Sunday, January 27, 2008

7 Local Knowledge Meme

Notice I am on a meme theme? This one is from Ello who profiled the DC area. I am going to try to give 7 facts about Hawaii and Honolulu. For those interested, the sickness update is that I'm still sick. The fever is completely gone and I am left with no energy, a lack of breath, and coughing. I do things now but then I'm wiped out for a couple hours afterwards. I've gone ahead and asked my substitute to teach one more time on Monday, and I hope to go back to work by Wednesday. Now, on to Hawaii:

1) Hawaiian politics. Each of the main islands is a county unto itself and has a mayor and a city council. So all of Oahu is the City and County of Honolulu with one mayor, currently Mayor Mufi Hanneman. Mufi is this really tall man and we see him often because he likes to march in the parades through Waikiki. So there is a Hawaii/Big Isle mayor, a Maui mayor, a Honolulu mayor, and a Kauai mayor for the major isles. Inside each island, there are various areas or municipalities, but they appear to have very limited powers, a little stronger than a neighborhood board as far as I can tell. On the state level, the state if very Democratic and very loyal. We currently have a Republican governor, Linda Lingle, who once was the mayor of Hawai'i. She seems to be held in high esteem and I even saw her name appear on a VP list for Republican candidates. However, she has very limited power as the state legislature is over 75% Democratic and, as such, can override any veto they choose. The loyalty part of Hawaiian politics is best represented by our two senators, Inouye and Akaka. Both have been in the senate now for decades and keep winning almost automatically despite being in their 70s or 80s and not clearly doing much of anything now.

2) Aloha shirts. Do people in Hawaii actually wear aloha gear with large flowers and colors on their shirts or is this just for the tourists? Some of both actually. You wouldn't catch your average student at UH dead in an aloha shirt just walking around campus. Your average person on the street wears what any other American would wear, perhaps with a higher proportion of flipflops than other places; women even wear platform rubber slippers that can be a good three inches thick. However, aloha gear can and often is worn for "formal" occasions. When you go to open a bank account, the account manager will often be in an aloha shirt. Similarly, the chancellor of the university or the CEO of the Bank of Hawaii will attend meetings and give lectures in an aloha shirt. People will also wear one for weddings and graduations. Ties are rarely, rarely seen. Tourists also wear them quite a bit and you can buy entire matching family aloha gear so that the husband's shirt, the wife's dress, and the kids' shorts are the same print.

3) What is Hawaiian? The word Hawaiian is used in at least two senses: traditional Hawaiian in the sense of the people and culture that existed before Captain Cook found the Sandwich Isles in the 18th century and as it continues today. So classic Hawaiian food includes poi (pounded taro), pork laulau, and lomilomi salmon, the kinds of food associated with a luau. The word Hawaiian can also be used to refer to kind of the local culture as it's developed in the 3 centuries since Cook. It's an amalgam of American, Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, and Filipino cultures. Often this type of Hawaiian is called "local" and can refer to both cultural things like food and a sort of ethnic appearance. For instance, you can frequently see ads on campus for auditions that require someone who looks "local". This essentially means you can't be too white or look like a Japanese or Korean visitor or study abroad person. (You can certainly look somewhat Japanese, Korean, or Caucasian, but not too much.) You can see potential racism in this in that one could be white with a family that's been in Hawaii for 4 generations and you still aren't considered local. I am well aware that non-white people often deal with this on the Mainland all their lives. Exactly who is and is not Hawaiian is of some political importance. The largest landowner in the isles is Kamehameha Schools who only accept students who are Hawaiian (I believe it's a 1/4 requirement, but it might be 1/8). There's an office of Hawaiian affairs who focus on people considered Hawaiian. And Senator Akaka currently has a bill in the Senate to give a formal recognition to the Hawaiian people, something on the order that native American peoples have recognition federally.

4) How about leis and hula? These are very much alive. Just like little girls on the Mainland attend ballet and jazz dance classes and spin in circles echoing the movements of their teachers at recitals, little girls here take hula and imitate their teacher while parents take pictures. (Boys do hula, too, but I'd guess it's about the same percentage of girls to boys as is common in dance classes on the Mainland.) When the kids grow up, they often do make money doing hula for tourists, but there are also competitions whose audience is local and hula will be performed as part of other celebrations and at picnics. Leis are also very popular. One thing to know is that the lei is common across Polynesia and other Pacific cultures. For some cultures, the lei is a garland on the head, while in Hawaii, it's a necklace. I get my leis from "Le Flower Shop", which sells almost entirely leis. Whenever someone is to be honored in any way, you give them a lei. There's always graduation pictures in the local paper where the graduate is buried in lei after lei until you can barely see their eyes poking out.

