i think i saw a dinosaur there
I went to Hawaii for the first time a few weeks ago. Before going on this trip, Hawaii to me was about leis, beaches, and Israel Kamakawiwo'ole’s “Somewhere over the Rainbow”—the ignorant perspective of Hawaii designed to make you want to visit and leech off the islands for your touristy pleasure. The final few days of our ten-day trip was in Waikiki Beach where we felt that parasitic tourist energy around us. But most of our trip was spent on Big Island. I only knew of Big Island because a good friend lives in Waimea, and I feel lucky to have gone there as my first experience of Hawaii.
The other thing I knew about Hawaii was “aloha” and that it meant hello. We were greeted with aloha whenever we met someone or entered a store, but we also saw signs that said “Made with Aloha” or “Spirit of Aloha.” When we asked about what that meant, the greeting wasn’t just hello but an honoring of a way of life and worldview—a Spirit of Aloha written into Hawaiian Law:
''Aloha'' is more than a word of greeting or farewell or a salutation. ''Aloha'' means mutual regard and affection and extends warmth in caring with no obligation in return. "Aloha" is the essence of relationships in which each person is important to every other person for collective existence. ''Aloha'' means to hear what is not said, to see what cannot be seen and to know the unknowable.
A spirit of acceptance, grace, and belonging written into the laws of a state. Imagine that. While other states in our country try and control how we take care of our bodies, how we love, or what we learn, Hawaii has codified what it means to meet someone where they are.
Even there state initials are welcoming with an all caps “HI!”
In the Bible, there’s a passage Isaiah that says as we move in the world with joy and peace, the mountains and hills will break in singing, and the trees will clap their hands. It’s a beautiful promise of how when we move in love, aligned with ourselves, that nature will celebrate and move along with us.
Aloha points to that kind of alignment and everywhere I went in Hawaii, I saw the mountains and trees and waves move and dance in agreement. I never fully understood the “energy” of a place until I went to Hawaii. The accessibility of Hawaii being a domestic flight does an injustice to the transporting affect of being there. When confronted with the sheer beauty of a valley and river, the best point of reference my city-addled brain could muster was scenes from Jurassic Park that was filmed in Hawaii. My joke was I was expecting to see a brontosaurus in the distance eating off of a tree because, of course dinosaurs were still alive in a place like this.
And my god, it wasn’t just the beauty but the variety of natural beauty around us. Most of these photos here are from Big Island where we went from lava fields to lush greens to beaches to rainforests and back.
But the parasitic nature of tourism, although necessary for the economy, and the toxic legacy of imperialism creates this tension of beauty and anger on the island. A beautiful park and hike would be juxtaposed to rundown neighborhoods and prices that seemed high even to two New Yorkers used to $5 coffees. I wondered how hard it must be for some people to live in such paradise, having to commercialize their way of life rather than just enjoy it.
There’s also sense of urgency about how the ancestral knowledge of Hawaii—the wisdom, traditions, and way of life are going to be forgotten with their Kūpuna, the elders in her community. There was a time when the people who lived here were fully in sync and aligned with the lands around them. That wisdom and synergy was lost as her parent’s generation was more concerned about wanting them and their children to be American and Christian more than Hawaiians. But that’s changing and Kolby’s project Hometown Legends is trying to preserve the stories of their elders for her generation and her daughter’s generation.
There’s something about being aligned and wholehearted humans where we have to own our story, and not discard it. When I was younger I was so eager to let go of my Asian baggage so that I can fit in with other Americans. More recently as I have been deconstructing Christianity from the religious institution of Christianity, I’ve been wanting to cast all of it in a patriarchal, racist lens.
But this trip and talking with Kolby reminded me the more loving and difficult work is to include what was helpful and true and at the same time transcend ideas that keep us small and bigoted.
The spirit of Aloha welcomes all the different voices and is curious to hear what is not said, and try to see what is unseen. Owning those stories both the light and shadow allows us to share the fullness and complexity of life at the same time making someone feel fully seen. And maybe when we all walk out together in aloha, we can see the nature dance along with us in unison and praise of a generous and loving universe.