Monday, February 28, 2011

Polynesian Cultures

What do you think these men are doing? Did you guess that they are twirling flaming batons so fast that the two burning ends look like circles? Who do you think used this as part of their ceremonies or celebrations? The answer is the people of Fiji, one of the Polynesian cultures.
I spent an entire day and evening learning about various Polynesian cultures. Do you know where Polynesia is and what countries are part of it? Polynesia includes a large grouping of islands located in the central and southern Pacific Ocean. Polynesians are the people who inhabit these islands. Their cultures are similar in many ways. While the languages are different, like Hawaiian, vowel sounds are prominent. These island nations also share many belief systems. Until the arrival of missionaries in the mid 1800s, the Polynesians practiced their beliefs and way of life for a multitude of generations. They lived off the land and ocean using what was readily available for clothing, shelter, and food. According to one of the tour guides, Polynesians had no cloth until it was introduced to them by the missionaries. Prior to that, their clothing was woven from native grasses and other foliage. There were also no written languages among the Polynesians until the arrival of the missionaries. And it was the missionaries who taught Polynesians how to sing in harmony.

Many of the Polynesian island groups eventually became protectorates or territories of other countries. As an example, New Zealand, once a British colony, is now an independent country that is part of the British Commonwealth. Tonga--the only Polynesian country to still have a king--is a British protectorate. And today part of Samoa is called American Samoa because it is a territory of the United States, as Hawaii once was.

At the Polynesian Cultural Center, the focus is on how various groups of Polynesians lived before they were visited by Europeans. Included in the center's historic interpretations are the cultures of Fiji, Tonga, Hawaii, Samoa, Tahiti, Raponui (Easter Island), Marquesas, and Aotearoa (Maori of New Zealand). All day as I listened to the rhythmic sounds of Polynesian languages, I became vividly aware of how difficult it is for children from other countries who come to American schools and do not understand English. It can be very tiring and frustrating to listen for hours and not understand what is being said. My guide, of course, spoke English, but part  of the presentations, as well as all of the songs, were in native tongues to add authenticity. I learned an enormous amount and now am eager to visit Tonga, Fiji, Samoa, and other Polynesian nations. 

Patriarchal societies with men serving as leaders, there were clearly defined gender roles. It was common in Polynesian cultures for men to do all of the food preparation with women responsible for weaving. Food included what could be gotten from the ocean as well as what grew naturally--tropical fruits and vegetables. Elders were highly respected and often taught children cultural traditions. There were cultural differences, of course. As an example, Fijians practiced human sacrifice. And in mountainous regions of Fiji where there was no access to food from the ocean and very little available for hunting, during times of famine some tribes resorted to cannibalism.

This is one of only three Fijian temples in the world. This one was constructed on Fiji in 1973 and moved by ship to the Polynesian Cultural Center.

In Samoa, it was traditional for men to shinny up a coconut palm tree to harvest the fruit.

Most all cultures have dances. What kind do you like to do? This Tahitian man demonstrates how to do a traditional dance.
A Hawaiian presentation
Aotearoa (New Zealand) demonstrating a native dance. The next several photos show other Polynesian cultures doing traditional dances.
A Polynesian interpreter demonstrates a traditional drum.
Drumming and rhythms featured prominently in Polynesian cultures.
A traditional Hawaiian hut
The interior of a traditional Hawaiian hut. The children slept on mats on the floor. Adults slept on the bed. The higher off the ground the bed was, the greater the status of the person who slept in it.
A Fijian chief's hut. Only the chief was allowed to sleep on the huge bed. His wives slept on mats on the floor. The hut had four doors, one facing each direction. Only the chief could use the door that faced west; it was guarded 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Because the sun was associated with power, his bed near the west door meant he had the last of the sun's power for the day. The doors facing north and south could be used by the chief's family and other important individuals. The east-facing door was used by other visitors.

Yes, our beautiful state of Hawaii has a rich Polynesian cultural heritage. In fact, Hawaii is the only American state to have ever been ruled by a king, and the only royal palace in our entire country is located right here on the island of Oahu. After the Spanish-American war in 1898, Hawaii became a United States Territory. Then, in 1959, it became our 50th state. That's why the popular television show is called Hawaii Five-O. So, for what reasons do think Hawaii became a state? Why did our government think it wise to grant statehood to a group of islands way out in the Pacific Ocean?

