  Kauai is wonderfully lush and deserving of its nickname as the “garden isle.”  The oldest island, its volcanoes are long extinct and completely different from the still expanding ‘Big Island’ of Hawaii.  During our inaugural visit to Kauai five years earlier, my family devoted a carefree day driving north to Hanalei and randomly sampled beaches.

Gillin's Beach - Kauai
  We wandered a bit past the charming tourist town and arrived at the northernmost swimming spot on the island, Ke’e Beach.  Here we stumbled not only upon a splendid beach, but also a trailhead that intrigued this avid hiker.  The temptation was strong and I abandoned my family to amble the first stretch.

I had happened upon the Kalalau (pronounced ‘CALL-allow’) trail skirting the storied Na Pali coastline and witnessed beauty beyond my imagination.  The Na Pali Coast is a State Park, featuring magnificent volcanic mountains plunging dramatically into the sea.   After the fact, I learned that the trail runs 11.5 miles to Kalalau Beach, where sixty camping permits are available each night.  The trail is exceedingly difficult (on a scale of one to ten, the Sierra Club gives Kalalau a nine), in places a mere foot across, with a misstep sending you 600 feet straight down to a rocky coastline.

View from the porch of our Nihi Kai condo in Poipu


While I didn’t get too far, my jaunt concluded at the Ke’e Overlook, a point that looks back to afford a grand view of the beach…and in the other direction is heaven.  On this latter bearing is a breathtaking panorama of the “pali’s” (Hawaiian for “cliff”) that zigzag along sparkling blue water.  Absolutely nothing in my previous experience rivaled this beauty and I had a strong desire to return for a deeper drink.  I was motivated to learn about this trail and return to discover its secrets.  Kalalau enticed me to become an explorer.

I am blessed because my wife sensed this desire and after she proposed a return, I shared our plans with a native Hawaiian friend who lives on Oahu.  Our friend Martina cherishes her culture and is a wonderful proponent, singing songs in the native tongue while accompanying herself on ukulele (the family business is manufacturing Kamaka ukuleles, which are world renowned).

Gillins Beach
  She is also adept at performing hula.  A medical doctor by profession, Martina’s practice includes tending to the few remaining lepers on Molokai.  Molokai became quarantine for lepers in the 1860’s in an attempt to stem the spread of one of many lethal diseases introduced by western culture.

Through our e-mail communications, Martina has shared there are only about thirty patients remaining, the youngest being about 62 years old.  It was roughly forty years ago that the quarantining of lepers ended and this handful were all committed as young adults.  Fortunately, leprosy has a cure now and although these folks are no longer plagued with the awful syndrome, they were disfigured by the disease and find it more comfortable to live there.  They are not confined and most are temporary residents, often debarking to visit family and friends on other islands.

Every other Thursday Martina boards a propeller plane to Molokai and comes to rest on a grass landing strip, after which she strides to a nearby pickup truck with keys left in the ignition!  Then she drives to the facility where the (former) lepers are housed to address any medical needs.  Martina possesses tender concern about her patients and the heartfelt stories she shares brings to light how these unfortunate souls rise above the miserable hand life has dealt them.

Beyond letting Martina know we would soon be able to get together again, I asked for reading suggestions to further my understanding of her people.  Always striving to immerse myself in any culture I visit, prior research left me feeling conversant in Hawaiian history.  But my perceived insight would be completely upended by Martina’s reading recommendations and her lengthy discussion of the Akaka Bill.

Digesting the books she suggested, I was awakened to how the United States brutally stole paradise.  Although I want to impart the beauty and allure of the Hawaiian culture, I need to guide you through a troubling fork in the road, starting with the unsettling history of Hawaii.  The biggest sin was the decimation of the island’s population.  I mentioned earlier that the estimated population was between four and eight hundred thousand natives when Captain Cooke dropped in.  A century later, after being infested with western values and diseases, the native population dwindled to a mere 40,000!

Compounding the dilemma, there was a movement in America beginning in the 1820’s to deliver missionaries to Hawaii and cure pagan habits.  By the late 19th century, the offspring of these messengers of Christian values had become capitalist sugar plantation owners and literally stole Hawaii away.  The motivation was pure greed and this 2% of the population wrongly called upon America’s military might to depose the native government.  The result was severe trampling of native Hawaiian culture.  It was a western mentality presuming Hawaiians were ignorant and lazy which promulgated the rape, but if you care to dig deeper as I did, that notion is incredibly wrong and our society has inflicted significant damage to a wondrous and beautiful culture from the smugness of ours.

Another disturbing discovery was how I could have been oblivious to this from my earlier attempts to understand the Hawaiian culture.  Despite all of the history I had absorbed, I never picked up on the pillage committed.  It was reading a book by a native Hawaiian that opened my eyes, and the lesson I learned was to be careful when investigating new cultures.  Readily available resources are usually authored by those in your own culture and possibly biased to avoid discomfort.

I alerted Martina that during my visit we needed to share a serious discussion around the security of her culture and challenged myself to engage other native Hawaiians I encountered.  In addition to Kalalau, I wanted to explore whether or not the United States had adversely impacted this culture.

