Hawaii is an archipelago and one of the 50 United States of America. The largest island of the state is called Hawai'i. The other seven main islands are Ni'ihau, Kaua'i, O'ahu, Moloka'i, Lana'i, Kaho'olawe, and Maui.
Hawai'i: Land of paradise and magic. Of cool, tropical nights on the beach and hula music. Nexus of the Big Wave for surfers or the prize marlin catch for fishermen. A place where one can kick back and forget about the hectic schedule of modern life. At least, that is what the tourist brochures say.
Hawai'i, the last state to enter the union of the United States of America, has long served as a destination point for vacationing Americans and many others besides. The state consists of a string of islands in the South Pacific, both large and populated to small, unlivable atolls in it's northwest chain. Popularized by some television shows, the island's crowded beaches and lush interior stir the imaginations of many people.
While the islands are a place of rest, relaxation, and fun for many, the islands themselves are not at rest. At least one, the Big Island of Hawai'i, is still in the process of creation. Active volcanoes... Mauna Loa and Kilauea... still spew forth the raw makings of the earth: molten lava. This reminder of untamed, primal nature often teaches harsh lessons to the islanders, who are lost in their visions of a man-made paradise, as many housing developments have been swallowed by recent eruptions.
The real image of the islands can only be glimpsed by looking past the tourist gloss. Hawai'i is a place of contrasts: of violent, quaking earth and quiet, lush solitude. Of wealthy foreigners and poor natives. Of intensely congested streets and uninhabited (at least by humans) rainforests. Yet these contrasts do not seem to lead to tension, although conflicts can break out between haoles (foreigners) and natives or over city needs and wilderness rights. The islands do seem to calm the nerves of everyone living on them. At least until Pele, the volcano goddess, leaps from the earth again.
Following Pele’s legendary footsteps (from northwest to southeast), the islands are
- Ni'ihau: Sparsely inhabited; the residents of this privately-owned island are mostly native Hawai’ians pursuing traditional lifestyles and crafts.
- Kaua'i: An island of lush beauty, marked by long-extinct volcano mountains. Recognizable as the quintessential tropics thanks to many Hollywood films that have used its jungles as backdrop.
- O'ahu: The most densely populated island, home to the capital of Honolulu and many famous attractions: Waikiki Beach, Pearl Harbor, and north-shore surfing.
- Moloka'i: Largely undeveloped as yet; this island’s population is 50% native. It sees perhaps the least tourism of Hawai’i’s main islands, and residents seem to prefer this. Long ago, Moloka’i was a magical island, home to many kahunas (priests). The sacred hula dance was born here.
- Lana'i: A small, rugged island that has only recently attracted tourism. It was once home to huge pineapple fields from the Dole corporation. Long ago, the island was avoided by islanders because evil spirits were said to dwell here. But a boy who was exiled to the island defeated them and opened the island for habitation.
- Maui: Named for the legendary trickster and fire-bringer of Hawai’ian mythology, this island sees much tourism. Famous for its Haleakala Crater National Park (the largest dormant volcano in the world), Maui also has a rainforest and many preserves, safe from the coast’s rapid development.
- Kaho'olawe: Uninhabited.
- Hawai'i: The Big Island. Here is Kilauea, home of Pele, the volcano goddess. This volcano erupts often, although not violently (compared to continental volcanoes). The city of Hilo is on the east coast, and a major tourist spot stretched across the western Kona Coast.
Hawai’i is in the tropics, and that means mild weather year-round. The lowest temperature ever recorded was 12 degrees F (in Pahala, Hawai’i) while the highest was 100 degrees F (Mauna Loa, Hawai’i). Coastal areas average between 85 and 65 degrees. The average water temperature for swimming areas is 74 degrees (80 in the summer).
Hawai’i has a great variety of ecosystems. It includes probably the only islands in the world where one can find both snow (at the highest peaks) and temperate beaches and rainforests. The wettest places, Mount Wai’ale’ale (Kaua’i), receives 460” of rain per year. In general, the windward (northeastern) sides of the islands receive more rainfall than the leeward sides. This is the direction from which the trade-winds blow.
Bad storms can sneak up from the leeward, however (“kona weather”, a south wind). The island is threatened occasionally by typhoons… huge waves usually caused by earth tremors associated with volcanic eruptions. These devastating waves have killed many a poor soul caught on the beach after Pele has walked abroad.
Hawai’i has a population of at least a million people and growing. The largest portion of the resident population is still native or part native, followed by whites and Japanese in almost equal proportion. Filipinos, immigrants from South and Central America, and other Asians make up the rest of the resident population. But the most numerous people on the island at any one time are the tourists, mainly American, but also Japanese and other Asian visitors.
The natives make their livings mainly in the service sector, at the various restaurants and hotels which cater to tourists. Some natives live by selling native crafts, mainly leis, and there is a growing return to traditional ways among many of them.
Hawai’i experienced its first influx of foreigners in the 1800s as whalers used the islands as a base for their deep-sea hunts. Following those rowdy transients came the land barons. These rich magnates needed cheap labor to work the sugar cane, pineapple, and coffee fields they had set up in this temperate climate. This brought in Asians and Filipinos by the hundreds. To this day, the island shows signs of long-time Asian culture, such as in Honolulu’s Chinatown.
But perhaps the most telling migration was the post-war wave of Americans. Many of these had been stationed on the islands during the Pacific Campaign and came to love them. They came in droves over the following decades, bringing their culture of commodity with them. Hawai’i today is largely the result of their making: tourist spot to the middle class.
Far beyond any other industry on the islands, tourism rules: $9.2 billion dollars are spent yearly by over seven million visitors. Tourism provides jobs for natives and profits for entrepreneurs. Following behind tourism are the defense industry (U.S. military bases and Navy tests on the atolls), sugar refining, and fishing (providing large amounts of sashimi to Japan; just about every angler can count on selling their big catches to the Japanese-owned fish houses).
The chief crops are sugar, pineapple, flowers, macadamia nuts, fruits, and coffee. The climate is especially good for macadamia nuts, grown in few other places.
The most common way to reach the islands is by plane. Honolulu Airport is the most likely destination point, although planes leave from there for any of the islands (between 6am and 9pm, there are no late-night flights between islands). Luxury cruise ships come and go to the islands all the time and are another popular method of getting to the islands. Ferries run between the islands at different hours, depending on the islands traversed.
Once on the islands, there are various methods of getting around. Rental cars are available with a valid driver’s license and a credit card. Bus service varies with the island: O’ahu has the best, called “TheBus”; Hawai’i has a bus service among the various points of the island (Hilo to the Kona coast, or Volcanoes National Park); Kaua’i has the “Iniki Bus”; while Maui and Moloka’i have no public transit. Taxis are available.
Bicycles and mopeds are popular modes of transportation and can be rented or bought in almost any big city on the islands.
When getting directions from a local it helps to understand some basics of local orientation. Makai is toward the ocean. Mauka is toward the mountains. Also, actual sites are often used instead of the familiar east-west. On O’ahu, one might be told to go ewa for west or told to “go Waikiki” for east (if one is west of Waikiki).
Tourism and Hawai’i are synonymous. Millions flock to the islands every year for the sun, beach, waves, or fish. An economic infrastructure has grown up around serving these visitors and meeting their demands. High-rise hotels dot the coast of O’ahu and the Kona Coast of the Big Island. Malls, shopping centers, golf courses, mini theme parks, and other attractions have sprouted to ensure that these visitors are never bored or run out of things to spend their money on.
Another mini-industry is housing. Real estate developers have built housing communities as fast as they can sell them to foreign investors, usually upper-middle class couples ready to retire to the islands or well-to-do families seeking to get away from the urban nightmares back on the mainland. This accelerated development has led, in many cases, to financial disaster for the émigrés. Only after moving into their dream homes do they discover that they are downhill from an active volcano. Many watch as their neighbors’ homes are engulfed in lava, each vainly hoping that theirs will be the one house spared Pele’s fury.
The developers rarely learn from these lessons and push onward with new plans and houses on potentially dangerous sites. The Kona Coast is full of housing starts that could be ruined if Mauna Loa ever decides to belch hot rock again.
Hawai’ians celebrate many of the same festivals and events that most Americans do. One festival indigenous to the islands is Kamehameha Day (June 11), celebrating the famous king who consolidated an empire around the islands. Other events include a national marathon, bike races, and various hula dances. These events vary by island and time of year.
The hula was once a religious dance, a celebration of all Hawai’ian culture. It was an excuse to recount the creation story of the islands, the gods, and the people. It was a sacrament and a secular festival. Today, the hula is mainly associated with ukuleles and belly-dancing woman performing in polite and safe ways for tourists, maybe accompanied by Don Ho. There are still traditional hula practitioners who take their calling seriously, but the facile image is already burned into the public consciousness.
