Tag Archives: Hawai’i

Mea Wiwo ‘Ole (Adventurer)


A couple of weeks ago, I traveled to Honolulu to dance in a hula show at the Neal Blaisdell Concert Hall. The show (hō’ike) featured 400 hula dancers from different Hawaiian islands, California, Montana, Canada, Tahiti, Japan, and New Zealand. The culmination of many months of planning, preparing, and practicing, the show was a celebration of Kumu Hula (hula teacher) Blaine Kamalani Kia and his 30 years of teaching. All of the dancers in the show were his students (haumana) or students of kumu hula trained by him.

None of us had ever danced in a show this big. The logistical requirements were challenging, to say the least. For dancers who were also organizers and leaders (alaka’i), the work doubled or tripled. The little sleep afforded by the pre- and post-show schedules that included rehearsals, making adornments from ti leaves, and ceremonial protocols, like our sunrise prayer service (haipule) at the beach, pushed us out of our physical comfort zones.

I’m not a natural performer. In fact, my Hawaiian name means “the reserved/shy one.” I dance on stage to conquer my shyness. Still, performing on stage doesn’t terrify me as much as making adornments from ti leaves and other plants and flowers. It takes me a long time, with many re-do’s, start-over’s, and assists from my alaka’i , to complete my adornments. Needless to say, I had some anxiety even before I boarded the plane for Honolulu. I had to work through my anxieties in an exhausted state, away from my home and routine.

The show was fantastic – a beautiful mixture of ancient chants (oli), song (mele), ancient hula (kahiko), modern hula (auana), and nostalgia. It lasted five hours, two hours past the scheduled three. We spent much of this time standing backstage, barefoot on concrete floors, waiting, and getting lined up to go on stage. Our feet, legs, and backs ached for days after.

But when it was all over and our tired and swollen bodies had recovered, we were left with wonderful memories, new friends from around the world, and a tremendous sense of accomplishment. I learned things about myself and those around me, I acquired some new skills, and I felt a teeny bit tougher.

This experience made me realize how exhilarating it was to do new things, in new places, in new ways. It made me see that I seldom willingly wander out of my comfort zone. If it’s true that people cross our paths for a reason, I met two individuals who helped me understand the importance of adventure.

On the flight to Honolulu, I sat next to a young man in his mid-twenties who was moving from California to Honolulu. He was a surfer who had visited Hawai’i several times. He had no family in Hawai’i, but he felt drawn to live there. He got a job with a local business, found an apartment, shipped his car and some of his things, and was now flying to Honolulu with two pieces of checked luggage. This young man was neither nervous nor excited, he was serene. His adventure would be as much inward as it would be outward in his new home.

On the plane back to California, I sat next to an unaccompanied minor. This poised and charming young boy, who looked eight or nine years old to my eyes, surprised me when he said he was 12. He was coming back from a visit to his relatives on O’ahu. This wasn’t his first time flying to Honolulu alone, but this time he had also flown to Mau’i for the first time to visit an uncle.

The young man and the little boy fascinated me. As someone who dreams of moving back to Hawai’i some day, I felt a vicarious thrill sitting next to someone who had the guts to pursue his dream and make it happen. As a parent of two grown children, I marveled at the young boy who boarded planes alone and flew across an ocean to visit relatives. These individuals ventured into the unknown with courage enough to outweigh their fears. Both had an aura of composure and confidence. Neither was driven by the need for attention or adrenaline.

Here’s to following the lighted exit path and leaving my comfort zone more often.


©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2017.





Who Lives in Hilo?

Hilo Bay

Hilo Bay, Hawai’i. Copyright Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.

A friend recently said to me about Hilo, Hawai’i, “Who lives here? It rains!” Hilo is a sleepy town on the eastern side of Hawai’i Island. Nicknamed “Big Island” because it’s the largest of the eight main Hawaiian islands, Hawai’i Island has eight to eleven sub-climates. The western side is hot, dry, and sunny. The eastern side is a lush, rainy tropical forest.

