The Two Hawai’ian Cultures
I wanted to write a book about Ancient Hawai’i. I had climbed and walked the mountains of Maui and some of the windward side of Molokai. And there I heard the echoes of the ghosts of a huge ancient population that was unlucky enough to have lived isolated from common germs and American nineteenth century commercial culture for a long enough time to find themselves ripe for destruction. It wasn’t a perfect life. There were wars. There was an elite that sometimes oppressed the common folk. People had to work hard to supply communities with food, and shortages were not uncommon. But they were a bold bunch. Experts at things like celestial navigation and irrigated agriculture. They used nature to produce fish in ways unequalled to this day.
That ended when sailors supplied guns to Kamehameha and he was finally able to defeat the people of Maui, Molokai and Oahu and form a kingdom. It also ended when the idols were burned and the Christian Missionaries organized the survivors of the diseases and taught them to be servants just as they did American Indians and Australian Aborigines. Then the white advisors divvied up the land into sugar plantations and later, pineapple and imported foreign labor because they believed the Hawaiians, some of the most hard working people on earth, to be lazy.
Today the population of Maui is about ten percent Hawai’ian. The culture is divided. People of the original race that occupied everything from South America to Australia and from Hawai’i to the South tip of New Zealand try hard to retain some pride in their cultures. The voyaging canoes that began with Hokule’a are now eight or nine in number spreading through the Pacific. The old vaudeville type songs I grew up thinking were Hawai’ian music have been replaced by slack key innovations and a renaissance in Hawai’ian composition. Hula, as a mystical communication and a way to transfer the ancient culture has returned after being banned by the up-tight missionary advisors to the royals.
The majority cultures that make up the ninety percent have their own version of Hawai’ian Culture. There is a web site the person designing the cover for my novel referred me to. It’s called Shutterstock and it has thousands of images used by graphics designers for everything from t-shirts to greeting cards. Shutterstock fulfills a legitimate need. It provides people with a simple way of avoiding litigation over image copyright and it is easy to use. But it is also a weather vane for culture change. While foraging through about a hundred pages of images I found one of Haleakala Crater and more than a hundred of Hawai’ian pizza. There are dozens of ugly tiki images with alcohol jokes and not one Hawai’ian outrigger canoe. There is a woman wearing coconut shells for a bra identified as a Hawai’ian Hula dancer. And most of the people portrayed by far are white.
I recognize this for what it is, a rant. It will not, nor should it stop anyone from going to Hawai’i and enjoying what passes for Hawai’ian culture in the tourist trade. But please, when you get a chance, stop and talk to the guys rubbing down the canoe at Honaunau on the Big Island. Get a Hawaiian guide to take you to Waipio and listen to the song of the waterfalls. Take the drive to Hana on Maui and jump into the pools at Kipahulu. Tourist guides called them sacred. Sacred for individual sites is really a foreign concept to Hawaiians who believe the earth is sacred. All of it. Oh, and read my novel Kolea when it comes out. Thanks for reading this and Aloha.