Biggest isn’t always the best – particularly in the world of travel. On the tiny island of Molokai, Hawaii, you’ll soon find everything you always dreamed Hawaii to be, but could never experience on the other islands.
Molokai, Hawai: No Skyscraper Nor Shopping Center, Just Simply Paradise
Molokai, Hawaii is the fifth largest of the islands, less than 40 miles long and less than 10 miles wide and it has no single skyscraper or shopping center. You can easily travel across the island without ever seeing so much as a traffic light. Seven small hotels offer 140 rooms- that’s it – and in most of them, the sound of a rooster crowing under your porch will be your wake-up call. Don’t expect glitzy beach bars, t-shirt shops or casinos. You are not going to find a single one.
Upholding a Hawaiian Lifestyle
What you’ll find are some 7,400 happy, polite people eager to tell you they ‘re the real Hawaiians. More people on Molokai have Hawaiian blood than on any other island according to state statistics, but it’s more than biology that gives this island its authentic feeling. It’s all about a simplicity mindset and a commitment to upholding the Hawaiian way of life – living aloha.
Love, Fellowship and Duty
“Aloha” is the first phrase you’ll hear on any of the islands and you’ll find yourself using it immediately as your usual goodbye and hello. But the word – on Molokai in particular – means much more. “Aloha” translates into: ‘al’ – face to face, and ‘ha’ – life’s breath. Aloha, in its fullest sense, means love, fellowship and duty, applied not only to your fellow human beings but also to the world. The Hawaiian Islands are one of the most remote places on the planet which means their inhabitants must encourage peace and conserve their natural resources in order to survive.
In 1986 the Hawaiian “Aloha Spirit” law was legally adopted and is taken very seriously. Aloha is both a state of mind and a way of life – it’s the essence of Molokai. You’ll feel it when you meet the last survivor of a 1946 tsunami, Anakala Pilipo Solatorio, that virtually turned Molokai upside down, hurtling through beaches, rocks, trees, homes and anything else in its path. Perhaps because he managed to survive when so many others did not, Anakala believes he was chosen to be the defender and the keeper of traditions in his lifelong home – the gorgeous, isolated Halawa Valley.
As you walk down the narrow path into his home through the verdant fronds and grasses, Anakala blows his shell of conch to welcome you. He stands solemnly urging you to get close and lean towards him until your foreheads touch. “Now,” he says, “we ‘re going to share the ha …… the breath of life.”
You may feel uncertain when you place your forehead against that of a total stranger and even odder to intentionally breathe into his face and inhale his scent – but the act is strangely calming and welcoming.
You will sit on his palapa-covered porch together, and Anakala will tell you his tales of the valley, the tsunami, his family, and his belief in the Hawaiian lifestyle as he knows it. Listening to his gentle voice and looking at his treasured array of handmade leis, newspaper clippings from 1946, family portraits and more, you’ll start to relax – maybe like never before. The sound of a waterfall contributes to the ambience in the background, and you’ll feel like you’re understanding aloha a little better now.
One of the stories Anakala usually shares with visitors does not take place in his valley, but at the base of the Kalaupapa cliffs, many miles away. There, in 1866, state health officials sent the first Hawaiian victims of Hansen’s disease (then called leprosy) to quarantine them from the rest of the islands. Cut off by ocean on three sides and, on the fourth, by 1,600-foot sea cliffs, Kalaupapa was their first jail, and eventually their home.
Being exiled to Kalaupapa meant never seeing your family , friends or home again, but interestingly enough the story was less tragic than you would think. A visit to the museum commemorating the colony of Kalaupapa shows that a town was founded, marriages occurred, children were born and new families were established. There were dances, gatherings, festivities and a sense of true life in a place where death and desperation were the only thing. The compulsory quarantine order was lifted in 1969, but many residents declined to leave, opting instead to remain where they had created their lives. There are still some people living in Kalaupapa National Historical Park, and they plan to remain.
You have to see it for yourself, so drive to the cliffs overlooking Kalaupapa after leaving Anakala in his beautiful valley. The ocean that surrounds the city is a brilliant cobalt blue, with a bright sun and a light breeze playing with your hair. The inhabitants of Kalaupapa may have preferred to stay because the ravages of their disease made their incorporation into a larger society difficult, or maybe they were simply unable to abandon the colony ‘s beautiful refuge – a place of solitude, sunlight, waves and acceptance. Perhaps, they’d created their own version of the aloha way in Molokai, Hawaii.