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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


December 13, 2003 - Issue 102


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A Brief Overview of Hawai'i

by Suzanne Westerly
credits: all photos courtesy of Suzanne Westerly

Last May I moved to Hawai'i after living most recently in Southern California, Northern New Mexico and Central Arizona. I was born in the Great Lakes area.

Today I live on the beach on the North Shore of Oahu. I've taken thousands of photographs since arriving. Mostly I shoot the incredibly luscious flowers, the majestic turquoise waves, the beach, sunsets, surfers, sailboarders, kite surfers, and critters, like crabs, chameleon, geckos and caterpillars. (I hope you like my photographs of the caterpillar's metamorphoses into a butterfly.)

In case you don't know too much about Hawai'i, I want to give you some basic background information. If you find Hawai'i interesting, there are many web sites you can go to for more information.

THE LAND In the Middle of the Ocean
Hawai'i is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean - 2,390 miles from California, 3,850 miles from Japan, 4,900 miles from China and 5,280 miles from the Philippines.†

The islands were formed by volcanic activity over millions of years. The Big Island is the youngest of the islands. Two volcanoes are still erupting over there, slowly adding new land to the island each day.

Hawai'i is not considered part of any continent. It's comprised of 8 major islands (Oahu, Hawai'i, Maui, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoíolawe, and Niihau) and a series of smaller ones. Hawai'i is the world's longest island chain.

Hawai'i is located 1,500 miles from the Equator, so it's summer all year around ñ average temperature is 85 degrees. Actually it does get a bit cooler (mostly at night) late November through February, and it's really warm during the usual summer months (low 90's) so I'm very glad to live on the beach.

The island of Oahu, where I live, is the third largest in area and the most populated of the islands. About 75% of the state's (all the islands) total population lives on Oahu, where Honolulu, the capital is. Adjacent to Honolulu is Waikiki, famous for its beaches, and where most tourists stay.

Up on the North Shore, it's"country". Honolulu is on the southern end, and it takes me a little over an hour to get there going through the middle of the island, partly on freeways. If I take the long winding road along the ocean, it's prettier, but it takes longer to get home.

People here think that's far! Can you imagine? But once you live here, it does seem rather far. I think it's because parts of the island are so very different.

The North Shore beach community is famous as the surf capitol of the world. During the winter months, which are now, there are ongoing surf contests. I live at Sunset Beach, which is famous for the biggest waves in the world in winter. The waves come from Alaska, and grow to 50'. Yes, people (a very few) actually surf in waves that high, but it's very very dangerous. Waves that big aren't common, 3 to 15 feet are, and that's when all the surfers are out there all day, and into the night.

I was incredibly lucky to have found a place up here on the beach. I've basically lived in a bathing suit since I moved here. (No, I don't surf, I'm a beachwalker) It's not unusual to go to the grocery store, and half the people are wearing bathing suits. There is one major road, the Kamehameha Highway, (named after Hawai'i's greatest statesman, warrior and king, born between 1748 and 1761) and it's along the beach. There ís one small town, Hale'iwa, about ten miles up the road and it's a surf town. Just about all the shops sell surf gear, beachwear, or art. Hale'iwa also has the basics: a hardware store, food store, electronics store, health clinic, small restaurants, post office, and I was very happy to discover, a great health food store too.

Duke Kahanamoku and Jim Thorpe
During the days of the famous Sac and Fox Olympic athlete Jim Thorpe, a Hawai'ian named Duke Kahanamoku became famous for making surfing a favorite sport worldwide. The two athletes met at the 1912 Olympic games, and became friends.

"During the summer of 1911, Duke Kahanamoku, swam the 100-yard freestyle 4.6 seconds faster than anyone had before him." Duke did the 100-yard freestyle in 55.4 seconds, "shattering the world record held by [two time] U.S. Olympic champion Charles M. Daniels." In the 50-yard freestyle, he equaled Daniels' world record, coming in at 24.2 seconds. For extra measure, Duke out swam all competitors with a respectable 2:42:4 second finish in the 220-yard freestyle event."

†"On his way to the 1912 Olympiad in Stockholm, Sweden, Duke met Native American Jim Thorpe, celebrated as the greatest all-around athlete of his time. "When Jimmy and I were on the boat to the Olympics in Sweden," Duke remembered, "we had a talk. I said, 'Jimmy, I've seen you run, jump, throw things and carry the ball. You do everything so why don't you swim too?' "Jimmy just grinned at me with that big grin he had for everyone, and said, 'Duke, I saved that for you to take care of. I saved that for you.'"

