Hawaii as a Love Story

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Hawaii as a Love Story
by Pam Chun

Crystalline waves rolled rhythmically up the sandy shore, grain by grain. In the distance, coconut fronds rustled ancient chants of love. We sank into an embrace on the moonlit beach, lulled by soft trade winds. We were caught in the spell of the tropical Hawaiian moon, a glow too alluring to resist.

There’s no denying that the beauty and warmth of Hawaii creates a romantic setting. White sand beaches lined with lithe coconut trees, lush mountains swept by drifting rains, fragrant flowers in rainbow hues, and cascading waterfalls that fall in melodic tones seduce the senses. Tropical days hover around an ideal eighty degrees with eighty percent humidity. In such a comfortable climate, you become part of the air, the rain, the sun. The sun warms your body like the heat of a lover, the trade-wind caresses your bare skin, and the rain finds pleasure in the curve of your neck. Even the sea pushes and pulls you with a constant pressure, gentle and rough.

The Hawaiian Islands evoke an exotic, sensuous image: the gentle swaying palm trees, crashing waves, and warm sand under your bare toes. Beneath this idyllic setting lies a greater treasure, a history and culture that offers richness and complexity. Hawaiian kings and queens, distinguished by their extraordinary height and beauty, ruled the Islands for 1000 years before the British and Americans landed.

The history of Hawaii’s Iolani Palace, the only royal palace on American soil, reveals sagas of romance, passion, and deception. Polished koa wood, no longer available in Hawaii’s forests, cover the floors of the now-silent throne room. Royal kahilis, symbols of long ago royalty, stand testament to the tragic tales that marked the tumultuous years when Hawaii encountered the whalers and missionaries from the West in the 1800’s.

Other cultures made their mark in Hawaii. Ambitious Chinese and Japanese laborers and merchants sailed to the Islands on clipper ships. In the days of Hawaiian royalty, all were welcome. The Chinese and Westerners intermarried with the Hawaiians and succeeded in government and commerce. Great romances, such as merchant Chun Ah Fong who married a Hawaiian princess and had thirteen daughters, became legendary. Generations later, his descendants have become one of the most land-rich families in the Islands.

But Western greed and opportunity conflicted with the Hawaiian philosophy of sharing. With so many ethnicities in the Islands, cultural misunderstandings and conflicts were unavoidable.

When I was a teen, many parents, bound by class and culture, forbade their children to date classmates from other social groups. I remember the intricate ways some of my friends helped others to sneak out with boyfriend and girlfriends they were forbidden to date. Others openly defied their parents and risked being disowned. We wanted our freedom and individuality as Americans, but cultural traditions in Hawaii were strong. For some, their families dominated and ruled their lives. Other defiant classmates prospered in successful and fulfilling marriages, a testament of true love.

But no matter who we girls dated, our beaus could count on a strict interrogation by our parents, for everyone in Hawaii is related by family, friends, and acquaintances. Everyone seems to know everyone else in this Island society of a million people. As in When Strange Gods Call, everyone carries his or her genealogy around them like a giant unseen banner, known to all. Everyone is connected by generations of family history, good and bad.

The best part of this cultural mix is the mouthwatering cuisine. The food for the traditional Hawaiian feast, called the luau, is prepared in a pit lined with white hot rocks. Specially prepared meats, fish, taro, sweet potatoes, and desserts are wrapped in tea leaves and sea weed. These are placed within the imu, or underground pit, and covered with layers of fresh banana leaves and soil. The earth seems to smolder delectable scents for hours until the steaming pit is uncovered. Then the air is filled with an overwhelming aroma. The Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, and other South Sea Islanders have mixed their favorites with the Hawaiian foods for an enticing blend of Pan-Asian flavors, reflecting an intermarriage of cultures and foods, delectable and enticing.

We Hawaiians hold other secrets for the romantically inclined. Everyone knows that Hawaiian salt is healing to the body. For instance, when children are sick we take them to the beach so the salt and the sun can work their miraculous cure.

But the sea heals more than colds and bruises. Whenever my boyfriend and I argued, we’d go to the beach when our differences seemed unsolvable. Of course, he’d pound off across the beach to the sea, furious and angry. I’d pout. He’d put his arms around me to steady me in the waves. The sea, warm and salty, pushed us with the flow of the tides and waves. I’d wrap my legs around his waist to steady myself. And in the crashing waves, our differences and disagreements dissolved, for we were keiki o ka aina, children of Hawaii, in the land of passionate gods and goddesses, where the air is alive with spirits of the wind and skies, where anything can happen, when it comes to love.