By Don Blanding
These islands, born of the night, sired by the sun,
Cradled in the sea, with a hula-moon for a god-mother,
A family as alike and as different as brothers and sisters,
To know them is to love them BUT love them to know them.
THE BOSS asked for 2,800 words on "My Hawaii." One word would do it. "Home." We can't make a double-page spread of one word. Twenty-eight thousand words would only get me started. Twenty-eight HUNDRED! . . . give me something easy like scrubbing an elephant with a toothbrush or wearing boxing gloves to pick pin feathers off a humming bird. But, I'll try.
In my Memory Room of Vagabond's House, there are patchwork quilts of textures, a condiment shelf of flavors, a kaleidoscope of colors, a potpourri of aromas, long-playing records of sounds and a vast scrapbook of sentimental flashbacks, each intimately tied up with the question: "Why Hawaii?"
I'll say the syllables of the loved name "Hawaii" and let come what may . . . with some discreet deletions.
HAWAII. Heart's Home. The Returning Place.
Like a rubber return ball, I snap back after each stretch away. Why? I enjoy any place while I'm in it." That's a secret of laughter. But Hawaii most fully satisfies my desire for joyous living with less resistance to climate, tension, senseless competition and pressured friction. Here, more than anywhere, I know peace of heart, mind and body. The Garden of Eden with a few serpents (not reptiles) to keep things from getting monotonous.
I like other places. I love Hawaii.
MAYBE I'm part plover (I've been called an odd bird). The Alaskan plover flies non-stop across 3,000 miles of desolate ocean answering some silent irresistible call to an Island near Hawaii.
Last November for the umpteenth time, I heard that call and flew on man-made wings back to this place which has been Heart's Home since the roots of my life dug into the red soil before I ever put a foot ashore in 1915. I've lost track of the times I've gone back and forth and back. It doesn't matter. I'm here now.
I've often left Hawaii, surfeited, saying, "This is enough." But the Ol' Mynah Bird in a Coconut Hat that perches on my shoulder has given me the bird each time. Every so often I need fish-and-poi on home-ground, and like cattle seeking salt, I'll go long distances for it.
HAWAII. A reef where the tidal wave of Today's mechanized functional progress crashes on the resistant corals of Yesterday's traditions, eroding new forms for Tomorrow's living. Hawaii's Yesterday-Today-Tomorrow are Siamese triplets inseparably joined in my mind. I'm grateful that I've known some of Hawaii's Past, I'm enjoying its Present and anticipating its Future.
HAS HAWAII changed? What hasn't and who hasn't? Tomorrow's "Good Old Days" are happening today. Let's make them good old days NOW.
OVERTONES. In the long song of the trade winds through palm-fronds in Kona I hear the meles and olis of ancient ritual in the deserted heiau. And I hear the ritual music of the churches and temples of Honolulu as obligato. There is an intimate awareness of God here, one God with many names.
The dust of Polynesian warriors and the dust of the human sacrifice of Pearl Harbor mingles in the red soil of Oahu. Valiant dust.
Ghosts of the Past linger, earth-bound, to the places of romance, sacrifice, celebration, war and feasting, blending with the transient people of today who will soon be phantoms of the Past themselves.
SOUNDS AND ECHOES. The Silent Requiem for the Dead rises from the dark closed throat of Punchbowl in the night. The human medley of sounds from the Living is accompaniment from the houses clustered around the crater, crying of babies, laughter of children, murmur of lovers, chatter of gossip and the snores of sleepers. The Quick and the Dead are eternally neighbors.
My life here is in Technicolor the moment I step from my door. My wants are simplified because my needs are so amply met by a generous abundant Nature.
With sympathy and empathy of friendliness, I share the wonderment in the heart of a green-thumbed woman from Kansas who remembers her struggle with scorching winds and prairie pests to produce a few blossoms for her Garden Club show, as she beholds the lavish out-giving of color, fragrance and design in casual Island Gardens.
With the same empathy, I feel the relaxing of tense muscles and taught nerves as a tourist from pressured Mainland cities yields to the caressing lomi-lomi of the trade winds.
SNAP SHOT. The silhouette of Diamond Head, like an Egyptian headless sphinx backgrounding a curvy Waikiki Cleopatra lolling on her catamaran barge, with a flock of attendant Antonys.