It is not at all hard to find lodging on the islands. The prices range from under $60 a night (mainly hotels away from the main tourist spots) to over $120 a night for the high-class, prime location hotels. The more popular spots may not be available during the height of the tourist season unless reservations are made well ahead of time. The resort hotels, especially the “destination points,” often have luxury pools, saunas, exercise equipment, golf courses, tour buses, etc. These hotels are meant to be mini-cities for the entertainment needs of tourists.
Born of Fire
The earth was born of fire and pressure. Hot, fluid rock burst forth from the earth from millions of volcanoes, spreading forth and cooling into a rugged and rounded mantle. As the volcanoes slowly died, the winds and seas went to work on them, eroding them. These forces, combined with earthquakes, began to arrange the world, chopping and smoothing the cooled rock into mountains and valleys and rocks and soil and sinking some land into the seas. Life came and set down roots, growing from plants to animals. Things settled own. The Earth grew quiet.
But not everywhere. Creation is not over. It’s still going on, deep down under the mantle and erupting forth in places like Mt. St. Helens in Washington State, and in Hawai’i. The Ring of Fire girding the Pacific. All part of the same seismic activity.
The Hawai’ian islands were each formed from volcanoes in various ages. A “hot spot”, a passageway from the Earth’s molten core to the mantle, exists under the islands. Over the centuries, as the mantle drifted northwest, the islands moved away from the hot spot, except for Hawai’i, the newest of the islands, and the one still sitting on top of the tunnel leading to primal creation.
Hawai’i’s Kilauea volcano sits right on top of that hot corridor. It is a very active volcano, and it is not for nothing that the Hawai’ians call it Pele’s home. Pele is the Hawai’ian volcano goddess. Legend states that she once traveled the islands one by one, settling on each for a while and then moving on. The route of her long journey from northwest to southeast is the route from the oldest islands to the newest, the opposite direction of the islands’ drift.
When Pele arrived on an island, it was alive with volcanic activity. When she lived on Kaua’i, for instance, that island sat on top of the hot spot. In other words, Pele’s been around for a long, long time. It took her thousands of years to finally get to the Big Island, and she’s been there for centuries now.
There are signs that she’d planning to move soon: a small, developing volcano has been discovered off the south coast of Hawai’i. Called the Loihi Seamount, it looks to be Pele’s next home in the coming centuries.
The Polynesians are believed to have migrated from Southeast Asia through Indonesia into the islands of Samoa and Tonga (circa 1000 BCE). Over the next 1,500 years, they settled throughout the South Pacific in the Marquesas, Tahiti, Easter Island, and other islands. They were quite the sailors. In their double-hulled canoes, they travelled far and wide, navigating by the stars and ocean currents. In fact, their knowledge of navigating by ocean currents is largely lost today. They finally got to Hawai’i sometime between 500 and 700 CE. The first settlers are believed to have been the Marquesas. They were followed by the Tahitians, who, in about 1000 CE, came and conquered the earlier Marquesas settlers.
A Ritual Culture
Soon after Tahiti had claimed the islands, a kahuna named Pa’ao came to the Big Island. Pa’ao changed Hawai’ian life and culture for centuries to come by introducing the kapu system of ritual and supernatural taboos. Along with the kapu came a new caste system. Society was now divided into strict roles and hierarchies: ali’i (chief), kahuna (priest), maka’ainana (commoner), and kauwa (outcast).
The chiefs held the most mana, or magical power. They were sacrosanct, and commoners were required to fall prostrate before them when they came, heralded by guards blowing conch shells. None were allowed to stand on the chief’s shadow, as this could mean disaster to his mana, which was really the mana of the people.
The punishment for breaking a kapu was death. The taboo breaker had one chance: they could run to reach a pu’uhonua, a sacred place of refuge, before their hunters cold reach them. Once safely within the bounds of the pu’uhonua, they were protected. Anyone who entered the refuge chasing them was killed by the refuge’s kahuna, for the pursuer would have broken kapu themselves. After a few days, the transgressor was allowed to leave the refuge and was treated as if nothing had happened… life returned to normal.
Pa’ao also brought with him a new dynasty, beginning with a man named Pili. This royal line eventually birthed Kamehameha, who would unite the islands into one kingdom. Until Kamehameha, each island had its own king, and there were sometimes hostilities between them.
But life was not necessarily rigid and oppressive. Existence on the tropical islands was, well, a paradise. Food was plentiful, growing just about everywhere. The climate brought few surprises for the crops (although tsunamis and volcanic eruptions occasionally caused trouble). Games were also common: surfing, kite flying, and dancing. Hula dances were held to celebrate the sacred tales of the people, and lu’aus (feasts) were thrown to celebrate all manner of affairs. Kindness and hospitality were an important part of life; they were part of aloha, a spirit of love that was deeply ingrained in in Hawai’ian culture.
Although the kapu could be severe, they were nonetheless important to maintain the ecological balance on an island far from the mainland. Kapu declared what time of year certain fish could be caught and for how long; in this way, the fish were allowed ample time to restore their numbers. The same was true of many aspects of Hawai’ian interaction with the plant life of the islands.
These islands have a unique ecosystem in that the plants and animals have few defenses against predators, having developed so long without them (this is changing for the worse now, since so many foreign species have been introduced in the last century). There are no native poisonous plants, and few plants have thorns or other painful physical defenses. The largest native mammal before the arrival of the pig was the bat. The kapu allowed the Hawai’ians to live in harmony with beings that were never hostile to them.
The Coming of Captain Cook
The account of Captain Cook’s visit to Hawai’i and the resulting tragedy is famous and has formed the basis of a fierce debate in anthropological circles to this day.
In 1778, Captain Cook was in the Pacific heading for the Arctic, searching for a passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. He discovered the Hawai’ian islands by accident and, arriving off Kauai, he found the natives kind and helpful. After trading for food, he set off to find his northwest passage. He left iron goods behind and, ever since, the Hawai’ians wanted only to trade for this wonderful metal.
A year later, Cook returned, with no northwest passage discovered. This time, he set anchor off the Kona Coast on the Big Island. Here, he was greeted as a god.
It was coincidence that returned Cook to the islands at the beginning of the festival of Lono. The great god had left the islands long ago, swearing to return one day. When Cook pulled up in his magnificent ship, he was presumed to be the returned god, just in time for his feast. The people went crazy. The next few weeks became a time of intense partying.
After months in the Arctic, Cook’s crew was ready to partake of the paradise offered them. Despite Cook’s orders otherwise, they took many natives to bed, infecting them with venereal disease. They received love and joy and unwittingly returned these gifts with a death sentence on the native population (by the mid-1800s, only one-sixth of the population remained).
Once his ship’s stores were replenished and some information on the natives documented, Cook set out to return home. But his foremast snapped in a storm and he was forced to return to the Hawai’ian bay. But it is not good when a god returns with a broken mast, defeated by the sea. The Hawai’ians were not happy about Lono’s return in disgrace. Already they had happily given him much of their food and resources. But now, for him to return asking for more so soon… it was not right.
The Hawai’ians had come to like their new iron very much and wanted more. Some iron goods were stolen and a series of events was launched that led to the death of a god and one of the greatest explorers.
When the iron goods were not returned, Cook confronted the Hawai’ians on the beach. The anger of the natives was too much, and Cook was struck down. He groaned as he fell, and the people knew then that he was not a god. Immediately, many natives fell upon him and clubbed him to death.
Cook’s crew was understandably furious, and they set about to punish the native Hawai’ians, razing their villages and killing many. Finally, the chiefs agreed to return Cook’s remains to the crew. They had taken them, as is the manner with the death of powerful people, and distributed the bones among themselves for the mana. But they returned the powerful bones and peace was finally attained. The ship left the harbor in a state of shock.
Two young officers on the ship would later return to the Pacific: Captain Vancouver and Captain Bligh, the latter famed for his command of the Bounty.
After Cook the islands changed. Kamehameha, a young warrior at the time of Cook’s arrival, rose to power and began a military campaign against the other islands, seeking to make a kingdom of all Hawai’i. He was aided in this by western cannons, which he acquired after becoming familiar with them on Cook’s ship. He defeated the last of his enemies in a battle on O’ahu in 1795.
“Kamehameha the Great” he has since been called, and indeed, many things he did were great. He was a wise ruler and reverenced the gods and their ceremonies; he made sure others also held this reverence. He created a reign of peace on the island after his series of conquests under which citizens had rights to safety on all his roads.
The Law of the Splintered Oar ensured that peaceful citizens were immune from raids and senseless pillages by rival chiefs. The story goes that Kamehameha was involved in raids on peaceful citizens himself and was hit on the head by a fisherman trying to defend himself. The blow was so hard that the oar cracked and almost killed Kamehameha. The fisherman was caught and carried before the king, but pardoned. Ever since, the Law of the Splintered Oar has protected fishermen and others from wrongful assaults by chiefs.
The wars that Kamehameha launched to seize control of the other islands had their effects, devastating some of the population. Nonetheless, he succeeded in his task and consolidated the islands under him before returning to the Big Island to hold his court.