Though the Hawaiian culture is likely alien to your fundamental understanding, it is now part of America and if you are a fellow citizen you can help repair the damage.  I encourage you to learn for yourself how America wrongly took control of this paradise for a good reason.  If you emerge motivated for reparation, then you might urge support for passage of the Akaka Bill.

Daniel Akaka, one of Hawaii’s senators, has been trying for five years to get the “Akaka Bill” passed, which would grant native Hawaiians recognition as original inhabitants who are entitled to a distinct governing body --- rights similarly granted to all native North American Indians.  Incredibly, Hawaiians are recognized as a distinct ethnic group, but not as the people who were originally native to these islands!  To understand the bill, here are a few words Mr. Akaka expressed to the President of the United States about it’s merits:

There is no doubt that Native Hawaiians are indigenous to Hawaii. There is no doubt that Native Hawaiians exercised sovereignty over the Hawaiian archipelago. There is no doubt that Native Hawaiians had a governing structure and entered into treaties with the United States, similar to that of their American Indian and Alaska Native brethren.

Where we differ is that whereas most tribes have been allowed to retain their governing structure, Native Hawaiians, following the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom, were forbidden from maintaining their government. Native Hawaiians did, however, maintain distinct communities, and retained their language, customs, tradition, and culture despite efforts to extinguish these "native" practices.

The bill does not create a new relationship - Congress has long recognized its legal and political relationship with Native Hawaiians as evidenced by the many statutes enacted to address the conditions of Native Hawaiians. This bill does not create a new group of natives - we have always been here, in fact we were here before the United States. Rather, this bill establishes parity in federal policies towards native peoples in the United States by formally extending the federal policy of self-governance and self-determination to Native Hawaiians.

During our visit, my attempts to assess the damage done began upon questioning an attendant at the Bishop Museum.  The Bishop Museum is a splendid testament to Hawaiian culture, located in Honolulu and was one of many treasures Bernice Bishop donated to her people.  Bernice was the last direct descendent of King Kamehameha (the much celebrated Hawaiian king who united all of the islands) and after she died, her “western” husband established this museum.  To Mr. Bishop’s credit, he was so disgusted by the United State’s overthrow of Hawaii in 1893 that he left for good, returning only upon death to be reunited with his wife.

The museum attendant I engaged was half Hawaiian and half Chinese.  It took no time to learn he passionately supported passage of the Akaka Bill and subsequently validated the damage inflicted upon his culture through a compelling personal story.  A brilliant aspect of Hawaiian culture was (and sadly note that I didn’t say “is”) the ability to recite one’s family tree.  I learned years ago that original Hawaiians are believed to have sailed over 2,000 miles from Polynesia around 1100 - 1200 A.D.  Amazingly, many Hawaiian families could recite their lineage back to Polynesia before the migration!  Try to weigh the difficulty of naming your own ancestry back eight centuries - a single, remarkable facet of a culture deemed mentally slow by my culture…which still thought the world was flat when Hawaiians navigated several thousand miles over the oceans to a new homeland.

The attendant shared with me that his grandmother was a kahuna (Hawaiian term for a shaman, or medicine woman) and could deliver the names of all her ancestors, in order, back to the original isles.  The tradition ended here though, since his grandmother was forbidden to speak the native language!  I was terribly saddened by this tale that reinforced the reality of damage done.

I continued the exploration by asking Martina and her husband to brunch with her culture as the centerpiece of conversation.  Martina’s husband, Don, is a native of Arkansas, but embraces his wife’s culture strongly because he has taken the time to learn of its beauty.  As a testament, this couple plans on enrolling their two children in a Hawaiian immersion program for their first years of schooling.  Of course the native Hawaiian language is deployed at the school, but what boggled my mind was that this program requires the parents to use the native tongue at home.

I was impressed Don would be willing to attend classes to learn the native tongue, and shocked that Martina would be right beside him since she cannot speak Hawaiian!  Despite all of the Hawaiian phrases Martina knows, in addition to the lyrics of many songs, she cannot freely converse nor write in this language (and as a footnote, it was the missionaries who created an abridged alphabet for putting Hawaiian on paper...only spoken before Western intervention).  Their effort reinforces why I am trying to gather a call-to-arms in support of the Akaka Bill --- it is ludicrous to not recognize Hawaiians as indigenous, and doing so takes giant steps towards rejuvenating the restoration of beauty.  The remnants of this culture we obliterated are striving to regain the splendor and the least we can do is support them.....and compared to learning a new language, writing your congressman seems a fair contribution.

vances says:
Thank you, Sima... completely forgot this blog, but a hike you would treasure!
Posted on: Sep 03, 2016
simsing says:
Very informative blog!
Posted on: Sep 03, 2016
Lord_Mike says:
I learned a lot about this great and horrible atrocities that have occurred to this culture...thanks for sharing, and congrats on your feature!!!
Posted on: Mar 15, 2009
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Hawaii is a paradise...
Hawaii is a paradise...
Hiking towards paradise
Hiking towards paradise
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Gillin's Beach - Kauai
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View from the porch of our Nihi K…
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photo by: vances