The Blaine County Journal News-Opinion - We've Got The County Covered

Observations from a visit to the Aloha State


April 8, 2020

teve and Sherry Edwards give the "shaka" hand gesture during a photo op on a cruise in Hawaii. The gesture, a shaken closed fist with extended thumb and pinky finger, is universally recognized to mean, "Be cool, hang loose, we are all in this together." Hawaiians use the gesture as a non-verbal way to express gratitude and kinship toward others.

During early March my wife and I spent 11 days on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. Oahu is the most populated of the state's islands and is the home to 1.2 million people, most of whom live in Honolulu. It was our first trip to Hawaii.

I wanted to write about our visit without doing a standard travelogue. Oh, we visited many of the popular sites like Pearl Harbor, the Polynesian Cultural Center and with a friend, hiked to the rim of Diamond Head Crater. We did other tourist activities: a whale watch boat trip; a sunset cruise and a luau complete with a roasted pig.

But, I wanted to share some things I found unusual and interesting. Here's some of what caught my attention during a visit to our 50th state.

The Hawaiian language has only 13 letters: five vowels and eight consonants

Our hotel was just off Waikiki Beach on Paoakalani Street. Some street names are obviously English, but most are in Hawaiian-long, repetitive and follow rules for pronunciation I never quite grasped. With so few letters available letters are repeated to make words distinct. As an example, the state fish of Hawaii is the humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa.

The "okina" is the apostrophe-looking mark that is counted as a consonant and gives words a glottal stop (sort of a pause)-like the technically correct spelling of O'ahu and Hawai'i. The state adopted Hawaiian as its second language in 1978, the only U.S. state with an "official" second language.

In Hawaii Spam is more than junk email...

Several years ago someone told me Spam (the potted meat) is so popular in Hawaii it's even sold at McDonald's. I visited the McDonald's near our hotel and said to the counter person, "I don't see Spam on the menu. Can I get it here?" "Oh," she said, "we have it, it's just not on the menu. You have to ask for it." She went on to explain that "Spam and egg on a biscuit is a favorite to-go breakfast." Spam is so popular that Hawaiians eat more Spam than any other state, 7 million cans a year.

I ate Spam as a kid, not so much as an adult. Twice I had Spam, eggs and rice. Another popular snack is Spam Musubi. I dubbed it "redneck sushi." It's Spam pan seared and placed on top of rice, then wrapped in seaweed. Suffice it to say one of those was enough. Must be an acquired taste.

Our friends from Chester, Gary and Beverly Jensen, showed us the ropes in Hawaii. On a drive to the North Shore they said, "We have to make a stop at Leonard's for hot malasadas." Leonard's is a bakery with satellite trucks on mall parking lots outside Honolulu. A malasada is a "Portuguese donut without a hole." They are like donuts plus can be ordered with fillings, coconut or custard.

Police cruisers run with blue lights...all the time

I noticed that law enforcement vehicles on Oahu always had blue lights turned on. Even when stopped the blue lights on the roof bars stayed lit. A van driver explained, "It all goes back to a serial killer that used a blue grill light to stop victims." That sounded like an urban tale so I contacted the Honolulu Police (HPD) to get the real story.

Michelle Yu, the Media Liaison Officer for the HPD, shared this explanation: "Patrol officers have been required to have blue lights on during the day for about a decade. The primary purpose was to increase officer visibility, and the change was well received by the public." She added, "I've been at HPD more than 20 years and we've had no serial killers during that time." Still, seeing officers cruising with blue lights always on was unusual.

Agriculture in Hawaii

First settlers from the Marquesas Islands settled Hawaii around the 4-5th century. Until the mid-1800's Hawaii was self-sufficient using subsistence farming and fishing to provide its food needs. Sugar cane and pineapple plantations began in earnest in the mid-1800's and for the next 150 years most available farm land was used for those two agricultural exports.

In 1980 Hawaii had 14 sugar and four operating pineapple plantations farming 300,000 acres. By 2017 those two crops accounted for less than 5,000 acres. Hawaii now imports 90 percent of its food while thousands of acres of land are fallow. Even the grain for the state's beef industry is imported.

Part of the reason for decreased ag production is older farmers and ranchers are retiring and young people can't afford to start ag-based operations. The challenge is aggravated by the high cost of land in Hawaii, a result of the financial appeal to use land for more tourism and housing projects. Bumper stickers with "Keep the country, country" on Oahu proclaim a desire of many to keep and diversify lands for agriculture.

Hawaiians consume about 7 million cans of Spam each year, more than any other state. Spam musubi, pictured here, is a popular snack sold in convenience stores and fast food outlets. Supposedly akin to sushi, the snack is seared Spam in rice, wrapped in seaweed. Hawaiians acquired a taste for the canned meat from G.I.'s during WWII.

About 20 miles northwest of downtown Waikiki Beach the state of Hawaii, in cooperation with several private and governmental groups, is trying to jumpstart agriculture on 1,700 acres of land once leased for pineapple production by Dole. The Whitmore Project is "an economic revitalization plan for central Oahu" that proposes to open up former plantation land for diversified agriculture and regional workers' housing while providing food security for Hawaii and non-tourism jobs. It's an ambitious project with the $25 million purchase cost raised from various sources. Much of the area has been fallow since Dole left in 2004. It's a bold experiment to produce more food for Hawaii.

"Shaka," symbol of the "Aloha spirit"

I'd seen the shaka gesture (shaken closed fist with extended thumb and pinky finger) years ago but didn't know exactly what it meant. The gesture's origin is not clear, but simply put shaka means, "Greetings (Aloha), we are in the same boat. Be cool, hang loose." The gesture seems appropriate as we all deal with the current coronavirus pandemic. Hui Hou (until next time).


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