Kamehameha groomed his own son to take his place after him, but Liholiho was not up to the job. He was not the great man his father was, and his weakness caused the destruction of one of his society’s underpinnings: the kapu.
After Kamehameha’s death, his favorite wife, Ka’ahumanu teamed up with another of his wives, Keopuolani, to prove that the kapu system was wrong. One of the long-standing taboos was that men and women could not eat together. If this was ever done, disaster would result. The two wives invited Liholiho to eat with them and prove that disaster would not come, that the taboo was useless. He took up the invitation.
When the people saw that, indeed, the gods did not retaliate, something snapped. They went a little nuts. They had just learned that much of their lives were lies. A fury descended on them and riots ensued, with the overthrow of sacred idols.
With the kapu system proven false, everything seemed false. Society was in disarray. Life was bereft of meaning. The spiritual beliefs of old were dead.
Into this disorder, a new light came from the West: the missionaries had arrived.
American Protestant missionaries from New England arrived to bring the Good Word to the Hawai’ians. But they weren’t alone. New England whalers found Hawai’i to be the perfect stopping point on their way to the abundant waters of the Pacific. The missionaries sought to instill their values of abstinence and stoicism in the natives, while the whalers were just looking for a good time.
The whaler’s motto is a catchy phrase: “No God west of the Horn.” This meant none of the prudery and guilt trips of the churchmen. A small war for the inculturation of the natives was begun. The whalers waned to be able to drink all night and do so with the lovely native women. This behavior, of course, flew in the face of everything the Protestant priests would tolerate.
In the end, the priests won. In 1823, Queen Keopuolani was baptized a Christian on her deathbed, and many Hawai’ians were shown to the water soon after. Later, the priests outlawed what they saw to be rude or lewd practices, such as horseback riding on the Sabbath. In later years, they successfully banned the hula, the sacred dance by which the traditional culture kept alive its tales of gods and heroes.
Sugar & the New Immigrants
The priests soon turned to more secular pursuits, turning Hawai’i into an incredibly wealthy (for foreign owners) sugar cane production site. To fill the need for workers, the haole plantation owners brought in a wave of immigrants from other lands. First came the Chinese, then the Japanese and Portuguese. These workers stayed and settled, raising families, pushing Hawai’ians out of jobs and land. Later, in the early twentieth century, the plantations turned to pineapples and brought in another wave of immigrants: Puerto Ricans, Koreans, and Filipinos.
In 1848, Kamehameha III ushered in the Great Mahele, or division of the land. This allowed the land, once owned by the king and worked by the common people, to be owned by the chiefs and commoners were allowed to purchase land or were given land grants. But taxes had to be paid and the land needed to be registered. The natives knew little of the details of such things, and with a few years, 80% of the land was bought up by foreigners. Thus, the Hawai’ians became landless in their own homes.
The Fall of a Kingdom
David Kalakaua was elected king in 1874. He revitalized Hawai’ian culture, bringing back the sacred hula, and he became a very popular king, but he was to be the last king.
After his death, plantation owners plotted a takeover of the government. Tired of high tariffs imposed on them, they decided to seize the reins of power and give themselves a better bargaining chip in financial matters.
Their coup was bloodless. In 1893, they deposed the queen and created the Republic of Hawai’i. This bold move shocked members of the U.S. Congress. Following string statements from Grover Cleveland and Teddy Roosevelt against coup planners, Congress annexed the Hawai’ian islands and declared them a territory. In the same year, the United State acquired the Philippines and Guam. Against a growing expansionist Japan, Hawai’i was the perfect spot to put a naval base. In 1908, construction began on Pearl Harbor.
This military expansion has led some to believe that the plantation owners knew very well what they were doing and knew that their move would lead to annexation.
The land barons prepared for their next big crop, perhaps the biggest of all: tourism. The “wave” began in the 1920s with the immense popularity of Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, an Olympic swimming champion. It was the duke who brought surfing to the world and the passenger ships, the luxury liners, the allowed Hawai’i’s affair with tourists to begin. The stock market crash had little effect on the barons of the island, who were carefully investing in luxury transport to their islands, awaiting the inevitable arrival of a mass of wealthy mainlanders. But it was the jumbo jet, perhaps more than anything else, that ushered in the new age for Hawai’i. While flights were halted during the war, the post-war boom of tourist flights to the island has never really abated.
World War II & Statehood
Every American knows about Pearl Harbor, the site of the infamous attack by the Japanese that ushered in American involvement in the world. Hawai’i became the base of operations for the Pacific Campaign, that eventually ended with a giant mushroom cloud in the sky over Hiroshima.
The war brought a huge influx of servicemen to the islands. Some stayed on after the war or returned to stay soon after. The defense industry, a Hawai’i’s second largest economic industry, provides a constant flux of people, some of whom stay for good and some of whom only return for the occasional vacation.
In 1959, Hawai’i was admitted to the union. The fiftieth state zoomed forward into a new phase of development and hotel construction.
Hawai'ian Music & Song
Hawai’i has its own traditional styles of music. The chanting of poems and songs was part of the sacred hula, and the singers and musicians were greatly respected. A poet was called a haku mele.
When foreign sailors arrived on the islands, they brought their sea chanties with them, and the Hawai’ians learned melody. Over the years, native music has been influenced by many musical forms, from jazz and blues to big bans, but the mele hula ku’i chants of old are coming back into style, as are many other traditional pursuits.
The public relations machine kicked in, and Hawai’i was presented to all eyes as a wonderful, magical paradise where all worldly cares could be put aside for a while and health and relaxation become the only concerns of the day. With hundreds of hotels, restaurants, and malls to choose from, what more could a visitor need?
But in the '80s, people began to realize what they’d sold away, what they’d lost to this manufactured illusion of tranquility. Massive development had taken away a lot of land, both on the coasts and in the interiors of the islands. The native ecosystems were in trouble as foreign plants grew like weeds where native plants are defenseless (thanks to slow, blissful evolution).
The traditional lifestyles of the natives had been co-opted by the tourist council, who sold away sacred sites with the proviso that the “important” part of those sites would be preserved as monuments. Thus, a once-sacred rock with petroglyphs representing fertility sits amid the golf courses of the Kona Coast with a small kiosk explaining its history.
Today, the residents of Hawai’i have learned the lessons of over-development and have vowed to keep things in check from now on. Their pot of gold is at stake in this; if development is allowed to take over the islands, the magic and charm so attractive to tourists might just disappear, and the money that comes with the visitors would go with it.
The Land Still Lives
The history of Hawai’i is by no means over. Pele still creates the Big Island in a continuous act of creation, spewing molten rock from deep in the earth to the surface world. The descendants of the original people of Hawai’i are creating anew their life of old, as native rights become big issues (with the Pele Defense Fund’s attempt to save the forests around Kilauea), and the residents serving the tourists create themselves many times over and over again for each new visitor. For seven million people a year who see the islands for the first time in their lives, Hawai’i is a new glimpse into something old.
Overview of the Islands
The state of Hawai’i includes all the islands stretching northwest from the Big Island up to the Kure Atoll, excluding the Midway Island, which is administered by the U.S. Navy. It has seven main islands that are inhabited, with a variety of ecosystems on each of these islands, from sandy beaches to barren or snow-topped mountains. The islands are colorful: bright orange, red, and green flowers blossom; multi-hued rainbows appear, and scintillating waterfalls descend amid rich greenery; smoking, glowing yellow and red molten lava belches forth from active volcanoes; and deep blue sea surrounds it all.
Hawai'i: The Big Island
By far the largest island in the state, Hawai’i is twice the size of the other islands put together. Physically, the land is a marvel, with a rich diversity of ecosystems: ranch pastures on the north side of the island, moonlike lavascapes at the peaks of the volcanoes (Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea, and Kilauea), dense forests on the southeast side; lava flows to the sea on the southeast side, and the fake tourist landscape of Kona Coast on the western side.
The beaches come in different colors here, from the traditional white to black and green. The black beaches are caused by volcanic lava cinders, while the green is caused by a mixture of olivine and obsidian in the sand, again caused by volcanoes.
The large mountains effectively keep most of the rain on the windward side of the island; this side has lush plantations and forests. The drier side of the island (leeward) has coffee fields and golf courses, along with tranquil beaches. Only in December and January does the weather get really rough leeward, bringing storms from the southwest.
The largest city on the islands after Honolulu, Hilo is the main sea- and airport on the Big Island. Nestled in a curving bay, it is a city of flowers, because this side of the coast is home to the world’s largest orchid industry.
The city was devastated by a tsunami in the early 60s but was built again on higher ground. Hilo now boasts a branch of the University of Hawai’i, a community college, fine beaches, a beautiful waterfall, and many resort hotels. The downtown district includes many shops, including those run by local crafters selling their traditional and faux traditional Hawai’ian crafts and artwork.
Notable landmarks include:
- Banyan Drive, where most of the hotels are clustered. The banyan trees were mostly planted by celebrities, and a plaque on each tree bears the name of the planter (The more famous trees can sometimes exude Glamour).
