Most of us have grown up or lived in a place long enough to see it happen: we see a dense forest, a favorite restaurant, a cultural landmark, or a way of life vanish from existence due to progress.
I thought about this as we performed the cultural protocol of wrapping a gift of grapefruits surrounded by tea leaves for Anakala Pilipo. Our guide, Auntie Julie, picked these grapefruits from her yard because it was something that Anakala didn’t have and it was a gift she knew he would appreciate. It’s simple, but extremely thoughtful — something the people of Molokai are know for when giving gifts.
Anakala is the last living Native Hawaiian descendant who was born, raised, and still lives in Halawa Valley. The valley was once a thriving community, providing everything its inhabitants needed to live in harmony.
Anakala and his family allow groups to visit their Taro farm so that visitors can experience this way of life first hand, hear the stories of the original inhabitants, and even hike to a breathtaking waterfall in the valley. Being here, I truly had a sense that all the people who lived in the area shared a joy for the land and its rich cultural history.
The next day we departed for Kalaupapa, an isolated peninsula, which was once a virtual prison for those inflicted with Hansen’s disease. Currently, the only way to get to Kalaupapa is either by plane or by traversing the harrowing cliffs that once held these inhabitants captive.
I am extremely nervous of heights, so guess which route we took. Yes, that’s right, we climbed on top of mules and took the slow ride down the steep sea cliffs to the village (more on that later!). Once we reached the bottom, we were greeted by our guide, Jon, who drove a miniature yellow school bus.
As he gave us the tour around the colony, I saw it again: Jon exuded that same joy when he spoke about the land and its history. Surrounded by natural beauty, he seemed protective, but open to share the vast brilliance that touched his heart each day. I too was touched by this place. I found myself drawn to the land and felt compelled to wander off and explore the natural wonders that surrounded me.
As our trip progressed, I kept thinking about the “it” factor that draws so many peaceful souls to this land. Sure, the island is stunning and it feels like home, but what is so special about this place? I felt like the answer was on the tip of my tongue, but I just couldn’t find the words.
I pondered this question as we set out to kayak downwind along the lush green mountains of the Molokai coast. Turtles were popping up everywhere as Claire, the owner of Molokai Outdoors, talked about her son who was training to SUP from Molokai to Oahu. As we paddled along with the current, she mentioned how expensive it is to live on Molokai, but that it’s more than worth it. She expressed how happy she is to live on the island.
As we experienced all of these activities — from seeing the restoration of an ingenious ancient Hawaiian fish pond to experiencing the mouthwatering taste of a fresh, out-of-the-oven Cinnamon Butter loaf from Kanemitsu’s Bakery — I began to look for a common thread.
As I looked back at the Aunties’ and Uncles’ Kanikapila (jam session) on our last evening in Molokai, I remember them singing the Star Spangled Banner with hands over their hearts, full of pride. Thinking back on this, I realized what made this island so special. It can be summed up in one word, “LOVE”.
It’s the love of the land, the love of each other as one big extended family, and the love for this life where they are able to keep their cultural traditions alive and share their passion with everyone who visits.
I think if we all loved the places we live half as much as these people love their home, then we would all live in paradise.