Pale strangers stumble ashore from the great sailing ship that has just appeared along a Hawaiian coastline in the late 1700s. Polite Hawaiians attempt to greet them in the local style, but these newcomers reject the traditional practice of touching noses. The Hawaiians conclude that these strangers are “without breath,” or spirit — in other words, ha (breath) ole (without). Put the words together, and we have the common word for Caucasians. Right? Wrong.
The True Meaning
In fact, the word haole is an ancient one, far predating Western contact, meaning “foreigner.” It is found in the Kumulipo, a creation and genealogical chant that was recited for Captain James Cook during his visit to Hawaii Island in 1778.
Isolated though they were by that time, the Hawaiians’ cultural traditions recalled the days when strangers arrived from other islands to the south. Now they would have to deal with a new kind of haole, one who brought an alien world and all its changes to this ancient island civilization.
Today, the word haole has fallen into disrepute, exemplified by the erroneous story that claims newcomers lacked the all-important breath of life. But it is really a neutral word, simply describing someone or something from another place. Any value judgments it implies reside in the attitude and adjectives supplied by the user of this honorable old word.
An almost-forgotten chapter of Maui history centers on Kalepolepo, site of the ancient fishpond Ko`ie`ie and the whale sanctuary headquarters on a dune above it.
Kihei Fishing History
No one knows when the fishpond was built, but it was many centuries ago. According to a December 1921 article in Paradise of the Pacific by Charles Wilcox, “In building the sea walls men were stationed in long lines, passing stones by hand from the rocky sidehills miles away to the workmen laying the courses for the walls in the sea.” Today, volunteers with ‘Ao‘ao O Na Loko I‘a O Maui keep the fishpond walls intact.
When Hawaiian scholar and minister David Malo moved to Kalepolepo in 1843, it was a trading village of some 2,000 inhabitants. Malo preached under the trees, summoning his congregation with a huge conch shell. Villagers built a church of stone and coral. Today the remains of that church are home to Trinity Episcopal Church by the Sea, and the church still has Malo’s conch shell.
In 1850, cabinetmaker John Joseph Halstead established a store on the beach at Kalepolepo, easily reached by sea captains and by farmers bringing produce from the uplands. Halstead was married to Uwaikikilani, the granddaughter of Isaac Davis, an early haole retainer of Kamehameha I who married the Hawai`i Island ali`i wahine Nakai. The Halsteads planned to take advantage of the demand by California gold miners for Kula produce, particularly Irish potatoes. He built a three-story house/store all of koa that would be one of the largest buildings on Maui. After California farmers began to grow food for the miners, and the potato boom ended, whaling captains and Maui shoppers continued to visit, and the Koa House remained a commercial and social center, sometimes entertaining Hawaiian royalty.
“During the fifties Kalepolepo was not so barren looking a place,” according to Charles Wilcox, a member of the Halstead family. “Coconut trees and kou trees grew beside pools of clear water, along the banks of which grew the taro. . .” Today, the idea of fresh-water pools lined with taro is hard to imagine on a coastline that, without water pumped from Central Maui, would be a desert.
The springs that allowed people to live on this arid coastline dried up as rain-collecting forests above were destroyed by cattle, disease and over harvesting. When rain did fall on the denuded mountain, it was disastrous. “Torrential winter rains were washing down earth from the uplands, filling with the silt the ponds at Kalepolepo,” Wilcox wrote. “And cattle trampling down the brush and grass of the nearby fields caused sand dunes to drift, filling up the big Kalepolepo pond. . .”
The store closed in 1876, but the Koa House remained a landmark in the area. At last, in the 1940s, it had deteriorated so much that it was burned as a safety measure.
When I walk down to Kalepolepo, I imagine a wonderful house made of elegant koa near the fishpond, welcoming Upcountry farmers with vegetables to trade and watching the sea for ships from afar.
Fired by their desire to share their Christian faith, the female missionaries of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions for the Sandwich Islands abandoned all they had known to live in a far-off foreign land. To meet the board’s requirements that missionaries be married, some were newly wed to men they had just met.
Arrival To Hawaii
Once in Hawai‘i, however, their evangelical fervor had to find its way around a nineteenth-century housewife’s many chores and duties, multiplied by the never-ending flow of guests who gathered at their tables.
The first of these Calvinist wahine to arrive on Maui, Harriet Stewart and Clarissa
Richards, were brought to Lahaina by Queen Keopuolani in 1823, with their husbands, Charles Stewart and William Richards. Charlotte Baldwin, who came to Maui in 1835, lived and worked in Lahaina for 33 years with her husband, Dr. Dwight Baldwin.
Early Beginnings On The Island
After a five-month sea journey around Cape Horn, these young missionary women often found themselves already pregnant with the first of many babies. In the early days, they kept house, gave birth, and reared children in grass houses with dirt floors.
When a violent storm pounded their seaside hut, Harriet Stewart sat for hours clutching her baby, “watching the motion of the rafters in the contentions of the wind―ready to make an escape with him from the ruins of our cabin,” her husband wrote.