- Coconut Island is a small islet in the bay fringed with palm trees. It was once a sanctuary where birth and healing stones were kept. (Changelings overcome by Banality and unaware of their fae natures can sometimes awaken when walking here.)
- Liliuokalani Gardens is a beautiful garden spread over the peninsula. It mixes Hawai’ian and Japanese plants and modeling with pagodas and lanterns.
- Susian Fish Market is where an early morning bustle of activity takes place as fishermen unload their catches to be sold to dealers. Multiple languages can be heard, from Hawai’ian to pidgin.
- Wailoa Cultural and Visitors Center has information for tourists on the Big Island’s history and places to see, and the Hawai’ian Visitors Bureau, in downtown Hilo, provides guidebooks to the city for visitors.
- The Naha Stone: For more, see the separate article Naha Stone
- The East Hawai’ian Cultural Center is a gallery, museum, and gift shop all in one. It is an interesting building, combining Hawai’ian style with art deco.
- The Hilo Hongwanji Temple is a Buddhist temple built to serve a mission founded in 1889.
- Wailuku River State Park is along the Wailuku River, which flows down from Mauna Kea. The Rainbow Falls is a beautiful site, especially in the morning, and the Boiling Pots are odd natural swimming pools, where turbulent waters bubble up as the flow beneath, although the currents can be dangerous.
- The Kaumana Caves were formed by Mauna Loa’s 1881 eruption and provide some interesting walks for those who have flashlights and don’t mind getting dirty.
- Many gardens and nurseries can be found off the roads, and flowers of all types, but especially orchids, can be purchased.
- Macadamia nuts are a local crop, and the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Mill can be visited. The orchards can be walked, and the chocolate factory marveled at; there is a gift store to relieve the inevitable longing that visitors get after watching the nuts processed. (Two local changelings work here, a boggan and a pooka. They smuggle chocolate and nuts out to give to their friends.
- Hale Manu Crafts sells hats, baskets, and other items, all woven from lauhala (pandanus tree leaves). Other local craft stores abound throughout the island.
- Panaewa Rainforest Zoo displays tropical animals and plants and is a good educational opportunity on local ecosystems.
- Onekahakaha Beach Park is a developed park of white sands with small, safe tidal pool and picnic tables. Other similar beaches can be found all around Hilo.
- South of Hilo is the Puna region where one can walk right up to flowing lava. The latest overflow from Kilauea volcano can be witnessed here working its slow way into the sea, taking anything in its path. (an odd but wonderful effect is present here at night when the lava is flowing: all uses of the Primal Art receive on automatic success.)
Volcanoes National Park
The south coast of the island is taken up by the Volcanoes National Park. Here, one can take the arduous walk up to Kilauea crater, the peak and center of Pele’s home. While the crater is pretty calm these days (her flows have lately come out of vents off her ridges), this place was once a smoldering cauldron of hell… if early visitors’ accounts are to be believed.
The crater was once home to a large lake of fire, a vision of hell itself for many Christians who came to see the natural wonder. Indeed, the sight of this boiling and burning mountain caused many of them to quake with fear, feeling they had looked into a void and found themselves small and wanting.
There is an inn at the edge of the crater that has guested such famous visitors as Mark Twain. Depending on one’s personal reaction to this window on raw nature, sleeping at the inn can be a calm or terrifying experience.
The crater is often shrouded in mist or vog (volcanic ash clouds), and sulfur clouds plague the area and can be dangerous before a violent eruption (Kilauea’s eruptions haven’t been violent for some time).
The rest of the park includes massive lava flats stretching to the sea, the result of relatively recent lave flows over more ancient flows. Along the coast, some old sites of traditional Hawai’ian life can be found, including a he’iau that may have been associated with the very first landing of immigrants to the island long ago. Some of these sites have recently been overrun by lava, their secrets buried forever.
Some caves, the remains of underground lava flows, have old petroglyphs in them, seemingly associated with fertility. These places can be found scattered throughout the park.
Pu'uhonua: Place of Refuge
For more information, see the article Pu'uhonua
North of Pu’uhonua is the bay where Captain Cook anchored on his fateful journey. A nearby town has been named after him, and tasty macadamia nuts can be bought fresh-roasted there. Fresh coffee can also be sampled at a visitor center run by the Captain Cook Coffee Company (whose fields to the north grow the only coffee beans on U.S. soil).
Also nearby is the Captain Cook Monument, an obelisk sitting in a cove. This obelisk is said to actually be considered British soil, for all that’s worth.
This town is the hub of activity on the Kona Coast. It hosts an annual marlin fishing championship and the yearly Ironman Triathlon. The first church in Hawai’i, Mokuaikaua Church, was built here.
This is a nexus point for the largest tourist site on the island. The Kona Coast attracts thousands of visitors a year to its resort hotels, golf courses, beaches, fishing, and yearly sporting events. Malls and other shopping sites are prevalent, as is an airport for those who don’t want to drive to Hilo.
On the north side of the island is the Parker Ranch, the largest family-owned ranch in the United States. Its cattle come from the population that grew wild after Captain Vancouver left a bull and cow on the island. Horses are also descendants of Vancouver’s leavings. The ranch itself covers 225,000 acres.
In the interior of the island are the volcanoes of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. Measured from the sea bottom, Mauna Loa is the tallest mountain in the world, although it doesn’t rank so high when measured from sea level. Mauna Kea is dormant, although Mauna Loa erupted in the late 1800s.
Named after the trickster god who brought fire to the native Hawai’ians, Maui is an island made up of two dormant volcanoes connected by an isthmus. It is a popular spot with tourists.
The airport is located in this city and is thus the most likely arrival point for visitors. The city also served as a naval port during World War II.
During the winter, this northern bay is a breeding ground for humpback whales, who make the long journey from Alaska. The whales are protected now, but ships used to get in the way of their journey here.
This city on the western coast became the whaling capital of the Pacific in the mid-1800s. It also became a battleground for Hawai’ian culture between New England whalers and New England missionaries. After the missionaries tried to quell the Hawai’ian’s (and the whalers’) sensual ways, riots broke out. But the missionaries would not yield. Eventually they won out and Hawai’ian culture became overwhelmingly Christianized.
Now a tourist town, Lahaina pushes its nautical history hard, building itself up with a nostalgic, seafaring look (including a schooner in the bay).
The rest of the western coast is taken up by the results of an explosive growth in tourism: resort hotels and beaches.
Haleakala National Park
Haleakala is the world’s largest dormant volcano. A rainforest grows up around it and is home to many native Hawai’ian species, most growing extinct as the years pass. A huge fence was finally completed around the park, designed to keep feral pigs from ravaging the park lands. The park is considered to be an International Biosphere Reserve.
See also Kamapua'a
This island sits nine miles off Maui’s west coast and was once home to the Dole Company’s huge pineapple plantation. Today, Dole has traded pineapples for tourism, erecting two large hotels (the Lodge at Keole and Manele Bay).
This small town, a mile from the airport, is in the center of the island. It is a plantation town, and modern times have yet to fully catch up with it. However, as new hotels are built, new residences for hotel workers follow. New stores are opening up here also. It is slowly coming to life to greet the tourist trade.
This mountain, which can be reached by the Munro Trail behind the Keole Lodge, is dotted with pine forests and is the highest point on the island. From here, Hawai’i’s other islands (all except Kaua’i) can be seen.
Nearby is the Kanepu’u Preserve, a conservation area begun by an early naturalist, George Munro, and added to the Hawai’ian Nature Conservancy by a gift from the Dole Company.
Northwest of here is the Garden of the Gods, an odd piling of boulders in a range of colors. Sunrises and sunsets change the colors on the rocks.
On the coast, Ka’ena Point was a penal colony where adulterous Hawai’ian women would be taken, imprisoned by the environment. These women, who could not understand the strict Christian commandments, had unwittingly erred; their punishment was exile within site of their homes across the channel.
The Wailing Woman
The wraith of one of the penal colony women haunts this stretch of coast, longing for her home across the sea, unable to reach it. She is a Drone, hopelessly and mindlessly tied to the Fetter of her death site. She does not realize that her exile has ended with her death. Only a Christian clergyman can free her of this sad fate, by absolving her of sin and commanding her to go onward.
The north coast of the island is famed for its treacherous reefs, which took down many a whaler. There is even the wreck of a U.S. World War II era vessel on the beach.
The south side of the island is the site of the ritzy Manele Bay hotel ($600 per night, but with butler service). The beach is a popular snorkeling spot, and a pod of dolphins can often be seen swimming by. A ferry comes to the nearby bay from Maui.
Kaunolu Bay Village
On the southwest tip of the island are the ruins of an ancient Hawai’ian village, once vacation home to Kamehameha. The village has houses, grave markings, and stone shelters still standing.
See also the article Mano
Nearby Kaunolu Bay Village is an outcrop of rock where young warriors used to prove their prowess by leaping off and down to the sea from a height of 60 feet above the sea into water only 12 feet deep.
