Poipu Travel Blog› entry 1 of 2 › view all entries
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”
One of the greatest aspects of the
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
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
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
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
Compounding the dilemma, there was a movement in
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
Though the Hawaiian culture is likely alien to your fundamental understanding, it is now part of
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
“There is no doubt that Native Hawaiians are indigenous to
Where we differ is that whereas most tribes have been allowed to retain their governing structure, Native Hawaiians, following the overthrow of the
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
During our visit, my attempts to assess the damage done began upon questioning an attendant at the
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
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
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.