"Sports history was made in Stockholm. Jim Thorpe won almost everything on land and Duke Paoa Kahanamoku won almost everything in the water. Duke broke the record for the 100-yard freestyle, winning the gold medal. Kahanamoku and Thorpe so impressed their Swedish hosts and the world that both were personally called to the Royal Victory Stand where they received their gold medals and Olympic wreaths directly from Sweden's King Gustaf."

"In the course of the next twenty years," wrote Grady Timmons, "he continued to defy time, competing in four Olympic Games and winning five medals. When he finally retired, at age forty-two, he could still swim as fast as when he was twenty-one."

Duke became an unofficial ambassador for surfing and Hawai'i, traveling and surfing all over the world.

Today, there's a statue of Duke on the beach in Waikiki, where he did a lot of his surfing.
Read the whole story at "

How HAWAI'I Became the 50th State
It is also important to know the history of how Hawai'i became the 50th state of the United States. It's a long story, and I hope you will do further research to learn all about it. Here is a little background information.

"For hundreds of years, Hawaiian people lived in a prosperous primary commune. At the time of the first European contact by the English Captain Cook in 1792 - Cook was the boss of the infamous Captain Bligh - there were between 800,000 and 1 million Hawaiians living on the islands.

But with the onslaught of U.S. and European colonialism through its agents, land-grabbers and their missionary partners-- the indigenous peoples of the islands soon met the same fate millions of Native people in the Americas did. By 1890, the Hawaiian population was reduced to just 40,000.

The US land owners in Hawaii called on the military to crush the Hawaiian government. This conspiracy overthrew the Hawaiian government."

On Dec. 18, 1994, more than 500 indigenous Hawaiians and their supporters marched through the streets near the famed Waikiki Beach in Honolulu. The marchers demanded Hawaiian sovereignty.

To further strengthen their voice, they disrupted traffic for several hours. That same day, protesters held a rally near city and state offices to condemn the 1893 US armed takeover of the Hawaiian Islands.

These actions came on the heels of the US Congress's passage of legislation that apologizes for the military takeover of the Hawaiian nation in 1893. President Bill Clinton signed it into law in December. Read more at:, and

Pacific Commands of the US Military, Island of Kaho'olawe
Hawai'i is the location of the Pacific commands of the US Military, including Pearl Harbor. The US government has taken over almost 25% of the island. There are bases scattered throughout Oahu for the army, navy, air force, and marines and they want more land for training. The military also has land on the Big Island and want more there too. Then there's the island of Kahoíolawe that was used for a bombing range. It's been returned to the Hawaiíian people, but not in the cleaned up state the US government had agreed to.

Hawai'i is foremost a land of Aloha
Hawai'ians have captivating ancient legends and myths, a unique and beautiful culture, a tumultuous history, and challenges like any other place.

Hawai'i is also paradise. A land of great beauty; waterfalls, dolphins, whales, giant sea turtles, neverending summer, breathtaking sunsets, an abundance of green growing on a red earth, palm trees, entrancing ocean waves, colorful fragrant flowers, heiaus (Hawaiian shrines)and friendly people sharing the Aloha spirit.

The Aloha Spirit
The Aloha Spirit is the coordination of mind and heart within each person. It brings each person to the Self. Each person must think and emote good feelings to others. In the contemplation and presence of the life force, Aloha, the following unuhi laul‚ loa (free translation) may be used:

  • Akahai, meaning kindness to be expressed with tenderness;
  • LÙkahi, meaning unity, to be expressed with harmony;
  • 'Olu'olu, meaning agreeable, to be expressed with pleasantness;
  • Ha'aha'a, meaning humility, to be expressed with modesty;
  • Ahonui, meaning patience, to be expressed with perseverance.

These are traits of character that express the charm, warmth and sincerity of Hawaii's people. It was the working philosophy of native Hawaiians and was presented as a gift to the people of Hawaii.

  • Aloha is more than a word of greeting or farewell or a salutation.
  • Aloha means mutual regard and affection and extends warmth in caring with no obligation in return.
  • Aloha is the essence of relationships in which each person is important to every other person for collective existence.
  • Aloha means to hear what is not said, to see what cannot be seen and to know the unknowable.

Read more at,

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