What’s hidden behind Aloha?

Wednesday, 10.02.2016

“Aloha” welcomed us on Kauai. It is not only a warm greeting linked with the Hawaii Islands, but it’s also the philosophy of Hawaiians, especially characteristic to those who live on Kauai. Aloha – let’s decipher the meaning:

A – Akahai, kindness expressed with tenderness;

L – Lokahi, unity, expressed with harmony;

O – ‘Olu’olu, agreeable, expressed with pleasantness;

H – ‘Ha’aha’a, humility, expressed with modesty;

A – Ahonui, patience, expressed with perseverance.

All the above reflect the Kauai spirit.

We explored the length and breadth of the island. After just a few days we were entangled with the rhythm and spirit of Aloha. The spirit, deeply ingrained in the local tradition, poured onto us, even in the most tourist venues of the island.


Aloha means respect for the land

Hawaiian culture has many shades of colors, and the more I know about it, the more intriguing it is.  Primarily, Kauai is all about the respect for the land, which is fundamental for Hawaiians. The land encompasses both: the beginning and end of life. Hawaiian beliefs are based on the harmony between gods, people, and land. One cannot exist without the other. The close bond between people and the mother Earth is called aloha ‘aina, which means love of the land.

We coasted our car through Kapa’a. Relaxation filled up the air, but not in the Italian type la dolce vita, but rather in an attitude towards life. Nobody took part in a rat race for a better TV, more money or a brand new smartphone. Here life went on in its own aloha pace.  Loose floral shirts and flip-flops ruled on the streets. People briskly, but not too fast, strolled along the roads, the drivers waited one after another for the light to change green. Traffic was dense, but nobody seemed to care.

You may ask why there is no by-pass going through the middle of the island which would link the two biggest cities on the island Kapa’a and Lihu’e? There was a plan, and even an investor but Bette Midler entered the scene and bought the land. She promised to the locals she would not build any by-pass,  hotel or office, but she would plant trees only.

A similar story unfolds in the film and book the Descendants. The titular descendants of the Hawaiian kings own land on Kauai and, tempted by the quick cash flow, want to sell it. The protagonist, Matt King, makes a decision in accordance with his consciousness. Because they owe it to their heirs.


After a few days of tropical rainfall, we headed to the north of the island. Branches were lying on the streets, leaves were blanketing the road, and the grass was taking a luscious green color and was looking a bit taller. In a jiffy, the Kauai residents set off on a quest for cleaning it all up. They trimmed the trees, collected garbage blown by rain and moaned the lawns. The work was in full swing.

The Hawaiians are conscious about how precious their land is. So in many places on Kauai, there are shelters and areas restricted to animals only where endangered species are reintroduced. The lighthouse in Kilauea is one of those places. There, it is the bird who has the priority the on the road. Humans take a back seat! In Kilauea, tourists can observe from a distance the breeding sites of endemic species e.g. the Hawaiian monk seal.


Aloha means love for others

Apart from the endless love of the land, Hawaiians love and respect other people. The rule is simple: give love and share it. Don’t demand or request aloha. Be patient and it will come back to you. Hawaiians realize how much they depend on each other: the youngsters on the elders and the elders on the youngsters. They act in their community as cogs in a clockwork, where each tiny part plays a crucial role. Being among their peers is the ultimate goal of life.


Aloha means stories passed down from generation to generation

In a traditional Hawaiian society, language played a two-fold role. It was not only a way of conveying information, but it also had the causative function, meaning it had the power to change reality. As the local saying goes: language is life, language is death. Unfortunately, when Americans got hold of the islands they banned the usage of the Hawaiian language. It caused a near extinction. From 1896 Hawaiian language was forbidden at schools and at any official events. Luckily, Americans came to their senses and realized that such approach would take its toll on the local. So from 1970 Hawaiian came back to schools, and it became, along with English, an official language of the islands. There is a substantial rise in the use of it. We could even hear it in a grocery shop or at the farmer’s market. It was strange to us because Hawaiian is based almost solely on vowels. Its sounds are not akin to anything I’ve ever heard.


Tourism in Aloha style

The locals might be a little unfriendly towards strangers. To simplify – the reason behind such behavior lies in the past when they had to struggle with invaders. From the beginnings, their land tempted many, with its lushness and the prospect of rapid wealth. The Hawaiian Islands were conquered by Russians, Filipinos, and Americans. They all wanted a piece for their own, without considering the consequences. Nowadays tourism can be regarded as colonialism, with its enormous hotels, mindless tourists, and golf courses, whose grounds previously had been sacred graveyards.

That’s why we have to apply to several simple rules. First of all, respect the local traditions, don’t make fun of it. Respect their sacred places although they’re not churches. Second of all, if you dive or snorkel, do not touch the coral reef. Our innocent touch can destroy the reef which takes ages to rebuild. Third of all, do not support kitschy tourism which offers hula performances. We can spot it if women dancers wear coconut bras and grass skirts. This is just a show having nothing in common with the tradition. Fourth of all, when you decide to hike, clean up your soles from any seeds and spores beforehand. If you’re hungry, don’t opt for well-known fast-food chains, but try out something local. They have great local joints where you can eat to your fill. Plus the local food is delicious. And if you want to contribute to the land you can enroll to one of the local organic farms and grow avocados.


The aloha spirit guided us through our stay. Kauai presented itself in all its greatness – the wild and the cultural site. And even the weather had mercy on us because after two days the rainfall stops. And when the plane took off, the tropical sun meekly said goodbye to us.