This island is now uninhabited. Once used as a sacred site to pray to fishing gods and as a setting-off site for Tahiti, the island has been unpopulated since the 1800s. After World War II, the Navy took charge of the island and used it for ordnance tests. The ground is so full of unused mines and bombs just waiting to be set off that no one can safely walk it.
A recent movement by traditional Hawai’ians has returned the island to them, but the place needs to be cleaned up first, and that could take a long time.
Once the home of many kahunas and a refuge for kapu-breakers, Moloka’i has not suffered as much development as the other islands. The residents are prepared to resist the fast-paced tourism, opting instead for slower, more controlled growth.
Eight miles south of the airport, this small town is the main one on the island. Its small, one-berth port is where the ferry comes in. The town is friendly and quiet, with only three blocks of stores designed for tourists. There is only one hotel here.
A few miles west in Kiowea Park where a well-known coconut grove is an attraction. On windy days, the coconuts can fall on unwary visitors’ heads.
In the 1800s, Hawai'ian lepers were banished to this northern peninsula. The windy landscape was a harsh and lonely place. A missionary, Father Damien (now considered a saint by the Catholic Church), arrived in the late 1800s to make the lepers’ lives a little easier. The colony was finally ended in 1960, although the lepers were allowed to stay on if they chose. Today, many elderly still live there, and the place has become a tourist site.
In the eastern central part of the island is a preserve run by the Nature Conservancy. It aims to protect the delicate natural plants and wildlife from deprivation. Some of the rarest forms of native life can still be found here, such as the Moloka’i creeper (a small bird).
Southwest of the preserve is an ancient holy site, a place where kahunas were initiated. Moloka’i kahunas were considered the most powerful, and it is from this place that they came. An immense stone platform sits here that is sad to have been erected by the menehune in one night. The he’iau is on private land and visits must be prearranged.
See the article Mo'o
Maunaloa (Long Mountain) Village
On the western central part of the island, this lazy plantation village has some quaint tourist shops and art galleries. Many changelings from O'ahu come here to visit the only kite factory in Hawai'i. Here, they can marvel as the lovely figures of hula dancers, mythical beasts, and other products of the designer’s imagination take to the air.
Lono Barge Harbor
On the southwest part of the island is a harbor that hosts the Moloka'i to O'ahu outrigger race. This popular canoe race brings Californians all the way over to compete.
Moloka'i Ranch Wildlife Park
This bizarre little piece of Africa sits northwest of Maunaloa Village. The 1,500-acre game preserve is home to many imported African animals, from giraffes and zebras to antelope and ostriches.
The most populated of the islands, O’ahu is the center of human activity in Hawai’i. It is the main arrival point for anyone coming by plane (Honolulu Airport) or by luxury boat.
While the population clusters mainly around the south side, the rest of the island is well inhabited. This was the place where Kamehameha consolidated his main empire, after a bloody battle in which his army forced the defending army over a cliff to their deaths on the sharp lave outcrops below. After this battle, only Kaua’i remained unconquered.
The huge dormant volcano of Diamond Head (so called because early British mariners thought from afar that the glistening crystals on its sides were diamonds) dominates the eastern horizon of the island. The mountain can be climbed, although it may take close to an hour, and the view from the top is spectacular… a 360-degree look at the island and ocean to the east. At its base is the film studio where several TV shows based on the island were shot.
Waikiki is the hub of tourism on the islands and a favorite spot for swimmers and surfers. Its beach line is crowded with hotels and restaurants. Shops and stores of all types huddle behind the hotels as close to the shore as possible.
The Kapi'olani Regional Park is home to some popular local attractions, such as the Honolulu Zoo and the Waikiki Aquarium, where most forms of native Hawai'ian wildlife can be found, such as the monk seal, and it is renowned for breeding live coral in captivity,
Surfing is the sport of choice off the beaches, and the area is perfect for it. Jet skis and other craft are not allowed nearby, so the surfers have the waves to themselves. It was on this beach that Duke Kahanamoku got famous, and there is a section of beach named after him near the Hilton and lagoon. A statue of him and his board stand on the beach at Kuhio Beach Park.
The waves off Waikiki Beach (at Canoes and Queens) are some of the most popular, although other sites down the beach (westward) include Paradise and Number Threes.
Also on Waikiki Beach is the Royal Hawai'ian Hotel, located in front of the sands where King Kamehameha ordained the Malahiki games, dedicated to the god Lono. The sacred altar of Lono was located in front of what is now the Sheraton-Waikiki Hotel.
Westward is the Fort DeRussey Beach, where Battery Randolph is located. This early twentieth century munitions dump was built too well; its impregnable walls proved indestructible to the wrecking ball, and thus it still stands, but now doubles as a museum.
The Ali Wai Yacht Harbor is always filled with the pleasure ships of the rich and famous of Hawai'i and their guests. It is connected to the Ali Wai Canal, a channel that governs water run-off from the inland mountain heights. The water can be quite brackish at times.
Downtown Honolulu is six miles west of Waikiki. High-rise towers and business centers take the forefront here, rather than tourist hotels.
The streets of the city were once rowdy and wild, where whalers and other mariners ran drunk and free. Many saloons and brothels sprang up to service their needs. But missionaries arrived to spoil the fun. One church was even built between two popular bars. One bar, the Oahu Follies, was host to Preacher Bingham’s loud sermons on the street outside, directed at the sinners within. One of those “sinners” may well have been Herman Melville, on leave from his ship, swigging back some relief and perhaps dreaming of the novel he would one day write about whaling. Anyone familiar with Moby Dick may recognize the Preacher.
'Iolani Palace was once the home of the islands’ royalty and is now a restored museum reflecting that time. Tours are available to see the finely furnished and opulent palace.
Across from the judiciary building downtown is a statue of Kamehameha the Great. Leis are thrown on it every July 11 (Kamehameha Day).
South of downtown on the piers is the Maritime Museum, once the Kalakaua Boat House where King Kalakaua traded stories with his friend, Robert Louis Stevenson. The museum includes a whale skeleton, artifacts from Polynesian cultures, and the modern replica of an ancient seafaring canoe.
North of the city is a campus of the University of Hawai'i, shared with the East-West Center. Also northward is the Tenrikyo Mission, a Japanese temple moved here from Japan, and Queen Emma’s Summer Palace, the summer home of Hawai'ian royalty now refurbished for the public.
In Punchbowl Crater is the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, where many World War II Hawai'ian servicemen are buried. There is also a memorial to Ellison Onizuka, the Hawai'ian astronaut who was lost on the shuttle Challenger.
East of the Punchbowl is the Hawai'ian Academy of the Arts, which holds probably the most eclectic collection on the islands; from native crafts to Asian art and the works of many European masters.
This famous military base was the target of the Japanese surprise attack on December 7, 1941, which initiated the United States’ involvement in the war. The U.S.S. Arizona Memorial commemorates the servicemen lost in the war, and is a very modern looking monument, built on the top of the sunken battle cruiser from which it takes its name.
The west coast of the island is the least developed part. It is home to many rural residents, who have resisted the lure of big shopping malls (these can certainly be found elsewhere on the island).
Makaha Beach is host to the February Buffalo Big Board Surfing Contest. Makaha means ‘savage,’ which is something the surf can certainly be. But the locals can also be somewhat mean to outsiders who come to invade their waves.
For more, see the article Kahokuwelowelo He'iau.
During the winter months, this is a world nexus for surfing. The Triple Crown is held here in November and December. The waves off the north coast can tower as high as 40 feet.
Malaekahana State Park
This quiet reserve is not incredibly popular with tourists and so seems like an escape from the bustle of the rest of the island. South of this place is a local campus Brigham Young University and the Polynesian Cultural Center
South of Kailua town is the Ulipo He'iau. It is a large, well-preserved platform said to have been built (in one night, of course) by the menehune.
This small beach is where the famous love scene in “From Here to Eternity” was filmed. Visitors still drop by to see it. Nearby is the Halona Blowhole, a mini-geyser phenomenon, where the seawater is forced up a tall lava channel, spouting out from the top with great force.
This island, one of the oldest in the chain, is truly formed by magic, for many of the ancient structures on the island are said to have been built by menehune. The natural beauty of the island awes many visitors. Mere words cannot fully describe the grandeur of the place, from the central mountain Wai’ale’ale, down to the rich green jungles, and the rift canyon of Waimea.
Lihu'e & Poipu
The capital of the island was founded by sugar barons, for Kaua'i’s main crop has always been sugar. Tourism is now spreading to the isle as sugar prices fall, threatening the stable economy and lifestyles of the residents. Sugar fields fill the vicinity of Lihu'e.
The Kaua'i Museum is full of native artifacts and other items from the island’s rich history, including a map suggesting the layout of native villages at the time of Captain Cook’s arrival.
The Menehune Fish Pond is still home to fish to this day. The structure is said to have been on the island before the Tahitians arrived, and is one of the many places built by the Menehune crafters.