And I feel the sick disappointment in the heart-hungry and romance-eager visitors who occasionally by sad mischance hear "Aloha" played on a record with cash-register accompaniment in a few of the tourist traps which unhappily mar our scenery.
PAGEANT. A real girl trailing the velvets of her pa'u on a blooded horse in the Kamehameha Day Parade. On the sidewalk a white-haired "tutu" stately in black holoku and feather lei, with wrinkled hands reminiscently feeling the tug of reins when she guided a prancing steed in the parade . . . caught the eye of her kane. The Aloha Arch of Flowers on a street of holiday celebration in a village on Maui. The opal arch of a rainbow behind Diamond Head with two planes flashing through it. The moonstone arch of a lunar rainbow over Pearl Harbor.
Hawaii by day is a red hibiscus blossom, friendly, flamboyant, gay.
Hawaii by night is a white ginger blossom, romantic, perfumed, mystic.
COLOR FILM. Tidal waves of color inundating the city, rushing into the highways and byways as the flowering trees reach their peak of splendor. Tidal waves of traffic at the peak hour roaring from downtown over the Pali to Kaneohe, Kailua and Lanikai, and outward Waikiki Way, to Kaimuki, Kahala and Aina-Haina.
DUET. The ghost-echoes of a blind chanter reciting the glories of Polynesian kings. The latest transient song of the Hit Parade from my neighbor's radio.
Heat-waves above the imu of hot rocks at a luau. Red shimmer above the vast imu of Halemaumau scorching the white bellies of fat pu'a clouds above the crater.
CAMERA. Lahaina, Maui, amberized in its memories of a splendid, and sometimes bawdy, past. Kailua, Oahu, busting the seams of its Levis with dreams of tomorrow's expansion. Soulless dead-pan functional contemporary architecture raising its impersonal angles among the gracious curves of cocopalms at Waikiki, as incongruous as a deep-freeze unit in a flower-bed.
QUESTION. How many Islanders returning in swift comfort aboard the lordly monarchs of the skies from San Francisco, Seattle, Japan, Manila or Los Angeles remember Honolulu skies of 1915 when only the trade-clouds and a few birds were lords of the air, or the straining eyes waiting in vain for the tragic Dole Derby flyers, or the unforgettable thrill when Maitland and Hegenberger soared into the blue above Oahu to link the Mainland with the Islands by an invisible thread which has since become a many-threaded fabric?
WAIKIKI. The gate is not the yard. Waikiki is a glittering, glamorized gateway to Hawaii for most visitors. Many are content to loll on lanais, to fortify themselves with tall Zombies and say, "We're here. Bring on your Hawaiian atmosphere." What they get is mostly packaged goods and synthetic. They are content. Folks content with tinsel lose their taste for gold. Others pause briefly and then go on to the unique hospitality of Hawaiian homes, to the gems of beauty spots and places which are makers-of-memories.
HAWAII CALLS. The program in the Banyan Court sending siren song-allures to romance-starved hearts all over the Mainland, evoking dreams. The Audience in the Court, where "folks from home" may meet other "folks from home" and fall on each other's necks with glad cries although "back home" they wouldn't be caught dead OR alive in each other's company.
WAIKIKI DOODLINGS. Waikiki Widows window-shopping. Waikiki wolves window-shopping. Bargain hunters.
Mr. Stoxon Bonds, Detroit tycoon, in Aloha shirt and coconut hat, finding happy cooperation in sowing his last hoarded wild oat. So what? He's having fun.
Mrs. Cleota Clutterbuck Quackenwaddle, president of the Calorie Club of Kalamazoo, gathering an amazing fund of interesting misinformation for the further befuddlement of her Sisters in Culture as she lectures with unimpeachable inaccuracy on the Paradise of the Pacific. So what? Our visiting politicians on Fact Finding (?) Junkets from Washington carry away 10 times as much misinformation . . . and THEIRS isn't harmless!
Traveling Aunts, those confirmed post-card senders, searching the racks for something to send relatives, "Look, Ella, I'm sending this picture of hula girls to Cousin Philbert. The old goat will be over on the next plane."
A white ginger lei on the beige flesh of a dancer. The lei of stars which we call the Milky Way on the dusky breast of the Hawaiian night.
