Oh, happy day…Oh happy day!
Today, I got a visit from a dear friend from Hilo (besides my own home Maui my FAVORITE island place) and, after I gave her the strawberry mochi from Fujiya, we talked about so many things that come from the na’au. (The gut, the place where Hawaiians believe the important things reside, resonate and are revealed).
We talked about how we never want to leave Hawai’i. I don’t mean move away. I mean we don’t even want to get on board a plane and go somewhere else. We could be heading for the wedding of a dear family member, a conference we’ve looked forward to all year, a vacation we worked hard to earn…..and a few days before departure, we start to get kind of melancholy. We look at the paper and we see all the events we’re missing (“Oh, no, Ka Himeni Ana is on while I’m gone.”) I used to always fly out at night, often a red eye, and they (Hawaiian? Aloha? not sure who) would play “Honolulu City Lights” and I would be brushing away tears, even if I was going to be gone for just a week. It’s the only place I’ve ever landed in where people routinely applaud when the plane lands. (Except for Denver, where the flight in through the mountains is so scary you’re applauding because you thought you were going to die.)
We talked about how, when we wake up in the morning, we expect to see the shadows of palms on the ceilings of our bedrooms, to hear mynah and bulbuls, to smell familiar vegetation. For 20 years in Seattle, although I loved it there, I never really got used to evergreens and robins.
We talked about that strange thing that only Islanders would understand: The smell that greets you at Honolulu International, composed of plumeria and jet fuel. You know you’re home. In the old days, you knew that, once you negotiated that jetway, someone would be waiting for you, someone you loved, with a lei. Even now, you know that, once you get through the dratted luggage carousel without getting outted by a beagle, you’ll see a familiar car. Once again, home.
We talked about, no matter how many times you explain it, people who didn’t grow up with it don’t understand poi. I keep trying to explain, it’s s starch, you eat it WITH things, unless you’re very poor and very hungry (or just happen to be a poi addict, which my husband is). I ask, “Would you sit down to a plate of mashed potatoes? To a bowl of grits? To plain white rice? To polenta and nothing else? NO! You’d have it with something salty, spicy, fatty, fishy, potently flavored. It’s an eaker-outer. It’s a balancing factor. It’s the sour to the salt, or even sometimes the sweet.” They never get it.
People from elsewhere never understand this because, for the most part, they’re never taught this. Poi is put in front of them at phony tourist lu’au and there’s some moronic talk about two-finger, three-finger but no one says: Try it with the kalua. Try it with the dried fish (if there even IS dried fish!). Try it with the laulau. Try it with the lomi salmon. Dammit. With the shortage of poi today, why waste our pearls on…well, not swine, but unappreciative humans.
(I like poi in beef stew with rice but no visitor EVER gets the opportunity to try that!).
I am so sick of having to explain local culture, let alone Hawaiian culture, that I want to do horrible things. Did I ever tell you about the time I was in Hana taking a walk and this carload of tourists stopped and asked me, “Is this HANNAH?,” pronouncing it like the girl’s name? I said, “No.” No explanation. Walked away. Mean, bad, nasty Wanda. Kinda triumphant Wanda.
When I go somewhere, I read a book, look at some web sites, buy a guide, tread softly, try to understand and not sound as stupid as I undoubtedly am about the place and its history. But people do NOT understand that Hawaii is a very complex, layered, nuanced, sophisticated culture. In its food and every other way. And, it seems, they never will.
I just figured out why. Because, in Hawaii, whether we are ethnically Hawaiian or multi-generational something else, we are connected to the land. I’m not romanticising. I don’t like romanticising. I’m talking directly from my na’au. We get it that your “there” influences your “who.” People who live in places where “there is no there there” don’t understand that and never will. Southernors understand their home. I know my son-in-law misses his native Alaska the way I missed Hawaii. But some people just don’t seem to have any connection to the place where they live. Or, if they do, they don’t understand that others have analogous connections to very different landscapes.
And I wish they would just rent a car, stay in a hotel, go to the beach and leave our culture alone.
And if it seems as though I’m a little (or a lot) cranky, I am. This APEC thing is making me crazy.
Have a nice day. Maybe I’ll tell you about what I’ve been cooking lately next time, but I had to get this off my chest.
Wow, Wanda, EXCELLENT post!! You’re right, some people will never get it! There is no other place like Hawai’i and, yes, it is our connection with the land that makes it even more special to me. Hawai’i no ka ‘oi!
And yes, get rid of the poi (mostly wasted) at the fake lu’au; if people want to try it, let them order it at a Hawaiian restaurant like Helena’s or Haili’s.
Some of those people LIVE here, can’t stop complaining and comparing it to the Mainland. They should leave. As for the mispronouncers, I hang up on the telesalespeople who say “Hannah”. I don’t know what I’m going to do about our family friend who’s been coming here every January for 20+ years and still says Alley Why and Alley Moana.
This brought tears to my eyes. I was priviledged to live in Hawaii for almost 4 years courtesy of the Army. I can’t even begin to explain the impact it had on myself and my children. I know, because of living in HI, that my kids will be more tolerant and more accepting of differences. We will all have a better appreciation and value of cultural differences. I WILL be back! As for poi….I love it! I prefer mine on the sour side and it compliments just about everything you serve it with:)
Every time I hear “Honolulu City Lights” a great nostalgia, longing and melancholy overcome me.