5) Climate. I have commented on this before, but the most amazing thing about the weather in Hawaii to me is how local it is. Wind and rain will come in on the windward side, hit the mountains, and stay there. It is simply routine for it to rain, say in Manoa valley where the University is, nestled in the Koolau Range, and for there to be no rain a mile away. This is also the source of the several times a week rainbows. Oahu has naturally occurring waterfalls in deep forests and naturally occurring cacti, and the island's only about 30 miles across. The rainiest place on Earth is a mountain on Kaua'i, but just a few miles from it, it's not rainy at all. And yet, while rain can vary wildly just a couple miles apart, the overall climate is one of the least variable on the planet. The summer has lows around 70 and highs around 90, while the winter has lows around 60 and highs around 80. That's pretty much it. As such, most of the weathermen spend their times estimating surf and wave size.

6) Surfing. Speaking of surf, Hawaii is the home and origin of surfing. I just checked wikipedia and the first European record of surfing is from one of Captain Cook's crew who recorded Hawaiians surfing in 1799. Now boards are mostly made of a covered foam, but the traditional Hawaiian boards were made of hardwood, often the strong and light koa. All sorts of surfing cultures exist on the island, from professionals who travel the world to bronzed hang-loose 20 year-olds who work to surf to people in their 60s who've simply surfed all their lives. The most famous Hawaiian sports star remains Duke Kahanamoku who grew up a Waikiki beach boy. He was both a swimming and surfing star. On the swimming side he won gold medals and world records at the Olympics of 1912 and 1920. He also spread the idea of surfing in trips to both Australia and California. He also performed an amazing surfboard rescue, saving eight fisherman with his board. Fire trucks in Honolulu still have surf boards attached to their sides. Perhaps the best way to see the importance of surfing in Hawaii is in recent discussions about expanding the harbor in Maui. Groups invited to participate in the planning included harbor owners, freight shippers, local officials, environmental groups, and surfers.

7) Outdoor life. Hawaiians like to live outside. In fact, if you visit Honolulu, you will discover that most of the architecture, well, sucks. It's ugly, shabby, and cheap. There are of course exceptions, but no one's going to tour central Honolulu for the beautiful buildings and atmospheric streets echoing back to some previous time. Perhaps the most interesting thing about Hawaiian architecture is the inside/outside nature of much of it. Many buildings on campus are open corridors with classes on either side. Some hotel lobbies are open to the world except for the roof. The large Ala Moana mall filled with high-end stores like Gucci, Chanel, and Coach is open air. And when people get together, they usually go out. A common way to spend a holiday weekend is with the entire family renting a tent at a beach park and spending three days there. People love to do big parties outside. For instance, B has been to two birthday parties in parks in which the hosts rented giant inflatables and the kids bounced inside for three hours.


Anonymous said...

just read your blog...

1. Governor Lingle was the Mayor of Maui not Hawaii.

2. Aloha shirts are the "suit and tie" of Hawaii. Wouldn't it make sense if a man came to an event looking cool and calm rather than hot and stressed?

3. A lei may also adorn the head. It would be called lei haku.

4. Fire trucks are installed with surf boards because if City Life Guards which are apart of the City & County of Honolulu Emergency Medical Services Department, they can provide service. It's not because they go surfing, it's apart of the equipment. Surfing for fire dept. employees are off time.

hope this helps....

SzélsőFa said...

It was really an interesting piece of information, Paca. I sort of guessed these things about Hawaii, and contrary to Anon 12,21 no, I have not thought fire brigades attach a surfing board to provide an equipment for their own pleasures :-P

But I have something else to say: In Hungary, it is quite widespread to refer to a situation/job/life that is mostly fun and leisure as 'Hawaii'.
Like in:

'Joe: Hi Kate, how's your new job?
Jim: Well, the boss does not really control us, the job is easily done in a few hours and in the rest of the time we can just have fun with the computer.
Joe: And the wages?
Jim: I bet it's higher than yours.
Joe: Boy, that's some Hawaii you have. What a luck.'

Do you have this saying in the USA?
Do mainland people consider living/working in Hawaii as a synonym of fun life?

I, for one, would not move there. I would miss winter.

pacatrue said...

Hi, anon. Thanks for the correction on Lingle. My bad. Definitely, on the other items. As for #4, I was trying to make the point that the surfboards are there for rescue reasons, which is why I tied it to the story of Duke.

Szelsofa, I don't think we have the exact same usage of Hawaii in American English as you mention in Hungarian. The closest I can think is that Hawaii is sometimes called "paradise" and you can use the word paradise sorta like you speak of.

December/Stacia said...

I would do this, but...I'm afraid it would not be a nice post.

blogless_troll said...

Cool post, paca. I've been to Hawaii a couple of times and I love the inside/outside feel to everything. Like the Kona airport, there were no walls anywhere except for the bathroom and gift shop. It's so laid back. You Hawaiians know how to live.

Ello said...

Gosh the flu is just terrible! so sorry you are still sick! But at least you are posting! I love this meme that you did. Information I would not know that you have given us which is so interesting! Ok I'm going to try to do the quizzes again when I have a break!