(excerpt from a book in progress)
In 1973, my friend John Bose was writing a column for a local paper, and asked to join me on a trip to Molokai where a meeting of the Aboriginal Lands of Hawai’ian Ancestry, (ALOHA Association) was taking place. I was unable to be a voting member because of my position as manager of substantial Federal Land. But like many beginning organizations, the association was spending a lot of time arguing over penny-ante monetary issues instead of discussing potential land claims. I volunteered to be the treasurer and straightened out the books.
John attended the meeting as a journalist, and after the meetings were finished, I took him to Pukoo to see where my family had come from. One of my Grandmothers brothers lived in the old house and invited us in for a cold drink. Uncle Jack was a throw-net fisherman, and his walls were decorated with items he had found while fishing. One unusual glass float caught John’s eye and he said, “Oh! I really like that one.” Uncle Jack immediately took the float off its perch and handed it to John. “Here,” he said. “Take this with you.” John replied, “I can’t take this.” And then a discussion ensued between the two with Uncle Jack insisting and John trying to give it back.
The upshot of this was that John took the float home and wrote a column advising people not to admire things in the houses of Native Hawai’ians. Saying you “like” something is tantamount to saying you want it. Hawai’ians, particularly those old timers raised in rural Hawai’i, will insist that you take it with you. The innate generosity reminds me of the generosity of American Indians. They helped early immigrants to survive and were rewarded with the loss of their lands and livelihoods. They guided the vanguard of Euro-Americans across the continent and were killed and rounded up onto reservations. In Hawai’i the people lost their own government most of their land and most of their culture. Young Hawai’ians are making serious attempts to regain some of what was lost but the population of Hawai’ians, now down to about ten percent in their own islands, has an uphill battle ahead.
On leaving Molokai, Uncle Jack handed me a white wrapped hind quarter of a deer. I asked when he had shot it. “Oh no,” he said, with a big grin. “Da buggah ran down from da hill, Sistah opened da freezer and da buggah jump right in.” So, when my luggage came down the ramp at the Maui Airport, amidst much Hawai’ian hilarity, it was accompanied by a leg of venison that may or may not have been shot during hunting season.
My fondest memory of Hawai’ian generosity is of a drive I took around the unpaved portion of East Maui. At one point in the graveled road near Kaupo there was a one way stretch that wove down into a gulch and back up the other side. Cars and trucks couldn’t pass so you looked down to see if anyone was coming, and when you saw the dust cloud you waited your turn. On the day in question I was returning the back way from Kipahulu. I looked down and saw that an old truck, travelling very slowly, had started down the opposite side. I was stuck in the heat with nothing to do but wait. After what seemed like an hour, but was probably ten minutes, the old truck crawled up the hill and as it passed, an elderly Hawai’ian man reached over and handed me a can of beer from a cooler sitting next to him on the seat. He said nothing and drove on. Sitting in a government car in uniform on a blazing hot day, I considered the propriety of the situation, cracked open the ice-cold can and sucked down the coldest and best beer I can ever remember drinking.