Everyone has his or her concept of the best way to learn the Hawaiian culture. Some believe that picking up the Hawaiian language, which is considered one of the most beautiful languages in the world, is the perfect way. Others believe that studying its history is the best thing to do. After all, Hawaii has a long history which goes back to its founding by the Polynesian wayfinders.
It is a quandary. There is so much to see, know, do and learn. How do you choose?
There is no one perfect way.
If you have a love of languages, the best way to learn the Hawaiian culture is to learn to speak Hawaiian. The Hawaiians strongly believe that words have great spiritual power and the intent is important when speaking. Further, the meaning of a word varies according to the context in which it was spoken. Aloha and Mahalo are easily the most famous words in the Hawaiian language but do you know how to say “what’s up” in Hawaiian?
Love to travel? Go island hopping as the best way to learn the Hawaiian culture. The Hawaiian islands are lined up in a chain with the oldest of the inhabited islands at the northern tip. Each has its own distinctive characteristics. The oldest of the family, Kauai, is overwhelmingly green, has weathered landscapes, the wettest spot on earth and no buildings taller than the coconut trees and little nightlife.
Oahu has the urban vibe, the glittering night life, art scene, restaurants and shopping and the high rises of Waikiki. It also has its notion of country. The pace of life slows noticeably on its North shore. But every winter, the North shore population increases when the best surfers in the world arrive to chase monster waves.
Molokai is the most rural of the Hawaiian islands with the fewest number of tourists. It is also the most Hawaiian of the islands as native Hawaiians account for the majority of its population. See untouched rainforests, watch the workings of ancient fishponds which have been restocked with fish and catch a glimpse of Hawaii as it was 50 years ago.
Lanai has no stoplights and no traffic jam. Its pineapple fields have been replaced by ritzy hotels and well-manicured golf courses, which are the main drivers of its economy. Daytrippers from neighboring Maui and tourists come for snorkeling and diving and to visit the otherworldly Garden of the Gods, a windswept landscape of boulders and spires which are colored, red, ocher and purple.
Maui is like the rich kid in the bunch. Lavish resorts, gorgeous beaches, it is smaller than Oahu but has no fewer things for tourists to do. It pleases those who like the outdoors – there are opportunities galore for windsurfing, kiteboarding, sailing, snorkeling, whale watching, hiking and zip-lining. History buffs will love Lahaina’s whaling history where whalers and missionaries often clashed. In the uplands, paniolos still have annual cowboy rodeos.
Just under 1 million years old, the Big Island is the youngest of the lot and is still growing. Here, creation unfolds as Kilauea, which has been erupting continuously since 1983, pours lava into the ocean. It is an island of great contrasts as it has lushly green rainforests on one side of the island and dry, arid deserts on the other.
If scaling mountains or jumping off cliffs is not quite your thing, then the best way to learn the Hawaiian culture is to learn how to cook Hawaiian style. Start by figuring out how to pound taro, a skill which was previously reserved for the men.
Taro is the staple food for the Hawaiians and is the subject of many legends. According to Hawaiian creation chants, it grew where the stillborn son of Father Sky and Mother Earth was buried. Their second son, who lived, was the first Man.
Learn to dance the hula, a dance originally rooted in religious ritual. The hula is danced by both men and women, especially in its traditional hula kahiko form. Hula is story telling through dance, gesture and movement and is a disciplined art form. Each movement and pose tell a story of creation, of great battles, heroes, heroines and chiefs, of love and of life.
King David Kalakaua said, "Hula is the language of the heart, and therefore the heartbeat of the Hawaiian people." Understanding hula for some may be the best way to learn the Hawaiian culture.
Visit a heiau, get healing from a kahuna, learn to weave lei, throw a hukilau or fish net or trek a volcano. Hawaii presents so many choices on the best way to learn the Hawaiian culture. Whichever you settle for, you are in for an adventure!