Tag Archives: Hawai’i

Love and Waimea Canyon


Love at Waimea Canyon

Copyright Living off Island, Writing Wahine 2018.

When I last visited Waimea Canyon on the island of Kaua’i, I saw a red padlock left on the guardrail at the viewing deck. Thinking back to the love locks left on the bridges of Paris, I immediately thought, “How romantic.” The lock’s infinity symbol and two hearts told me all I needed to know. Lovers placed the lock there to declare a love they hope will last forever.

This lone lock, with its shiny red color set against the dramatic backdrop of Waimea Canyon, left me wondering about the couple whose love it symbolized. Who are they? Where are they from? Is their relationship still strong? Are they still in love?

Meeting. Dating. Falling in love. Wedding planning. Honeymooning. The honeymoon phase. No matter the ups and downs, these are the easy stages of a relationship. The curve balls come later. Colicky babies. Ornery teens. Health issues. Emotional baggage. Financial surprises. Tragedies. Losses.

Waimea Canyon was created over millions of years. Millions. Our lives on this planet last a mere blip of time. While we’re going through rough patches in our relationships, we forget that pain and struggle won’t last forever. Love does, though. So be like this bright red lock and hang on. Create a love that lasts forever.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2018.


Got Kuleana?

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“Kuleana,” written and directed by Brian Kohne

I can’t wait to see the movie “Kuleana.” Written and directed by Brian Kohne, this movie has a message about its title, which means “responsibility”: Kuleana is a privilege, not a burden.

If you study Hawaiian history and Hawaiiana, you’ve probably heard the term, “Hawaiian Renaissance.” The term refers to the 1970’s when cultural practitioners, political activists, and kūpuna (elders) brought about a resurgence of Hawaiian culture – Ōlelo Hawai’i (Hawaiian language), hula, mele (music), traditional customs and practices, and political organization. Today there are hula hālau (schools) and dancers all over the world; Hawaiian musicians go on world tours regularly; people from around the world travel to Hawai’i to study with artists and cultural practitioners; schools include online teaching; the Hōkūle’a has completed a worldwide voyage; and Hawaiians exercise their political power with growing efficacy.

I would love to see another Hawaiian renaissance of sorts, one that inspires younger generations who cut their teeth on all things visual and digital, and movies like “Kuleana” could play a huge part in this. When you weave the past, present day, and the future together in storytelling, all kinds of light bulbs might turn on.

Set in 1971, “Kuleana” is the story about a Vietnam vet who returns home to Mau’i to protect his family, defend their land, and clear his father’s name. The movie features a cast of actors from Hawai’i, including Moronai Kanekoa, who I had the pleasure of watching in the one-man play, “The Legend of Ko’olau.” The movie won several film awards in 2017, and Willie K wrote the original score. Nuff said?

Hurry, Brian Kohne, bring your movie to northern California! We’ll get the popcorn ready.

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2018.


New Year, New Reality, Old Hope


On Saturday January 13, 2018, my brother called me from the bathroom of his home outside Hilo on the Island of Hawai’i (the Big Island). An emergency alert warning of an imminent missile attack had appeared on his cellphone. The warning said this was not a drill and to seek shelter. The local TV station also aired the warning.

My brain struggled to absorb the information as I listened to him say that he called our parents who lived a few miles away and told them to hunker down in their bathroom. I wondered why my brother, who is not a funny guy, chose to dive into the world of pranks with such an elaborate ruse, but I played along. “So, what, the North Korean dude is gonna nuke you?” I said with just a hint of sarcasm. Instead of laughing, my brother replied, “I think so.”

“Let me get online and I’ll call you back,” I said, determined to figure out what the hell was going on. The emergency missile alert was now staring back at me from the screen of my cellphone in northern California. So this was what a missile alert looked like. All caps, but no exclamation points.

I turned on CNN. Regular programming. Nothing made sense. I ran to the backdoor and called for my husband. He was listening to a local Big Island radio station (KAPA) as he did yard work. He heard the missile alert, but when the station returned to music, he assumed it was a mistake.

We looked up to see the CNN talking head had a banner below him that said the missile alert was an error. There was no missile headed to the state where all but few of my family lived. I called my brother back, but it was only after I texted him a screenshot of the CNN broadcast that he felt sure enough to emerge from his bathroom. His text reply, “ty,” told me he could finally breathe.

My mom, 77 years young, had already heard about the false alarm and chuckled when I called her. I was relieved that she could laugh and that she and my 79-year-old dad didn’t stroke out or have heart attacks during the alarm. My mom said she packed a bag when she saw the alert on her TV. I’m not sure what to think about that.

It seemed like most of the country spent the next day processing what happened the morning of January 13th. An employee of the Hawai’i Emergency Management Agency had simply neglected to press the “drill” button during a standard shift-change exercise. Although the agency notice recalling the alert reached Facebook and Twitter, another glitch in the system delayed (for 38 minutes) the notice to cellphones. The agency has already instituted a two-person sign-off before the alarm is sent again.

The movie (in my head) plot did not occur – the Russians did not hack into our systems to get our country to fire back at North Korea under the mistaken presumption that North Korea had fired a missile at Hawai’i. But the damage has been revealed. What happened on January 13th made me think back to my school days in Hawai’i when monthly air raid sirens sounded and we all got under our desks. January 13th brought me back to the days of the Cold War when terms like “balance of power” and “detente” appeared in daily newspapers. Instead of the USA and the USSR, the players are now the USA and North Korea, with Russia looming in the background poised to act as puppeteer. And with no love lost between our country and nations around the world, North Korea might not be the only nation that could be goaded into starting a nuclear war with us.

January 13th happened. The scare was real. But I can’t live like the threat of nuclear annihilation is imminent. I’m not stupid, and I’m not choosing to bury my head in the sand. You see in the world and others what is inside yourself. I see a sane world where goodness prevails, so I have hope.


©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2018.

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.