Chasing dreams of sunny beaches and golden tans, tourists flock to the western side of the Big Island and usually end up in the town of Kailua-Kona or in the resort areas further north. Most never bother to drive to Hilo. Hilo doesn’t have world-class beaches with wide expanses of soft, white sand. Hilo doesn’t have mega-resorts with spas and top-rated restaurants. Hilo doesn’t have tourist attractions with mile-long lines and long waits. There is a campus of the University of Hawai’i in Hilo, but it’s not a college town.

Hilo, and its neighboring towns, is country. Hilo is where the farmers market is open every day except Sunday. Hilo is where stores don’t stay open late because children need their parents after school, and dinner is not about takeout. Hilo is a place for small-town living, not posh or fast-action vacationing.

So who lives in Hilo? Kind people who don’t honk their horns at elderly drivers and who stop for elderly pedestrians. Practical people who have no need for clothes that require dry cleaning. Easygoing people who laugh easily because they don’t sweat the small stuff. Friendly people who stop their running to talk to strangers who look lost. People who will buy extras of something on sale so they have extras to give away. People who, if they were our neighbors, would make the need to get away from our stressful lives a little less frequent and a little less urgent.

Hawaiians believe rain is a blessing. All the rain that makes the Hilo area so lush and abundant with flowers, plants, and fruits and vegetables of all kinds also makes people slow down. Maybe this is why they can pay attention to one another and to the things that really matter in daily life. So maybe this is the real answer to my friend’s question. Who lives in Hilo where it rains? Blessed people.

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.



The Greeting of Love



Copyright Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.

Punalu’u, a black sand beach on the southern tip of Hawai’i Island, is one of my favorite beaches, and I go there every chance I get. During one visit, I came across a crowd of tourists huddled around honu, green sea turtles, sleeping on the sand. The tourists kept a few feet away from the honu as they took pictures, but they were still closer than the 15 feet required by law. I watched from a distance, hoping the honu would stay asleep so the crowd wouldn’t stress them.

Close to shore, a honu peered its head above the water. Moments later another honu did the same. A receding wave revealed the first honu on the sand, and I smiled. The tired little creature waited at the water’s edge for its companion, and together the pair started their slow climb up the beach. Instantly charmed by them, I took a picture with my phone.

With the sleeping honu resting peacefully, I gave my full attention to the new arrivals. The pair could have veered in any direction on that beach, but, to my surprise, they headed straight toward me. Each time the honu got close to me, I walked back and to the right or to the left to get out of their way. I moved several times, but each time the honu changed direction and continued their deliberate walk toward me. It felt wrong to keep moving, so I stopped.

One by one, the tourists noticed the honu appearing to follow me, and I could tell they wanted to swarm the pair as they had the sleeping honu. Standing firm, with my eyes locked on the honu and the wind blowing fiercely through my wild mass of dark wavy hair, I thought, “Leave them alone.” To my relief, the tourists stayed put. With the tourists at bay, I sang “Mele Aloha” to the honu as they approached me. This song is a welcoming chant composed by the revered Mary Kawena Pukui.

Onaona i ka hala me ka lehua

He hale lehua nō ia na ka noe

‘O ka’u nō ia e ‘ano’i nei

E li’a nei ho’i o ka hiki mai

A hiki mai nō ‘oe

A hiki pū nō me ke aloha

Aloha ē, aloha ē, aloha ē

Fragrant of pandanus and lehua blossoms

This is indeed a house of lehua shrouded in the mist

It is the one that I am truly longing for

Yearning for the arrival

And you have indeed come

Arriving indeed with love

Love, love, love to you

The honu finally stopped a few feet away from where I stood. My heart spilled over with love as I gazed at the honu in wonder. The wind swirled wildly, blowing back my hair, whistling in my ears, and wrapping my body through my clothes, but never drying out my eyes. I waited until the honu fell asleep before I left them.

Since that day I have never doubted that the universe notices, feels, acknowledges, and returns the love in my heart. People may be indifferent to love; they may choose to ignore it; they may mock it; and they may even hate me for it. But the spirit of love that permeates all of creation greets love with love.


©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.