A Different Life
A few years later, Clarissa Richards hid in the cellar as five cannon shots landed near their house, fired by sailors angry about the High Chief Hoapili’s demand that Hawaiian women on their ship be returned to shore.
For more than three decades, Charlotte Baldwin played hostess to as many as twenty guests on any given day, from whaling-ship captains and their families to visiting scientists, despite her ongoing asthma attacks. She bore eight children, but lost two little ones before their third birthdays.
Plenty Of Hard Work
The cares and labor that filled the days of these and other Maui missionary women surely distracted them and probably exhausted them. But it did not dim their zeal to teach and evangelize. In between supporting hard-pressed husbands in their own multi-faceted jobs and chiseling some flour from a barrel that had been drenched in saltwater on the journey from New England, the missionary women managed to fit in prayer sessions, hymn singing, Bible study, and sewing classes with female parishioners. They taught the 3Rs to both their congregations and their own offspring.
And then, when their children needed higher education, these mothers waved farewell as their young ones sailed away to Honolulu or even New England.
“Live Aloha” bumper stickers aren’t as common as they once were, but maybe they should be. There’s a great story behind the original bumper sticker.
How To Solve A Problem
In 1993, a group of community leaders on O`ahu began meeting to talk about how they could improve life in the Islands by reforming government. These were people who had lived in Hawai`i all their lives, and they had watched in dismay as the gentle lifestyle they remembered diminished day by day.
After several meetings, they decided the solution lay not only with the government but with individuals, with each person’s daily actions.
The Purpose Of Aloha
They decided they would ask the people of Hawai`i to agree to undertake certain basic actions in their lives that would encourage sharing, caring, and community building. These would be things that anyone could do, regardless of where they lived or what they did, or how much money or power they might possess.
The group made a list of everyday actions that people could take that would express aloha for the world around them. They thought about how to share this list with the public, along with the concept it exemplified, and came up with the idea of a bumper sticker. But what should it say?
A Simple Solution
Advertising executives volunteered to brainstorm to find an appropriate bumper sticker phrase. Eventually, their many suggestions were narrowed down to “Live Aloha.” The design would include the red `ohi`a lehua blossom, which grows from the barren landscape left by a lava flow, symbolizing the diversity, simple beauty, and enduring strength of Hawaii.
To publicize the Live Aloha campaign, members of the group who worked at Channel 2 produced a promotional film, searching their station’s archives for material.
What they dug up stunned the founders of this modern-day campaign.
Looking Back In Time
The producers discovered file footage of an interview with the late Inez MacPhee Ashdown. In 1907, Inez moved from Wyoming to Maui with her father, rancher Angus MacPhee. In 1918, MacPhee obtained a lease on the island of Kaho`olawe and began a ranch there. As a young woman, Inez loved being on the island and always hoped that someday she would run the Kaho`olawe Ranch Company.
But when World War II began, Angus MacPhee and his partner, Harry Baldwin, voluntarily turned over the island to the military for bombing practice. Although Kaho`olawe was supposed be returned to the ranch after the war, the military kept the island, and continued to use it for bombing practice.
Inez mourned the loss for years. The film clip the Live Aloha film producers discovered recorded an interview when Inez was in her eighties. She spoke about the bitterness she had felt, and of the spiritual journey she had taken in reconciling herself to the loss of Kaho`olawe.
Inez said she had comforted herself by remembering advice offered by Queen Lili`uokalani. As a child, she met the queen soon after the MacPhees landed in Hawai`i, when her father, a champion rodeo roper, was something of a celebrity.
Several years later, when Inez was upset by her parents’ divorce, the queen took her for a carriage ride one day. “Throw the `opala [rubbish] from the garden of your heart and let only the golden blossoms of aloha grow there,” the queen told the sad little girl back in 1910. “Live aloha.”
After watching the promotional film, the Live Aloha group stood silent, many with tear-filled eyes. The motto they had thought a product of contemporary cleverness had in fact been coined decades earlier by a queen whose own losses could have left her bitter. Instead, Lili`uokalani chose to live and teach aloha. Now, somehow, the queen’s advice had resurfaced to help a modern community connect to the ancient values that continue to make Hawai`i unique.
Sticking To A Hawaii Way Of Life
More than 600,000 Live Aloha bumper stickers were distributed, many to schoolchildren. Each came with a card describing the kinds of actions the Live Aloha founders identified as exemplifying the attitudes and way of life that make Hawai`i a special place.
From the Live Aloha card, here are some suggestions:
Respect your elders and children.
Leave places better than you find them.
Hold the door. Hold the elevator.
Drive with courtesy. Let others in.
Attend an event of another culture.
Return your shopping cart.
Get out and enjoy nature.
Pick up litter.
Share with your neighbors.
Make a list of your own.
If you aspire to “live aloha,” remember these suggestions offered by a group of people who love Hawai`i and whose modern-day efforts somehow tapped into the stream of wisdom flowing from the spirit of Hawai`i’s last queen.
A version of this story originally appeared in Island Life 101: A Newcomer’s Guide to Hawai`i.