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The “Hippie” Invasion of 1960s Maui

March 3, 2012 - Ray Tsuchiyama

The first sign (these headlines are all from the Maui News archives) of the strange new visitors to Maui was in the article title: “Vegetarian Beatniks Under Observation” (May 1965) -- conjuring an image of Maui government officials and medical staff hovering over tourists listening to Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” surrounded by plates of boiled carrots and broccoli.

The term “hippie” did not appear in what we now call the Maui “media” until 1967, two years after the initial reconnaissance team – in the headline “Citizens Urged to have Open Mind Regarding Hippies”. Just a year before, there was an early sign of the new people in the headline “Pioneer Inn Manager Appalled at Transients Sleeping in Cars in Lahaina” and like a newly-created Maui Militia, there was a Call-To-Arms throughout the Island: “Meeting Scheduled to Plan for Summer Invasion of Lahaina”. The “media” did conjure up negative images from Mauians – “Bad Experiences With Hippies Recounted” (late 1967).

When I was a boy, I accompanied my uncle and aunt to jaunts to the Wailuku Dairy Queen*, the major hot-spot of the late 1960s, a calmer, slower period in Maui history, before the transformational development around the corner in the late 1970s into the 1980s. When our car passed hippies hitch-hiking along the road, my uncle and aunt would frown and look away. I heard anecdotes, passing stories, and I don’t know if they were true or not (a boy’s recollections are suspect, like Huckleberry Finn in Mark Twain’s revolutionary American novel as a untrustworthy narrator, and redefined point-of-view in the novel form), I heard of garbage thrown from cars at the “hippies”, about fist-fights in restaurants and Baldwin Park, even rifle shots fired above people’s heads. I don’t think current Mauians realize what a stressful time it was for the island during this period, including a profound impact on Maui’s young people, especially during the Vietnam War draft.

Demographically, Maui of the 1960s was still closer to World War II than to the beginning of the 20th century (in 1967 my uncle was still relatively young, in his late forties, a former president of the Maui 442nd Club and ILWU shop steward; the end of the War was barely two decades before, with memories still strong). For my uncle and his 442nd buddies, who met every morning for coffee and recounted their experiences in Italy and France, the anti-Vietnam War movement was probably incomprehensible and utterly un-American. In fact, the whole hippie phenomenon, a rejection of "normal" society, must have been deeply unsettling to Mauians who had worked in plantations, learned Standard English (and dropped other languages, like Japanese, Portuguese, Cantonese or Ilocano), then endured the War, performed sacrifice upon sacrifice, and found new, better jobs – the American Dream.

To my relatives, they would ask why young well-off Caucasian Americans from the great Mainland cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles suddenly appeared on Maui wearing old, filthy clothes, not bathing, eating vegetarian food, and even living in tree houses in Makena or Haiku like Neolithic tribes? My relatives standing along Wailuku’s then-bustling, prosperous Market Street (before the Big Box stores) were utterly perplexed.

One must remember that in Wailuku/Kahului of the 1960s, my uncles and aunts were active members of the Kahului Union Church (my aunt taught Sunday School) and observed many American holidays, like Thanksgiving and Christmas, with other Nikkei friends, who were born and raised in the Siamese-twin towns since before the War. In other words, central Maui (without Kihei/Wailea) was a small conservative isolated tight-knit community without tourists. As late as 1960 a friend who rented a car in Kahului encountered – after leaving Wailuku – only two other cars on the road to Lahaina. Then the hippies appeared.

When the hippies began to “discover” Maui in the 1960s, the West Coast Haight-Ashbury “Flower Revolution” was in full bloom, along with rock-and-roll, incense, beards, the “Pill”, anti-Vietnam War movement, back-to-the-earth communes, all-cotton Indian print shirts and jeans, and drugs. Simultaneously, declining plantation towns like Paia were experiencing de-population and areas like Haiku had few residents in the tropical greenery, and so the hippies found a semi-rural haven.

Afterwards, during the rush of transplants and a population boom during the hotel/tourist new economy, some “hippies” quietly became part of the Mauian social landscape** into the 2000s, some stubbornly continuing a hippie lifestyle, others launching businesses (that would become contemporary Paia town). This story has yet to be told well. In my boyhood, I saw glimpses of an extraordinary meeting of two different cultures on the island of Maui, and have been thinking about the meaning of it all ever since.

*Among St. Anthony and Baldwin high school students, a summer job at the Wailuku Dairy Queen during this period was a symbol of major social attainment.

**My relatives would have been astounded by the Whole Foods supermarket in Kahului.


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