Searching for Heroes


My maternal great-grandfather left his home and family in the Philippines and came to Hawai’i Island (The Big Island) to work as a sakada, a plantation worker, in the early 1900’s. I have always marveled at the courage my great-grandfather must have had, but only in the last few years have I tried to envision what his life must have been like.

His trip across the Pacific Ocean on a ship carrying recruits from the Philippines could not have been too comfortable. He likely spoke little English. I can only guess that he had little to no prior exposure to the Japanese, Chinese, and Portuguese cultures of his fellow plantation workers. And what exposure did he have to the Hawaiian culture while he toiled away and lived on the plantation? What I would give to have pictures and writings of my great-grandfather’s life on the sugar cane plantation.

It is probably my curiosity about my great-grandfather that made me wonder about my husband’s paternal grandfather, who also came from the Philippines in the early 1900’s. In all the time I have known my husband, I have never known his family to visit the grave of his grandfather. The grave is not far from my husband’s childhood home, but I never questioned the lack of interest until recently.

With some prompting from me, my husband and his older sister confirmed the name of the cemetery where my husband’s grandfather is buried. The cemetery has yet to call back with a plot location, because the records are not digitized and must be searched manually.

I hope to visit the grave of my husband’s grandfather in the very near future, and I would like my children to know more of their family history. Although they may not feel the need for it while they are still young, this might change when they are older, as I now feel the need to know my great-grandfather.

We look for heroes and inspiration in sports figures; celebrities; and spiritual, social, and political leaders. We search in the real world and in literature. How often do we search in our own family trees? It’s not nearly as easy as turning on a TV, reading an article or a book, or watching a movie. For most families, oral histories, written documents, and faded photographs are sparse at best. But the payoff is worth it. Knowing that great courage, determination, strength, and a sense of adventure run in your gene pool has to factor in somewhere when you wonder what you’re made of.


©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.


From Shy to Butterfly


My photo of a magnet I keep on my refrigerator.

“You know how you can tell a good dancer from a not-so-good dancer? A good dancer will never show herself in a group; she will always dance like the group. But you take her out of the group, she will turn into a butterfly.”* I love this quote from Kumu Hula Kunewa Mook. It captures the dual roles of a hula dancer: to dance as one with her hula sisters and to dance as a captivating soloist when she’s alone.

My Hawaiian name, Kahilu, means “the reserved or shy one.” I’m not a natural performer, and I don’t crave the spotlight, but I have my own way of spotting butterflies on stage, and I know when I feel like one.

When I see a dancer’s face, whether she’s a line dancer or a soloist, and her face makes me feel that she’s “in the zone,” really feeling her dance, I see a butterfly. The face of a dancer loving her hula radiates beauty.

No matter which line I’m dancing in – first, last, or in between – I know when I feel like a butterfly. When I’m floating to the music, visualizing the words, sensing the spirits of the past, seeing the Hawaiian culture move forward, and feeling love emanating outward and upward toward heaven, I’m in the zone, and my face can’t hide it. This moment makes getting past my shyness worthwhile.

“A’a i ka hula, waiho ka hilahila i ka hale.” (When one wants to dance the hula, shyness should be left at home.”) To my fellow shy and reserved dancers who love hula more than they love their comfort zones, may you feel – and dance – like butterflies.

*Kunewa Mook, Kuma Hula, Hula Hālau ‘O Kamuela, as featured in “Hula: The Merrie Monarch’s Golden Celebration,” a documentary by Pacific Heartbeat, KVIE (2014).

© Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2015.

Visions of Hula

MMF Hawaii-Tribune-Herald.com

Visions of Hula

Soft hands and gently swaying hips

Joyful hearts and smiling lips

Eyes that tell of mountain tops

Ocean swells and kalo crops.


The turn of a head

The flick of a wrist

A gesture to the heart

Tell of a lovers’ tryst.


Ancient oli

And modern mele

Pahu drums

And ukulele.


Pa’u skirts

And mu’umu’u

Fragrant leis

Made strong through haku.


Ipu heke

Keep the beat

Like the ancestors

Move the feet.


Ancient hula

Oli of old

History of a people

Must be told.


A culture lives

With love and honor

Though died the Queen

With betrayal upon her.