It is commonplace on the Polynesian islands for people to call one another cousin. Many times since I've been here I have been called cousin or family. It immediately reminded me of the old Sly and the Family Stone song, "We are Family." Part of the lyrics tell us, "We got to live together. I am no better and neither are you. We are the same whatever we do." How true this is. No matter what other cultures you learn about, you can readily find things in common with your own culture. We ARE family.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Honolulu's Island--Oahu

A lovely view from up high. Hawaii is well known for both mountains and beaches.
I believe you are never to old to learn new things, and today I learned that I have been pronouncing Honolulu wrong. Like most people who live on the mainland, as the Hawaiians call the rest of the USA, I have been pronouncing the first syllable as Ha, but it is actually Ho with a long o sound. The second syllable also has a long o sound and is pronounced just like our word, no. Ho no lu lu. Another thing I learned is that the Hawaiian language has only 12 letters and that includes the five vowels. You probably are wondering what the 12 letters are. Every word in Hawaiian contains only these letters: a, e, i, o, u, l, k, m, w, p, h, and n. Today I saw the name of a building that had the letter "a" three times in a row. After each "a" was an accent mark. The letter "w" is pronounced like a "v" when in the middle of a word, so I've also been mispronouncing Hawaii. In reality, the correct pronunciation is Ha-Va-ii, and there is a diacritical mark that is common to see here on Oahu, but not evident in the continental USA. There are many native speakers here and most signs reflect the native culture though many are also written underneath in Japanese and Korean because so many tourists come here from those countries.   

The Hawaii state flower, the yellow hibiscus

Lush is a good word to describe Honolulu and the surrounding area. Tropical foliage abounds. Palm trees and beautiful flowers are everywhere. The state flower is the yellow hibiscus, and I saw a profusion of them today. Other tropical flowers that caught my eye are these:



Of course Honolulu is well known for its beaches, but it is also surrounded by  mountains. Formed from the eruptions of volcanoes, several Hawaiian islands continue to grow larger as there are many volcanoes that are still active. Surrounding Honolulu, though, there are seven or eight dormant volcanoes. These volcanoes are not extinct meaning they can erupt again. However, none of the volcanoes on Oahu has erupted in many thousands of years. The most famous volcanic crater on Oahu is Diamond Head named by early European explorers who mistook olivine and selenite crystals for diamonds. There is one lake on the entire island. A native Hawaiian told me it is the biggest lake they have and also the smallest. Because this is a relatively small island with a lot of people, garbage becomes an issue. The Hawaiians have solved this problem in an interesting way. All garbage is incinerated and the waste heat is utilized to make electricity. Oahu's excellent public transportation system is called "The Bus". For $30 one can purchase a year-long pass, which will give access to any point on the island. There are three main highways on Oahu--H1, H2, and H3, but if you drive too far it quickly becomes
H2O. It is a bit odd that Hawaii has an interstate system because there are no other states you can drive to from here. As the name implies, INTERstate means between states.

Lava is ubiquitous. Here is has been used to create a wall.
Some mountains have pointed tops.
Others have eroded into folds.
While there are no snakes native to Oahu, it was a bit surprising to find that chickens and pigs run around wild all over the island. It seemed they were everywhere. Humpback whales can readily be seen at Halona Blow Hole. I saw many water spouts from whales and a couple of tails as they thrashed about in the water. Huge turtles are often seen on Turtle Beach, but there weren't any out today. The black swan in the picture below is one of three I saw when I visited a Buddhist Temple. The main religion here is Catholicism with Buddhism and LDS tied for second place.

A pineapple growing. It is not yet big enough to be harvested.

The economy of Honolulu and the surrounding area is interesting. Tourism is the biggest money maker, but agriculture is also evident. Pineapples are a main crop. It is a labor intensive process because the pineapples must be planted and harvested by hand. There are no machines to do the work. Things are quite expensive here. In fact, Hawaii is one of the five most expensive places in the United States to live, yet the islands are in the lowest five when it comes to pay scale. The chief reason things in Hawaii are expensive is because 95% of everything on the island has been imported. Some Hawaiians work two or three jobs just to make ends meet. When cherries cost $12.00 a pound, one can readily see how difficult life can be.

At this time of the year the water is fairly calm with small waves. This little island is often seen in movies and television shows set in Hawaii. It is called the Chinaman's Hat.

Sports are important here. The Aloha Stadium holds 50,000 fans and is often home to the Pro Bowl. The Kahuku High School football team ranks in the top 25 nationally. That means of all the thousands of high schools in the United States, this small school on Oahu has one of the best teams in the country. Probably, though, Hawaii is best known for surfing, a sport that originated in the Pacific islands of Polynesia. (Hawaii is part of Polynesia.) An invitational surfing contest is held at Sunset Beach for the 25 best surfers in the world but only when the waves are at least 25 feet high. Not far from Sunset Beach are Wiamea Bay and Banzai Pipeline. Both are favorite surfing spots and also places where competitions are regularly held. The next time you see a surfing contest on TV, it probably is happening right here on Oahu.