South of the capital is the old Koloa Sugar Mill, where sugar cane is still ground. Nearby are two beautiful gardens, the National Botanical Gardens and Lawai Kai. The latter has many unique environments and sculpted landscapes, along with a wide variety of flora.
Still further south is Poipu, a growing center for tourism on the island, where a Hyatt Regency hotel attracts many visitors to the local beaches. The waves are steady and safe, good for beginning surfers, and a nearby beach is perfect for children.
Spouting Hole is another of Hawai'i’s blowholes and is an interesting attraction when it spouts water. The area was devastated in 1992 by Hurricane Iniki, and some of the local buildings have not yet been rebuilt.
Waimea Town, Canyon, & Koke'e
West of Poipu is Waimea Town, a coastal village where Captain cook first set anchor among the islands. Every February, the town has a Captain Cook carnival with games and rides.
The ruins of Fort Elizabeth are nearby, the result of a Russian scheme in the 1800s to place a base on the islands. But the scheme, by Anton Schaeffer, was not approved by the tsar, and the schemer was eventually run off the island.
The most famous local attraction, besides the entry to the trail into Waimea Canyon, is the Menehune Ditch, an agricultural ditch built centuries ago with engineering techniques unknown to the Hawai'ians. Archeologists are baffled by the site, said to be built by the menehune.
North lies the Waimea Canyon; a magnificent gorge sometimes called the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” Its intense greenery, mist, and sunlight provide an array of brilliant colors, often with rainbow accompaniment. Few witness it without gasping.
Still further north is the Koke'e State Park, refuge of Kaua’i’s wildlife, including many endangered species. A natural history museum is present, along with camping facilities.
Hikers can move further inland to the Alaka'i wetlands, a large swamp where some of the truly endangered wildlife of the island still live. The chilly, misty swamp can be a dangerous place, with illusory depths that can drown the unwary traveler. Mists and fog can swirl in obscuring landmarks and causing people to quickly lose their way.
The remains of the extinct volcano that once birthed Kaua'i take up a large part of the central core of the island. The top of the mountain is hidden in rain clouds, and the area is perhaps the wettest in the world, receiving more annual rainfall than anywhere else. Its sunless slopes host small trees that hug to the side of the tall, wet monolith.
Nearby is Kalalau Lookout, a popular scenic spot with a view of the northern Na Pali Coast. The hiking trails provide many beautiful vistas, places where the quality of light changes dramatically as the day progresses.
Pacific Missile Range
Back to the coast and continuing west while bending north is the Pacific Missile Range, a Navy facility for the monitoring of sea activity. The sophisticated facility can monitor ships up to 1,000 miles away. The beautiful beaches are open to the public, and there is a state park nearby that is good for solitude and camping under the stars.
Na Pali Coast
This ruggedly beautiful coast is one of the most intense sites on the islands. Mile after mile of huge cliffs interspersed with white beaches. The beaches are inaccessible from the land, so boats must be used. The beautiful interior was once home to natives who lived on taro cultivation. Menehune structures and temples remain and were popular with hippie immigrants in the 1960s, although the land is uninhabited now.
Ha'ena State Park
Ruins of very ancient Hawai'ian villages can be found here, along with Ke Ahu o Laka, a terrace for the performance of sacred hula dances. Kaulaupaolau He'iau is nearby, a temple dedicated to Laka, the goddess of the hula. Maniniholo Dry Cave is one of many local caves said to have been dug by Pele.
This bay and plateau is home to the largest taro patches in Hawai'i, producing poi for all the islands. Princeville is a huge development complex, complete with a Sheraton hotel, condos, golf courses, shopping center, and a small airport.
Hanalei Village is home to many artists and crafters and their work can be found in various shops along the quaint streets. A wide variety of mediums can be found, from painting to glasswork and basketry to jewelry, clothing and even photography.
A temple dedicated to Poliahu, a snow goddess, remains here, built in a Tahitian style. This was once a place of human sacrifice. Nearby is the Bell Stone, which was struck to send out a bell-like ring at the birth of new royalty. Wailua Falls often tosses fish into the air as the water plunges to a pond below.
The last of the large islands, Ni'ihau is privately owned by the Robinson Ni'ihau Ranch. Visitors can fly over in helicopters, but may only land to the north and south of the island. Tourism does not come to Ni'ihau. The island is in the past in many ways; absent are many modern conveniences. There is hardly any electricity, and there are no telephones, no guns allowed, and no crime.
The residents, mainly native Hawai'ians, are ranch hands, herding vast flocks of sheep. They also make native crafts that are sold elsewhere. The island is perfectly cut off from the worst of modern influences. The menehune often visit, and some live here as ranch hands.
The War Never Ended
Ni'ihau is haunted by the ghost of a Japanese fighter pilot who crash-landed here during the attack on Pearl Harbor. After struggling with the peaceful natives and shooting one of them five times, his head was bashed into a rock. This did not kill him, though. He committed hari kari, ritual suicide, and now roams restlessly as a wraith.
As much as a cliché as this sounds, the war is not over for him. He did not get the respect he deserved as a warrior and feels he died an ignoble death, humiliated by a primitive Hawai'ian who received a Medal of Honor for winning the “Battle of Ni'ihau,” the first U.S. victory over Japan in the war.
Until he can prove his valor and readiness to die for an Imperialistic Japanese cause, he will continue to roam the Shadowlands, returning here occasionally to scare the locals.
For the most part, the string of atolls stretching for hundreds of miles through the Pacific Ocean are barren of animal life, except for the occasional seabird seeking a temporary roost. None of the atolls are inhabited by humans.
These tiny islands are the merest tips of larger rock formations rising from the sea bed. Once active volcanoes, now extinct for centuries, erosion has taken the bulk of their masses back into the sea, leaving the barest tips exposed to the winds.
The abundance and variety of life on Hawai'i is astonishing. The ingenious adaptations of some flora and fauna to their environment is unique, such as the i'iwi, whose bill has adapted perfectly to drinking nectar from the native long-throated lobelias.
But these forms are endangered, and many have already become extinct. Nowhere else in the United Sates are there so many endangered species. The islands’ native species have simply not had the time to evolve to resist the predation of foreign species.
Realization of the crisis has finally come about of late, but it may be too late for many species. The uphill battle to protect wildlife reserves from rampant development has angered many people against conservationists, who are sometimes seen as preventing residents from making money. Tourism endangers the wildlife, but it also protects it in cases in which it is recognized that tourism would benefit from a varied and lively, beautiful ecosystem than from a few more hotels and condos to ruin the skyline.
While many plants in Hawai'i were introduced by the Polynesian immigrants, such as the taro plant, others grew and evolved here on their own, free from predation.
Among the plants of the island is the 'ahinahina (Silversword), which was once abundant but is now rare. The seven-foot, sword-like flower bears many yellow flower heads. This plant serves as a lesson in ecological connectedness: goats were once blamed for its slow disappearance, but it was discovered that Argentine ants were preying on the native yellow-faced bees, who were necessary to pollinate the Silversword. With the decline of the bee, the Silversword soon followed, and it was realized that the goats were simply the most visible scavengers of the plant.
Mokihana berries grow only on Kaua'i. Their perfume is greatly desired for the making of leis. The trees grow to about 20 feet, with green leaves and berries.
The 'ohi'alehua blossom is sacred. It grows on 'ohi'a trees, famed for their ability to sprout in lava landscapes. The plant and blossom are thus favored by Pele. The tenacious, sometimes bonsai-like trees were once used for canoes and temple idols. The blossom is used in leis for hulas dedicated to Pele.
Many other flowers are preferred for making leis. The yellow-gold 'ilima flower is especially popular. Also good are the orange kauna'oa, pink lokelani, green kukui, and even white pupu shells (from Ni'ihau).
Birds arrived on the islands centuries ago either through great endurance when blown off course in flight or by clinging to driftwood and floating to the islands. Only a few original species arrived, but those few blossomed into over 70 distinct species. A better example of evolution from a single species is found nowhere else in the world.
Hawai'i is home to the honeycreeper, unique to the islands. The 'apapane is the most common survivor, and it is often camouflaged among the red blossoms of the 'ohi'alehua.
The 'alala, or Hawai'ian crow, is one of the rarest birds in the world. Its population was greatly reduced by ranchers, who shot them as scavengers. The birds’ black feathers are a symbol of royalty.
The brown 'elapaio, or Flycatcher, was once the patron of canoe makers. Wherever it pecked, it warned the carvers away from bad trees.
'Io is the Hawai'ian hawk. He is associated with royalty and is considered an 'aumakua (ancestor spirit) to many.
The sociable nene is the Hawai'ian goose and state bird. It has recently been brought back from near extinction by careful breeding, but still faces foreign predators in the wild.
The 'o'o was valued for its yellow feathers, and it is said that over 80,000 of them went into King Kamehameha’s cloak. It is now believed extinct, although some are rumored to live in the Alaka'i wetlands on Kaua'i.
