Friday, January 20, 2017

Cultural Immersion in Molokai's Halawa Valley

View from above Halawa Valley, Molokai
    Molokai is the least traveled to of the main Hawaiian Islands not including Ni'ihau which is private and forbidden, and Kaho'olawe which is also forbidden due to unexploded ordinances. There are no chain restaurants and no chain hotels on Molokai. In fact there is only one hotel at all now a days. It takes a certain kind of adventurous, off-the-beaten path traveler to make their own way over to Molokai. Usually it is to see the historic leper colony where citizens of the kingdom of Hawaii were sent to whittle away their days on a peninsula surrounded on three sides by crashing north shore surf and the other by 3,000ft sea cliffs. Molokai is also home to one of the largest sandy beaches in the state of Hawaii on its west end. However the real hidden gem lies in its people.

Taro Patches
  Molokai has been dubbed 'the friendly isle' by those who have spent time there. A high percentage of the 8,000 or so residents have native Hawaiian running through their bones. And a percentage of those still live the traditional Hawaiian life; growing taro, hunting and fishing, and practicing the native culture and language. It is one of these families that we introduce to our guests every week here aboard the Safari Explorer.

the Honi
Greg, Philip, Justin, and Kana (L-R)
    Philip Solitario and his son Greg live in Halawa Valley. This lush valley on the Northeast corner of the island was once a thriving community, 5,000 people strong. A school, store, and a bustling agricultural economy thrived here until April 1, 1946 when a towering wall of water wiped it all away. The tsunami traveled nearly 2 miles into the valley, destroying crops and homes, but luckily taking no ones life. The decision to move out of the family and nearer to the cities came easy after this tragedy. However one of these original descendants, who stood on the cliff watching wave after wave destroy his valley, has returned to replant and remember. Philip, or Pops as he is known around the island, has a family mantra, that the Hawaiian culture should be sacred, not secret. And that is lucky for us.

Braving the Mo'oUla Falls
   There is something primitive and special about descending in a place with no cell reception, where people still communicate by blowing conch shells, and who greet each other with the traditional 'honi', where two people touch foreheads, noses, and breath in, thus sharing the breath of life. It is a greeting not so different than the Eskimos and the Maoris. It is also the same greeting that the early missionaries refused to do, and in refusing to share the breath of life the were dubbed 'ha oles', or 'no breath.' This is where the term haoles comes from, which today is used to describe any western looking person.

    After going through protocol and learning about the history of the valley we talk story with Pops and hear about life growing up in the valley, being born in the valley, and that fateful day when the tsunami hit. We hear about him leaving the valley to join the navy, about meeting the love of his life, and about the difficulty of finding a successor to keep his knowledge and culture alive. Halawa was one of the few pockets where Hawaiian was still spoken. Although here there are T,B, Y, and V in the alphabet....all letters not used by missionaries to transcribe the language in the mid 1800's. In this valley people still believe in 'nana ike kumu,' which means 'go to the source.' When you want to learn about the language you go to someone who still speaks the language, when you want to remember your roots, you learn all you can from your elders. It seems to be something that today's world forgets to do quite often.

Greg pounding taro into poi
  Pops laughs, and cries as he remembers all the times that his stories cover. Greg brings in some taro roots, freshly picked and pounds them into poi using materials handed down through the generations in his family. The adventurous ones tackle a five mile roundtrip hike through boot sucking mud and past ancient temples to dive into the refreshing pond below Mo'oUla Falls. And the 70 year old jungle continues to take back the valley, except for the small portion still worked by Pops and Greg. It is an experience in Hawaii that very few people will ever get a chance to have. Going to Halawa is not going to the 'show', it is taking you right to the source. Nana ike kumu.

  If you can't make it to Molokai and Halawa Valley for yourself, check out an amazing film that was just made about Philip Solitario's life and the future of the valley, called Sons of Halawa.

  The next best thing to stepping foot on the island is to fly over it in a helicopter, Jurassic Park style. Check out my favorite flight here.

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