Dance for the past

And dance for tomorrow

Dance with aloha

And not with sorrow.


Visions from kūpuna

Come to guide

Hold fast to traditions

By them abide.


Noble Hawai’i

So wise and so strong

It’s you I love

Through hula and song.



© Living off Island, writingwahine, 2015

Photo from Merrie Monarch Festival published by Hawai’i-Tribune Herald

My Blue Mo’o


Several years ago, while I was alone in my office in the middle of the day, I saw something that made me wonder if I had hallucinated for the first time in my life.

I was preoccupied with an issue that I had been dealing with for several weeks. A family member was chasing a dream opportunity. I was supportive of this dream, even though our family would have to live apart, in two different states, if it came true. The sacrifice would be worth it – this opportunity was too precious to pass up, and it would be a source of pride for our entire family.

Unable to focus on work, I rolled my chair away from my desk, got up, and walked to my couch. The afternoon sun was peeking through the blinds of my windows, so I sat with my back to the windows and my legs stretched across the couch. To my right about two feet away, also with its back to the windows, was a small bookcase.

I thought about how much I wanted this thing to happen, and I began to cry. Human beings cry out of sadness, pain, or distress. It wasn’t sadness or pain that was making me cry, it was desperate wanting. Crying releases chemicals that counter stress hormones, making the crier feel better.

As I wiped my eyes and nose with a tissue, something on the floor startled me. It was a blue mo’o – a blue gecko. It darted past me and froze between my couch and my bookcase. I blinked quickly a few times to make sure my vision was clear, then froze and stared at the mo’o.

I had seen many mo’o when I was a child in Hawai’i, where they’re very common, and I’ve seen some mo’o in California where I live, but I had never seen a blue one. It was also bigger than any mo’o I had ever seen – about five or six inches long from the tip of its nose to the end of its tail.

I was probably not breathing in my shock, but thoughts ran through my brain: Where did it come from? How was it blue? (It was navy blue. The carpet in my office is gray.) Can it jump up on me? Can mo’o bite? Should I get up and run? Then as suddenly as it appeared, the mo’o scurried behind my bookcase.

I waited for it to come out from behind the bookcase, checking to the right of it, to the left of it, and behind it. It felt like forever, but I waited for about twenty minutes. The mo’o never came out.

When I decided I needed to get home more than I was afraid of the giant blue mo’o, I walked back to my desk. I told myself if the mo’o came back out, it wouldn’t hurt me, but I intended to be out of my office soon anyway.

I went home that afternoon thinking about that blue mo’o. Had I fallen asleep and seen it in a dream? So was that what a hallucination felt like? Or did the mo’o really appear in my office and vanish behind my bookcase? … People are going to think I’m crazy.

For the next few days, I imagined what a typical day would be like if my family lived apart. I imagined text messages and phone calls replacing talks over dinner. I imagined receiving pictures and videos of special moments that I wouldn’t see myself. The financial realities of a second family home were sobering. Slowly I relaxed the death grip I had on my dream, and I became prepared to accept whatever happened.

Recently I read that a visit from a mo’o can be a message to face your fears. My mo’o appeared when I was afraid a dream wouldn’t come true. Somehow I must have concluded that my life would not be as good, as happy, as full, or as meaningful if it didn’t take off in a specific direction. I was surrendering my power to decide for myself if I would be happy or fulfilled by conditioning my happiness and fulfillment on a future event. It wasn’t disappointment that I should have feared, it was my inability – or my refusal – to believe that I could be okay, just fine, if life didn’t offer me the path I wanted.

I often think about my blue mo’o. It’s still hard for me to believe that it actually appeared in my office that afternoon. A trace of doubt may linger in my rational mind, but this experience had an undeniable and profound impact on me, because I know this: I have nothing to fear if I believe that I will be okay no matter what comes, or does not come, into my life.

My blue mo’o hasn’t come back to visit.

Hawaiians believe that ancestral spirits can take the form of animals, plants, or other natural elements. An ancestral spirit who acts as a family guardian is called an ‘aumakua.

©Living off Island, writingwahine, 2015.