I admit, my initial excitement about going to Hawaii wasn’t due to any genuine eagerness for new cultural experiences and enrichments. Rather, the first image that popped into my mind was one of me spread across the sand, sunbathing. When my parents first suggested Hawaii in July of 2009, I instantly agreed to it, and spent the following weeks anxiously awaiting nine more days of doing nothing. Eventually, August 19th arrived, and I wearily dragged myself out of bed at four in the morning to catch the 7:15 flight at NewarkAirport. Upon leaving the airport, my parents and I were directed to a line of people awaiting the shuttle bus. Our destination was the Waikiki Sand Villa, the bus’s second to last stop. Waikiki is Honolulu’s main (and most expensive) shopping center. As the bus circled Honolulu, I gazed through the window pane in amazement at the scenery we passed by. Palm trees on every street corner, a cloudless blue sky, and one ABC store per block; Paradise at last!!
Much to my disappointment, our first full day in Honolulu was not spent lounging on the Waikiki Sand beach. Rather, we rose bright and early to board the Roberts Hawaii bus for a Circle Tour around Oahu. Our tour guide, a large, talkative man in his 30s, introduced himself as “Cuzin Good Looking” and we set off. Our stops included Oahu’s largest Mormon Church of Latter Day Saints, Hawaii’s Macadamia nut factory, HanaumaBay (famous for its reef life), the Hawaiian pineapple fields, and Diamond Head (the most famous volcanic crater in the world). However, the most memorable part of the tour was what went on between stops. Inside the bus, Cuzin Good Looking described the history of the Hawaiian people and their Polynesian origins. He described the special role “storytellers” had in Hawaiian society. To be designated as a storyteller at birth was considered a great honor, and that child (always a boy) would be trained from an early age in the songs and dances of his people. During the examination, if the prospective storyteller got one word wrong, he would be executed. This, Cuzin Good Looking explained, was done to make sure that the people’s history was preserved perfectly over the generations. One other significant fact he managed, was about the 1921 Homes Commission Act, designed to provide relief for the indigenous population. This act measured the percentage of “Native Hawaiian” blood a person had. If the amount was 50% or above, this person was made eligible for a government provided home. If it was below, then this person was not considered a Native Hawaiian and was refused the corresponding benefits.“How” he questioned, “is my daughter considered any less Hawaiian then I am?”
When we weren’t touring, my parents and I were at the Waikiki International Market Place. This bustling cultural center includes hundreds of souvenir shops in which sellers and customers bargained over prices. In the center, one can find a variation of Asian and Mediterranean restuarants. Every Monday and Wednesday night at 8:00 pm, a Hawaiian cultural event would be held at the Food center, usually involving native Hawaiian song and dance (such as the hula).
I did not come to Hawaii expecting to take anything from it, besides a tan. To my surprise, the experience transformed me, and gave me a deep admiration of the Hawaiian people and their culture. Hawaii is not only a series of islands with an exotic climate; it is a reservoir to a rich history and a priceless culture.
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