At present the waves are not big enough for surfing competitions, but there are always surfers in the water trying the catch the next wave.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Aloha from Waikiki

America's fiftieth state is comprised of many islands. Honolulu, the capital of Hawaii, is located on the Island of Oahu, the third largest of all the islands. Only 600 square miles, Oahu is home to about one million people. The cultural heritage is rich, but sadly there are only 4,000 full blooded native Hawaiians here. By the year 2030, it is predicted that there will be none left. This is truly a multicultural paradise. As I wandered around in the 80 degree sunshine with flowers in full bloom, I lost count of how many different cultures I encountered. One thing I did notice is that there is a strong Japanese influence here. Many signs and menus are written in both English and Japanese.

My hotel is right on Waikiki Beach, just a few steps from the Pacific Ocean. As I walked along the shore, I kept wondering what this place must have been like 150 years ago when it was still in the hands of the native peoples. Of course there would have been no high rise buildings and no hotels. If Hawaii interests you, it is worth reading about its rich history.

From the beach behind my hotel, I saw this mountain as I looked to the left. If you look closely you can see quite many swimmers enjoying the warm weather and the salt water.
I went out on the beach several times today and no matter when I went for a stroll, the beach was filled with tourists like me enjoying the sun and surf.

Because of the warm weather, a lot of restaurants have outdoor seating.
I saw many tropical plants today and interesting flowers, but didn't take many pictures of them. I'll do that another day before I leave this tropical paradise.
Hawaii is known for its waves, though I didn't see too many today. That didn't stop the surfers who were out in droves hoping for a wave to catch. Surfing looks a lot easier than it is. I know because when I was a teenager, I tried to learn how. It takes more athletic prowess than I possess, and you must have good balance.
I took this picture because you can see a native double-hulled outrigger canoe in the background. This type of vessel was developed her in Hawaii, and many efforts are being made to ensure this tradition does not die out.
I couldn't visit Hawaii without having a traditional Hawaiian dinner. This is seafood lau lau, which is shrimp, scallops, salmon and spinach wrapped in a Luau leaf. Behind that are mashed potatoes with carrots, zucchini, and squash.
Here's another traditional meal. I noticed that quite a few of the native dishes are topped with a fried egg. This dish is called loco moco and is mahi mahi and opakapaka in lobster cream sauce.
When I passed the Subway Restaurant I knew I had to take a picture of the large menu posted outside. It is in Japanese, a common site here in Honolulu.

Honolulu is five hours earlier than Virginia meaning that when it is noon here, it is already 5:00 p.m. in the Commonwealth. Because of that, I am still a bit jet lagged, which is why I spent most of today just walking around seeing the sites within a mile of my hotel and also visiting the beach. Tomorrow my adventures begin. I'll take a full island tour. Then on Saturday I will visit the Polynesian Cultural Center and on Sunday I'll tour Pearl Harbor and visit the World War II memorials.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

#50 Is Within My Reach

Honolulu, Hawaii
Next week at this time I will be on an airplane headed for Honolulu. For me this is an important trip, and perhaps not for the reason you might think. It is because once I set foot on Hawaiian soil, I will have visited every single state in the USA! Yes, Hawaii is my 50th state. I am excited to achieve this goal for many reasons. I wonder how many people can claim they have visited all 50 states. When I say I have visited 49 states, I do not mean just changing planes in an airport. I mean that I have spent time visiting ... finding out what makes the state unique ... shopping in the stores ... visiting historical and geographical locations. This is a fun quest, and while it does take many years, it is a worthwhile endeavor. Why don't you join me by making this your goal? There are many inexpensive ways to travel.

In thinking about and planning this trip to Honolulu, I began to reflect back to when Hawaii was not a state. I remember this well because when I was a young child, I began to collect postage stamps. I still have my stamps from Hawaii, prior to its becoming a state. Then, when I was in the fifth grade Hawaii became the 49th state. For a brief time our national flag looked like this:

Seven rows with seven stars made up the 49-star flag.
This flag was not used for very long because soon after Hawaii became a state, Alaska achieved statehood. While I have been to Juneau, Alaska before, I will be visiting it again--along with Seattle--in May. But for now, stay tuned. My daily blogs about Hawaii begin next week.