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Delhi

Secrets of the Ancient Hawaiians, and some Modern Ones, too

unnamedI lost my good judgment and went to Hawaii, to the island of Kauai for a week in July. My smarter companion remarked, “You know, we’re leaving a house we could rent for $2000 a week, at a beach well known as among the best in the world, where we have a fully stocked kitchen, plenty of towels, beach chairs, access to excellent fresh vegetables, a full wine refrigerator with wine we have already paid for. We’re going to Hawaii where we will find essentially the same things, except all of that will have to be paid for again, except at higher prices.”

“Oh yeah, well what about the Na Pail coast?” I countered foolishly.

But we had a nice package deal so off we went to Kauai and stayed at the St Regis for five days, on three of which it rained, hard. This was not in the brochure. Of any of the pictures in the brochure.

Kauai is known as the “Garden Island”, and it was indeed green as befits a garden, and the rain helps explain the green part. And it was overrun with chickens, which is not explained by either the rain or the moniker. Could be “The Garden and Chicken Island.” What is not clear is why the locals, who do not seem overly wealthy or particularly opposed to eating meat, haven’t simply captured the chickens, who do not appear crafty, in the way of all chickens. They could then wring their necks and stuff them in pots, pans and rice cookers. It is said that the chickens all used to live in coops but Hurricane Iniki, which did knock the island around a bit in 1992, smashed all these not hurricane proof small chicken tenements, and ever since you have chickens everywhere. I do not believe this is a good answer, but I have no better suggestions to explain the chicken mystery. There are no foxes or coyotes to right this imbalance of nature. The chickens at first appear quaint and colorful, but eventually look out of place and even a bit belligerent. Perhaps they want their cages and their regular food back.

Since we were there for this in particular, we toured the Na Pali coast. It is steep, rugged, beautiful and inaccessible by land unless you do a death defying hike along knife-edge ridges of eleven miles each way, not a good idea in rain. It is essentially a bunch of small beaches defined and isolated by very high and very steep bluffs. If you don’t choose the hike, you can take a lovely 60 foot catamaran and sail along the coast and admire things, including the gentle rocking of the boat in the white-capped sea. Or you can take a much smaller inflatable raft/speedboat thing called a Zodiac, propelled by two large outboard motors, and have your butt slammed into the seats with the traverse of each wave, and the rest of you doused with salt spray. For hours. Maybe the sea was rougher than usual because of the imminent presence of two hurricanes in the area, which also was the source of the generous rain. At any rate, in a moment of abandon we made the bad second choice, mostly because the boat left from a site closer to the hotel. And a boat is a boat, right?
There are no seats on a Zodiac, so you sit on the round inflated sides of the boat and stuff your feet under tight little ropes strung along the floor, in place of real safety belts. And then you hold on for dear life to the other safety ropes running along the ‘seat.’ This is important to avoid getting bounced out of the boat, and served as a real test of one’s ability to make and maintain a strong grip on a rope without having your hands cramp. No safety ropes on a catamaran, and you can stand up and look around. “Best weather we’ve had in eight days!” said our jovial captain through clenched teeth. He was a young Hawaiian named Jason whose trunks were worn so low on his hips while still managing to stay up that I wondered if he had been surgically altered.

Four bottom numbing hours later we returned. “No more small boats ever again!” we pledged to each other, as we at last stumbled gratefully into the mud of the dock area. Jason graciously suggested five Advil’s and three mai-tai’s (not included in the fee) as a good follow-up to the trip. We took this advice and a two hour nap which we deemed a part of the ceremony of thanks to the Hawaiian Gods, whoever they are, for our safe return. This seemed to blur the memory and alleviate the lower back pain and modest spinal contusions. I don’t think they have these opportunities in Nebraska, my home state, the sea and the cliffs thing, that is.

Besides the mystery of why anyone thinks that a Zodiac is the right transport vessel for a pleasure cruise along the Na Pali coast, there are the mysteries of the Hawaiian language.

It is said in the tourist material that “aloha” means “hello” and “goodbye,” although perhaps not simultaneously. It is thus one of the eight parts of speech called (unsatisfactorily) an “interjection.” But it is used profligately in Hawaii. There are frequent references to “the aloha spirit” which means what exactly? The spirit of hello and goodbye? The spirit of “the islands?” What is that? One of the people with whom we arranged our Zodiac “travel adventure” signed her letter “with much aloha,” which meant in her case that they were going to kill us. A San Diego weather person is named Aloha Taylor and is said to be “one of SD’s hottest TV chicks,” which may or may not be true, but she has trouble staying in the camera’s frame as she does the weather report and forecast. This leads to a somewhat disembodied performance. Could this be the aloha spirit, reporting from beyond the frame of your TV set’s picture? The ghost of weather future?
And the Hawaiian language has another secret that they don’t tell us “haole’s,” allegedly a name for white persons meaning originally “no breath.” This is because foreigners did not rub noses as a greeting and thus were not sharing the other party’s breath. Wait, I thought you were supposed to say “aloha” as a greeting? I have never seen anyone in Hawaii doing this nose thing, so the no breaths appear to have taken over the field. Anyway, the word is “mahalo” which you see frequently and which is supposed to mean “thank you.” But in fact it does not. My friend Holly Hemphill discovered this on a trip to Oahu. She says it’s a little Hawaiian joke on all of us, because what “mahalo” really means in Hawaiian is “asshole.” Just look at these recently collected examples, and substitute the new and accurate translation, and I think you’ll agree.

United Airlines flight attendants: “Please keep your seat belts buckled until the plane comes to a complete stop, Mahalo.”

Sign at Hawaiian Trading Post, Koloa: “Wipe shoes before entering, Mahalo”

Sign at the Kokua Pizzeria: “Aloha please seat yourself mahalo”

Sign at KoKee Museum on Waimea Canyon: “Suggested donation $1.00 per person Mahalo”

Posted at the bottom of the menu at the Tiki Iniki restaurant in Hanalei:
“No substitution kitchen too small mahalo”

That’s all the aloha stories for now. Say, you don’t suppose that aloha actually means dog poop, do you? Those Hawaiians, they’re always kidding around, I wouldn’t put it past them…

— Robert Hemphill is an author and former senior executive with a global power company. His most recent book is Dust Tea, Dingoes and Dragons, a humorous look at international business. Learn more at www.rfhemphill.com.

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