The necklace of jewel-lights around the tawny throat of Diamond Head and in the night. The shimmer of mermaid's jewels in a coral pool. The neon brocade of lights on the pattern of the city from a night-plane heading for the Coast.
WAIKIKI AROMAS. The iodine breath of seaweed simmering on the beach in stormy weather. The mingled perfumes of ginger, gardenia, plumeria, spice carnation, pikake and maile fumed with the appetizing broiler fumes from the steak-places of Kalakaua, spiced with "My Sin," "Fire and Ice," "Quelques Fleurs" and "Tigress" from tourettes and tourines astroll. The smell of hot sand, coconut oil, flesh, wet rayon and bathing-cap rubber, cigarette smoke and sea-breeze in mid-afternoon on a week end.
THE PALI. I stand at the lookout curve of the Pali and try futilely to stretch my eyes, mind and heart to inclose the mosaic panorama spread before me. In the winds among the cliffs, I hear the strangled cries of warriors hurtling down the face of the precipice. Blended with these ghost-cries I hear the shriek of the siren of an ambulance racing down the lariat-curves of the road to a traffic tragedy. The thuds of war-clubs on crumpling skulls are evoked by the grind of bashed-in fenders.
In my mind's eye I see a missionary, mule-back, picking a precarious way down the torturous trail to a Windward Side village. With eyes of flesh I see the Puka in the Pali termiting its burrow to make ready for the metal insects of traffic. The rush of turbulent waters down the face of immutable cliffs and the pressured rush of contemporary life across the patterns of a more leisurely Yesterday are parts of the Hawaiian montage.
PEOPLE. Hawaii is a flavorful international hash of humanity with each human element lending the individual flavor of its national blood-background to the general tastiness of the dish. Here, not fully but more than elsewhere, living heart-service rather than lip-service is given to the great American ideal of "free and equal" and "love thy neighbor." Here I know my friends as Bob, Ted, Pua, Ito, Hy, Phyllis, Manuel, Ah Tin, and Sharlene first, and secondly (if I get around to thinking of it) asYamamoto, Ho, Vierra, Kalauokalani, Murphy, MvGillicuddy or Smith. They are People first and trimmings are incidental . . . and interesting.
PUPUS AND SNACK-BAR ITEMS. Hawaii means the earthy, colorful and smelliful Fish market, and the Cellophaned, sterilized efficiency of the Super-Markets. It is kim-chee at Aala Park and caviar at the Cuisineries. It is saimin and sukiyaki, hamburgers, hot dogs and ice cream cones in the little eateries on the grounds where Hawaiian kings entertained visiting royalty, whalers, writers, V.I.P.'s and flotsam and jetsam of the past century with sumptuous feasts and dancing in the coconut groves at Waikiki.
It is stuffed chickens' wings, bird's nest soup, shark-fin stew, bitter melon and suave sauces distilled through centuries of Oriental cookery. It is shrimp tempura, bean-curds, teriyaki steak, sushi and deleicate nuances of flavor from Japan. It is opihis, kalua pig, lomi-lomi salmon, haupia, and the surprise packages of lau-laus. It is Filipino coconut-chicken and it is Portuguese sausages and egg bread. Tahitian shrimp with lime and coconut milk. Coconut cake like slices of angel-down. I can "eat in a different language" every night of the week and not use up half of the menu.
Life in Hawaii is a constant Battle of the Bulge for me.
RANDOM REMINISCENCES. A slim girl, barefoot, in blue jeans with tail-out Aloha shirt with a spray of exquisite orchids in her tousled hair. A gracious hostess, groomed to the last hair, receiving guests in a setting of sophisticated splendor in her mansion up Makalei Place. An overstuffed malihini matron, her chest caved in with jewels, dancing a bleary hula at an Aloha Party.
The slim grace of Leilehua Beamer (a flower watched her dance and learned to sway) in "Tropic Topics" of 1924. The menehune mischief and the Duse tragedy in Luahini's mobile features. Aggie Auld's "Lovely Hula Hands" in the first presentation of that song-dance in "A Night to Remember" in 1940. The look in the eyes of a kamaaina-hearted malihini who is mentally moving her heart and household to her long-sought Journey's End in Hawaii.