The pueo is another ancestor spirit. It is the Hawai'ian owl, hunting for the rats that were accidently introduced by the early Tahitians and later whalers.
The monk seal is one of Hawai'i's most famous endangered species. Brought back from the brink of extinction, this kindly seal flops on Kaua'i's beaches and on atolls in the sea.
The hoary bat was once the largest native predator on the islands, having arrived from a long flight many centuries ago. It has been joined by much larger mammals since. It is mainly found on Hawai'i and Kaua'i.
The pig came with the early Polynesians, but after Cook brought and released European pigs, the interbreeding produced something much like the European boar, and it has been a danger to the islands’ ecosystems ever since. It tears up native plants and bears foreign plant seeds on its fur, leaving them to sprout up like weeds wherever it goes. Nonetheless, it is still revered by traditional Hawai'ians.
Polynesians also brought dogs with them, but used them for food rather than companionship. Robert Louis Stevenson had roast dog with his friend, King Kalakaua. The islands are rabies-free and quarantines keep them that way.
The Polynesian rat wreaks havoc on the environment in much the same way the pig does. They arrived stowed aboard canoes and spread throughout the islands since then. Hawai’ians used them in games, racing them before spearing them.
Goats were introduced onto the island and ravaged certain areas before coming under control. Wild goats still roam the mountainous regions.
Mongooses were introduced to control the rats but went after nene instead. They have become a problem that is too wild to easily fix.
A fisherman’s paradise, many anglers make their living by fishing from the islands or by hosting tourists on their boats.
Of the varieties found are some reef fish (seen when snorkeling) such as the parrotfish, scorpionfish, moorish idol, and others. Popular eating fish are mahi-mahi, mackerel (akule), swordfish (a'u), shark (mano), red snapper (onaga), and jack fish (ulua).
The prize for deep-sea fisherman is the marlin, the most sought-after catch by fisherman from the Kona Coast.
Other animals include a wide variety of insects (including a snow-top dweller with a sort of antifreeze defense built into its blood to survive the temperatures) and lizards, including the bizarre-looking Jackson chameleon, brought from Africa, that competes for the insects with birds. Mosquitos have also arrived, and brought deadly diseases to the birds, who have no defense against these continental diseases.
Changeling: The DreamingHawai'i is part of the Kingdom of Pacifica, ruled over by Queen Aeron. Her regent governor, Menhiron, rules from a freehold near Waikiki, on the island of Oahu, and from there, he regulates the courtly doings of the local Kithain.
However, not all local changelings partake of Waikiki's courtly intrigues. Near the city of Hilo, on Hawai'i, Unseelie fae gather, seeking freedom from responsibility and escape from retribution for their breaking of Seelie laws. They are a rebellious and wild bunch, untamed in the lands they came from, and untamed in their new home on Hawai'i.
But the oldest residents of the islands have even less to do with Queen Aeron's courts. The Menehune, the native fae, live in seclusion, far from the banal bluster of the big cities and development of the forests. They draw Glamour from the land itself, from the remnant of dreams of an earlier age and from the dreams of traditional natives who still remember the old ways. On Kaua'i, at the foot of the extinct volcano, Wai'ale'ale, the Menehune built their greatest village to resist the tides of Banality. Moe'uhane, the village of the Dream, is now the home of the largest group of remaining Menehune. While other Menehune visit the other islands, hiding from foreign changelings and natives alike, only on Kaua'i is there still a strong remnant of the past. Nonetheless, Menehune can be found at play among the native crafters of Ni'ihau or wandering the lava flats and forests of the Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island.
Glamour for the Taking
The many visitors to the islands have attracted Kithain eager for the Glamour so readily available from the visitors’ wonder and the beauty of the islands. The Seelie-run court of the governor in Waikiki makes sure that the largest destination points for tourists are carefully policed (or at least try to), so that the tourist might relive their vivid vacation the following year.
The Unseelie, though, gathering near Hilo on the Big Island feel differently about their visitors. They feel that, if the mortals are foolish enough to bring their Glamour within reach, it is for the taking. Ravaging is common among them, although their low numbers rarely cause even a ripple in the tourism trade. Who cares if someone leaves with a bad experience? There are always more coming every day.
The menehune never engage in Ravaging, and since they rarely come even close to the tourist centers, they rarely encounter tourists.
Petroglyphs & Menehune Magic
The menehune still paint petroglyphs in places of power. Caves and the like are magical sites of fertility, the channels of life itself from its birthplace in the earth to its living place on the surface of the earth. The menehune sneak about at night, repainting many of these glyphs with chimeric paint, reinforcing their magic for them, but rendering it invisible to banal humans. Painting these petroglyphs sometimes acts as a bunk for menehune cantrips.
Other petroglyphs throughout the island mark other sacred sites of hunting or celebration. European fae can see these chimeric marks but will not know what they mean.
The menehune are claimed to have built many of ancient Hawai’i’s sacred sites, such as the Ili’ili’opae He’iau. Like boggans and nockers, the native fae are good at building things. And they are fast. When many of them get together, amazing things can be built in one evening. However, the traditional taboo against watching them work still applies: the risk of bringing Banality to their task is too great for them. If this happens, they will quit their work and never come back to the site.
The menehune still occasionally build things for traditional natives. However, if these natives speak of the work to non-natives, the menehune will leave that person and never build them anything again. They must be resolute about keeping their existence secret from the haoles (foreigners).
Menehune still come to fish from the sacred Menehune Fish Pond, although these days they come in the guise of human fisherman, since they are now changelings and wear mortal flesh just as their European cousins. It is said that fish caught from this pond are especially pure and good for ceremonial lu’aus.
Some menehune crafters work at the sugar mill and in the fields. They love he sweet sugar and the agrarian lifestyle, fearing for the future of this last bastion of the past as more and more tourists come every year.
The Spouting Hole is said to hold a trapped mo'o, or lizard spirit, who was caught in its strong current on his way back from Ni'ihau while mourning his lost sister. The moaning from the hole is said to be his cries of anguish.
Changeling Holidays in the Tropics
See the larger article Holidays of Hawaii (CTD).
Laws of Hospitality: Native and New
The O’ahu court holds to traditional western fae customs of hospitality. As long as you’re not an oathbreaker, you will be welcome as a guest.
The Unseelie of Hilo are less friendly; their hospitality depends on what you can give them in return and is entirely up to the individual changeling. If your usefulness (in whatever form: stories, entertainment, knowledge) runs out, you will probably have to find lodging elsewhere.
The menehune respect the old Hawai’ian traditions of hospitality among themselves: all menehune are welcomed with open arms, with aloha (love). However, they keep their distance from the foreign changelings, fearing their Banality. Acceptance of these foreigners is on a case-by-case basis only; character and virtuous behavior says more to the menehune than empty words.
Chimerical HiloUnseelie gather in Hilo but they don’t really congregate in a single group. There is no organization of Unseelie; it is simply a place many of them have come. If one holds a party, most may come, although some won’t, depending who the host is.
The sidhe prince, Yrtalien, created a freehold here when he arrived on the island. Here, he begins his proto-organization of Unseelie, united against their Seelie oppressors. The freehold appears to be a two-story wood frame house of the kind once inhabited by missionaries. It sits on a slope near a private beach, close to Ale’ale’a Point to the west of Hilo, near Highway 19 and Kaiwiki Road.
To changelings, the freehold is no mere hut; it is a magnificent, many-roomed palace, complete with garden. Its opulence has never been seen before on Hawai’i, especially so by most of the Unseelie residents. Tapestries hang from the walls, depicting all manner of things, from eye-widening scenes of satyrs at play to the more sober and noble deeds of kings. The servants, mostly enchanted local mortals, are dressed in shining raiment and serve delicacies from silver platters.
During parties and feasts, the garden is filled with chimeric beasts created by the prince for the amusement of his guests. These creatures roam freely, hiding among the ferns and flowers, and may randomly attack visiting knights. They are all beasts from Western myths, since Yrtalien and his aide, Glynnis, are not aware of any native myths to draw shapes from.
The largest room doubles as a dance and feasting hall, where the prince loads his tables to overflowing with pineapples, coconut meat, pork, mahi-mahi, papaya, and more.
The upper level includes many guest rooms, each made to make visitors feel like royalty, regardless of whether they are or not. There are enough rooms in the palace to keep some guests hidden from others, unaware of each other’s presence until Yrtalien wishes to introduce them to one another. Thus, the palace is perfectly built for political machinations and spying.
This part of the Kona Coast is the most Banal point of the Big Island, shunned by the menehune, but embraced by Hilo’s Unseelie for the free Ravaging that can be had from the tourists.
Mood and Atmosphere
Hawai’i is an exciting place for changeling. The constant flow of people allows them continuous access to Glamour from all walks of life and attitudes. This would normally be a dangerous proposition, risking the cold touch of Banality, but people come to the islands expecting magic. They throw off their worldly cares… they’re here to have fun. Even the stiffest and most banal humans loosen their collars when they hit the islands.
