May 2012,

Strange. Is the one word I’d use to describe Moloka’i, the friendly island. People were certainly friendly and embracing, in the way that only island people can be. But there is something else, hard to put my finger on.

Moloka'i, sunset, Lanai, Hawai'i, Alii beach

sunset over Lanai

At first I thought it was because of how local the place is, with Native Hawaiians accounting for more than 60% of the population and so few visitors (barely 200 a day on average, while nearby Mau’i is 3 times bigger and gets 35 time the number of tourists). I was walking along a beach park in Kaunakakai when I came upon a hula group practicing to the tune of Wahine Ilikea. (I never saw any hula practice at the beach on other islands). People talked about when to go out for an outrigger paddling session and where to go for the best shells at the moment and what they had found recently – Every single person I met was excited to discuss shells! In island-style, locals identify strongly with the area they’re from and live in (east/windward, west/leeward, north shore, south shore, and central). It’s even more extreme in Moloka’i and borderline incomprehensible given how small the island is. This lady in Kaunakakai told me how generations of her family have lived in central Moloka’i and how much she loves it there and she couldn’t remember the last time she went all the way to the east end. All the way to the east end! It’s 25 miles and 40 minutes down the road. I didn’t know how to respond.

Moloka'i shells

A Moloka’i obsession?

I was picked up by: a local Hawaiian who works in the helicopter patrol (looking for marijuana farms) who drove me all the way to Halawa valley; a mixed Brazilian-American who works for the county TV station and has the most adorable 4-year-old boy, whose neighbor is a famous fishing spear maker; another local Hawaiian, this time a medical kahuna, who took me in his home and convinced me to change my flight back to Oahu to a few days later so that he could talk more traditional Hawaiian medicine stuff with me, who fed me delicious pink Moloka’i mangoes that grew thick in his garden and gave me lomi-lomi massage every morning and once drove me up in the middle of the mountain where I got another lomi-lomi. Maybe this is why Moloka’i was so strange to me.

It is worth noting here that world over, Moloka’i is famous for the leper colony founded by Father Damien. In Hawa’i, the island was (is?) renowned for its powerful kahunas, or priests, sought after by kings from other islands in matters of spirits and sorcery. Many believe this explains the distinct mana of the land.

Halawa valley, East End, Moloka'i

Halawa valley, East End

Halawa valley, East End, Moloka'i

Kalaupapa, Moloka'i, leper colony, Father Damien

Kalaupapa, the most scenic leper colony in the world

leper colony, Kalaupapa, Molokai, Hawaii, Father Damien

fish pond, Moloka'i, Hawaii

ancient fish pond on south shore

The people that I remembered most fondly were the 2 brothers that let me camp near them for safety on a desolate west end beach. When I told the younger one, still a teenager, that I’m from Vietnam, he asked: “oh, there are lots of scooters there and you all go crazy on the road right?” I was taken aback; I didn’t expect anyone on Moloka’i to know anything about contemporary Vietnam, let alone the traffic. Turned out he talked with a girl from Singapore on the internet who sent him youtube videos of southeast asian countries. Vive the internet! The older brother was living off the land; he caught some fish to grill and share with me. The teenager came to spend the summer with his brother, away from all the troubles at school where he had difficulty fitting in. There’s lots of love on these islands, and lots of broken homes. Their hearts are right, and I hope they have found, or will find, their way and their place.

West End trail and beaches:

West End trail, Moloka'i

West End beach, Moloka'i, Hawaii

West End beach, Moloka'i, Hawaii

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