Thursday, May 15, 2008

Aloha from Kauai, Conflicted as Usual

Back in Kauai again. One of the few places where I can regain peace in mind and heart. Get the batteries recharged.

I took the photo on the left in 2007 from Poipu beach. The weather for the last few days is much different: a high pressure system has settled over the islands, blocking the trade winds, causing a buildup of domestic air pollution and Vog.

Nevertheless, I love Kauai, but it is always conflicting to be here. We're just another couple of mainlanders who bought a piece of the action over here, spend some money when we come, leave our trash, go home, and leave the islands' problems behind.

Sure, we help the economy over here, such as it is, built now almost completely on servicing the tourists who come here. Sugar is dead, coffee (at least on Kauai) struggles, and niche businesses succeed by successfully marketing to the tourists, in hopes their customers can spread the word when they return home. Locals need two or three jobs to make it here, and rich mainlanders drive up the price of everything because they can buy anything they want.

Almost all transient mainlanders remain totally ignorant of Hawaii's history, especially the last two hundred years after Europeans started the work of reshaping Hawaii into their own image. The story is ultimately sad and unfinished to this day, but our ignorance of what Hawaii means to Hawaiians is the greatest shame of all. When we bring guests with us to the island, I share what little knowledge I have of recent history, and always try to impart the fact that the Hawaii our guests see is not the Hawaii that was, and will never be again.

I was reminded of this today at a small reception at our resort, with entertainment provided by local musicians. Singing local songs in Hawaiian, I know for a fact than none of my fellow guests have bothered to look up English translations of any Hawaiian music, and how traditional Hawaiian music captures the Hawaiian spirit better than a beach, a sunset, a Mai Tai, or just about anything. When calling for a request from the audience, the only vocal response was "Tiny Bubbles," (a song that was written for Lawrence Welk, but made popular by the Hawaiian singer Don Ho) a song that has nothing to do with Hawaii. (Nobody drinks sparkling wine here!)

A real song, perhaps? From my very limited inventory of Hawaiian music, Kuhio Bay by Keliana Bishaw is a lovely ode to one of the most beautiful places in the world:

This is the first time I saw for myself
The beauty of Waiakea
There is no other that can compare
With the beauty, the beauty
Of Kuhio Bay

I admire the beauty of Hilo
The rain drenches it
Mokuola stands out in the sea
Island that is
Known to all

Rainbow falls is well known
Falls visited by strangers
Marvelous waters in my sight
It streams down and wets
The plains
Besides Tiny Bubbles, the song most mainlanders think of is Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole ("Braddah Iz" to Hawaiians). But mainlanders hear a different song than what Iz intended, and I wonder if Iz initially realized the irony of his creation. What mainlanders hear is a song of hope for a brighter future; when Iz sings, he sings a lament for the Hawaii that once was and will never be again. We hear the song over and over here, piped in through lobbies, elevators, and restaurants, and I always feel a pang of sadness for what we have collectively done to dilute and subvert traditional Hawaiian culture.

It's truly sad, but ah, but I do so love it here, conflicted as usual....

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