A bus, loaded with a cross-section of Islanders, offering to me a library of mystery stories . . . what is the story behind the face of the person across the aisle?
Remember: This is what Hawaii means to ME. Your Hawaii may be quite different. We'll both be right . . . according to our eyes. Four people in a cafeteria will end with four different tray-loads. Hawaii, actually, is WHAT IT MEANS TO YOU.
I was challenged by a young intellectual of the contemporary school of spurious realism which serves dirt-gravy on potatoes to prove that they grow in the ground. I take it for granted that you know that lilies root in the mud . . . and spare you the muck. We're probably both intimately familiar with it.
He said, "Do people still believe those lies you tell about Hawaii?"
Can you show a color-blind man the opals in a rainbow? I do not idealize my Hawaii. There are two perfectly good eyes in this head of mine. One sees the gracious beautiful surface. The other sees the corrosive lavas surging beneath the crust.
But BOTH eyes see that the red lava of destruction becomes the dark cements of construction, with time. One eye sees the little painted fishes among the corals. The other sees the lurking shark. One sees the outgiving of generous hearts. The other sees the powerful selfish forces surging, like turbulent lavas, below.
But BOTH see (since mine is a hopeful heart) that recorded history proves that the constructive forces have always won over the destructive . . . OR WE WOULDN'T BE HERE TODAY IN OUR CONTEMPORARY WORLD.
One dead mongoose in the shrubbery can't convince me that flowers have lost their perfume.
FLASH BACK. I see a dainty girl in a beautiful evening gown posing on the runway at a fashion show at the University, equisite as an orchid. And I see Grandma-San in the audience, hands gnarled and body bent with years in field labor, watching the girl with unbelieving eyes, wondering how this flower-of-her-flesh arrived there.
It is Hawaii.
Hawaii means leis and lei-makers. Aunty Elizabeth with her lei-wagon, perky topknot of red hibiscus and her friendly long-drawn AloooooHa.
It is Aunty Bella's coconut lei-hut, complete with television.
It is the generous curves of Lili's smile and the generous curves of her muumuu.
It is the pedestrian lei-venders of the steamer-day and the neat row of lei-stands (how typical of today) at the Airport.
It is the beautiful pageant at the University on Lei Day, and it is the happy-go-lucky crowds at the downtown lei-display, and it is the children, serious in their gaiety, in a sweet simple Lei Day in a plantation village in the cane-fields of Hawaii.
The Hand of Destiny is strongly over our Islands. If we successfully and peacefully succeed in blending and amalgamating the many varieties of humanity here in the near future as we have in the present day, we will be a splendid proof and challenge to the rest of the world, that true brotherhood comes through individuals working at it.
More than all else, my Hawaii means ALOHA to me, in the true sense, and not merely as a greeting card word or a label for canned tuna. It is the very genius of Hawaii. It is immaterial but more real than structural steel. It is the antitoxin for the viruses of Mainland "go-get-'em-at-any-cost" crusades which have crept in like a mildew. We need our organizations; we need our progress; we need intelligent commercialism . . . but, Oh, how we need our Aloha.
And how the world needs it.
HERE'S MY dilemma in fulfilling the editor's words, "Tell in 2,800 words what Hawaii means to you."
I feel so baffled when I try to take
The black-and-white of words as
paint to make
The tropic pictures that distract
When I look through my windows.
For the skies
I need cerulean of the clearest hue
And amethyst that bends to
With streaks of cobalt on a
To bring an Island dawn's
I need raw turquoise, primitive
With splintered crystal for the
stars that pierce
The violet veils of dusk.
I need rich indigo
As background for the
Southern Cross' glow.
With ripples of quicksilver I could
make you see
The moonlight on the surf at
Or with bright lines of opal-dust
The lunar rainbow's curves across
I saw "vermilion, scarlet, amber,
But do these words invoke the
At best they only summon to
Shadows of beauty on a
page of white.
This article appeared in the Hawaiian Life magazine section (pp. 12-13) of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin on September 11, 1954. A photo of Don Blanding by Wayne Peters Cipar (a woman photographer) graced the cover. In response to hundreds of requests over the next four years, "My Hawaii" was reprinted on January 17, 1959.
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