This does not mean that Banality is not present; it is. There is no escape from it even on these remote, happy islands. Banality is here in the form of greedy developers, cynical boat captains, resentful natives, and many other forms besides. For instance, in the eyes of many scientists come to study the volcanoes, these ancient marvels are not magical sites of world creation but are instead instances of abnormal geology, rated for their mineral content or by their statistical chances to erupt. Pele-respecting menehune stay well away from these icy humans.
But the islands are more alive than dead. From the wild nights in Honolulu to the beautiful landscapes of Kaua’i, Hawai’i’s magic glows bright by both day and night.
The First Dreamers of the Isle
Before humans came to the islands, other dreamers lived there. Legends are unclear, for this period of pre-human residence is not spoken of much in Hawai’ian myth. It is believed that spirits lived on the islands, but that they had gone by the time humans arrived.
Tales are told of the lost continent of Mu, a fabled Pacific land that, like its Atlantic counterpart, Atlantis, sank beneath the waves long before recorded history began. Who were the people of Mu? Were they human or spirit? No one can say.
But the menehune have their own tales of these people, as unclear as they are. The menehune of today arrived with the human settlers, but claim that there were other creatures of dream already here. These beings, “little people,” quickly disappeared and rarely showed themselves to the new children of human dreams. They are now believed to be entirely gone.
Did their dreams run out? Perhaps they could only live so long on the remnant memories of those who dreamed them into existence. For when the dreamer dies (or awakens), their dreams must slowly fade into the Mists.
So, the original inhabitants of the islands, whether spirits or citizens of Mu, disappeared without a trace (if they ever did, indeed, exist). The children of their dreams stayed on the islands for a while longer, but eventually faded away themselves, leaving hints and traces, and their names, to the new fae.
The menehune of today claim their heritage from the Hawai'ians, but they recognize and hold holy some secrets left from those who came before them, from a much older, more primal dream.
From the first iron nail traded to a Hawai’ian on Kaua’i, the menehune felt the wave of a coming storm. Banality had arrived with the new visitors. The first visitors stayed a short time, and the danger left with them, except for their cold iron artifacts. Many menehune knew that their time had come and tried to return from whence they came, to the Dreaming, but the gates were closed to them. Arcadia was no longer theirs.
Earlier, the selkies had come, bearing a great artifact to be kept by the ali’i, the Shadowstone, and they had warned that the gates to the Dreaming were closed, but many did not believe them. There was no evidence of it around them. Who needed to return to Arcadia when the dreams here were full of life and love? But after Cook arrived, the menehune found out too late that they were trapped in a world growing colder around them.
The visitors soon returned and this time stayed longer. They traded more of their cold metal and spread disease among the humans. When Cook was killed, part of the islands’ magic died with him. The death of a god is a terrible thing, even if it was but a physical manifestation of the god. But Cook was not Lono, and the realization of this by some Hawai’ians was painful to the menehune, who relied on their mana, their belief in a magical world.
Hiding in Bodies of Flesh
When Liholiho broke the kapu against eating with women, a great wave of Banality spread across the islands. The menehune had become so confident in the natives’ belief that they had been lax in letting this breaking of kapu go unpunished. This was their undoing. The natives no longer believed, and the menehune were defenseless, caught completely unprepared. As each sacred idol was destroyed, thrown off a cliff, or burnt, a menehune died, unable to suffer the pain of cold disbelief.
Into this void came the black-garbed men from other lands to deliver the final blow against magic and traditional belief. As they convinced the native humans that their gods were dead, or worse, of the Devil, Glamour slowly disappeared. When the menehune showed themselves to their friends… the fishermen, the crafters… they were greeted with fear instead of love. The people had been made to believe that the menehune were little devils out to steal the Hawai’ian’s souls.
In the face of this disaster, the chiefs called the menehune to retreat to the less populated islands to be as far as possible from the terrible vid of meaninglessness. Huddled in the village of dreams on Kaua’i, the menehune prepared to die. Unable to enter Arcadia for protection, they had nowhere to run.
The menehune also called upon the spirits of the island for aid. While their magic did not deal directly with these remnants of older dreams, they still conversed with them occasionally. Now, though, the desperate menehune called to them for mutual protection. The spirits of plants and stones answered the call, aware that many of them were unwillingly entering slumber as the wall between the spirit world and the material world grew stronger with the Europeans’ arrival. They taught the menehune the way of the Pact, by which a being could wed its soul to a spirit to claim that spirit as its totem. This was the pact the werewolves had long practiced, and now the menehune found it necessary for their own survival. The totem spirits offered the menehune their connection with the spirit world, while the menehune swore to uphold the laws of the totems.
- Lord Devlin
- Argo and Mauler
- Lady Siva
- Gamine Larouche
- Bonaparte Gonzales
- Captain Lou
Mage: The Ascension
The native mages of Hawaii, the Kopa Loei, once made up the largest and most organized faction in Polynesia. Their numbers included both Kahuna and Ali'i chieftains, as well as commoners skilled in navigation and travel magics. Their ties to the gods and sacred mana of their homeland was legendary, and some are said to maintain ties with the Rokea or Menehune. While they have fought for native sovereignty, by the late 20th century many Kopa Loei realized that the only way to preserve their magic was to join the shamans of the Dreamspeakers Tradition.
Vampire: The Masquerade
The capital of Hawaii, Honolulu, has a population of half a dozen vampires led by Prince Sanderburg, an expatriate Brujah of San Francisco. This Kindred subsist well enough on tourists and the occasional local, but careful not to risk the tourist industry.
The Cainites of Honolulu are not strong enough to prevent the Kuei-jin presence in the islands, even if they wanted to. So far, the Cathayans influence on Hawaii has been fairly benevolent. The Genji have sent several representatives to the islands, to oversee their financial interests. The Genji await as Japanese mortals to invest in Hawaiian property before extending their own reach.
Werewolf: The Apocalypse
RokeaThe Rokea, also known as weresharks, claim the waters of the South Pacific as their domain. They do not like anyone who does not recognize this, regardless of the fact that few people even know they exist. Most of their assaults are written off as shark attacks.
While many places near Hawai'i are important to them, their most sacred spots are at the bottom of the ocean southwest of the island, far from any land or interlopers.
Although they are considered to be some of the more brutal shapeshifters, they aren't stupid. They are concerned about the near-loss of one of their favorite snacks, the monk seal, and are glad of its return. They only hunt the seal rarely, wanting to wait until its numbers are sufficient for regular hunting again. They will intervene in any human attempt to kill what they consider to be exclusively theirs.
The recent nuclear tests set off by France near Tahiti agitated them all, and they are ready to rage against anything that pisses them off. Swimmers beware.
Rokea Hunting Grounds
The waters off some of the atolls are used by Rokea weresharks as breeding grounds (they breed with sharks). During breeding times, they are intensely protective of their territory and will take down any ship that comes near. These times vary with ocean currents, and it is hard to predict them.
Unknown to anyone but the Rokea, some of the seamounts (undersea atolls) surrounding the isles are magical. One of them, Loihi seamount, is actually a site of magical power. The Rokea resent the recent scientific curiosity concerning Loihi, which has been discovered to be a growing volcano. Loihi has erupted before, spreading lava across the ocean bottom. The Rokea have begun a campaign to discourage undersea exploration around Loihi, vowing to destroy undersea cameras and even divers who come too close.
Among the recent Japanese émigrés to the islands are four Kitsune werefoxes. They have settled onto O'ahu where they, in the guises of Japanese business men, have bought some tracts of land. They shift into their fox forms at night to hunt nene (Hawai'ian geese) and otherwise frolic in the tropics. They are fleeing from something in Japan but will not say what. They are secretive and occult creatures, fascinated with Hawai'ian lore and desperate to meet the legendary menehune "elves."
UktenaThe Garou came in very small numbers to Hawai'i long ago. Just which tribe they were and how they arrived is unknown, but they planted their seed among the natives and it has sprouted every few decades, creating some home-grown legends of dog men.
When Europeans were colonizing Hawai'i, the Native American Uktena tribe became concerned. They had already dispersed members across the world to interbreed with indigenous people, to raise allies and numbers in the native places of the world. In the mid-1800s, some came to Hawai'i.
Today, there are a few, perhaps six or seven, Uktena Garou living among the islands. Most are native Hawaiians, born from the recessive Garou gene introduced in the 1800s, although one claims to come from older blood. This one, named Auwe (which means "alas"), is strange even for Uktena. He resides on Moloka'i and is obsessed with legends and lore concerning Mu or the earliest residents of the island, the mysterious and elusive menehune.
The other garou live in various places and are all involved in the Pele Defense Fund, a native activist group trying to save natural sites. They suspect the menehune still exist, but the spirits are vague when answering their questions, for the spirits are also allies of the menehune and wish to protect them from all non-menehune.
Wraith: The Oblivion