The first Thanksgiving was the result of a Native American named Squanto. The member of the Pawtuxet tribe taught starving Pilgrims how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch river fish and avoid poisonous plants. Squanto learned English while a slave in England and later managed to make his way home. He was there to greet the Pilgrims intent on creating a new society.
The Pilgrims shared a Thanksgiving feast with members of the Wampanoag tribe, whose religion required them to be hospitable to strangers. The philosophy was much like the aloha created by Hawaiians and practiced by most of Maui's residents.
There's the aloha of a simple smile and kind word to a stranger. There's the aloha of seeing someone in need and supplying what's needed without being asked. There's the aloha of respecting differing opinions. There's the aloha of family and friends. There's the aloha of ohana, adopting those without blood ties.
All of us who make Maui our home have much to be thankful for, today and every day. As it has for 23 previous Thanksgivings, this column is devoted to personal reasons for gratitude.
A malihini with no family ties on the island was greeted by island residents who tolerated differences in lifestyle and background. It might have been hard for some since the malihini had hippy trappings, didn't understand pidgin and was largely ignorant of island ways. It took time to teach the malihini to put personal cynicism aside and tap into instincts developed in a small, rural town in Illinois and obliterated by living in cities.
The island is a place where strangers are simply friends or acquaintances you haven't met. A haole friend who had a sour opinion of islanders due to his own personality and a couple of years associating with militant activists on Molokai watched as a friendly conversation developed at a convenience store.
"Did you know him?" he asked.
"Never saw him before in my life."
Mr. Sour was amazed. He's still sour, but after moving to Maui he began making exceptions to his blanket attitude about locals. As he said while we walked out to the truck on that long-ago day, "Maui people are different." They are. They are ready to trust good feelings about a newcomer rather than making judgments about background and time spent on the island.
That innate approach to strangers has become harder with the population being swollen by haughty new residents, tourists who make no effort to learn local customs and all those who are self-centered, but Maui is still small enough and still tied to history enough to act as if we are all part of a whole. Make eye contact with an islander and he or she will at least acknowledge your presence. A smile will be greeted with a smile.
"Try smiling at a stranger here," said my sister on the Mainland, "and they will automatically think you are going to run some sort of scam on them." Not on Maui where, if you listen, you can hear this kind of exchange between Hawaiians and kamaaina.
"Pehea oi?" How are you? Or, how's it.
"Maikai no. E oi?" I'm fine. And you? Or, answer with a shaka.
Maui will adopt Mainlanders who care about the island, its people and local customs. It doesn't take much, just a little listening and acting as if locals are hosts and newcomers are guests. I had many local teachers, many of them colleagues during an unexpected tenure in county government at a time when haole mostly worked with other haole and the locals I worked with at The Maui News.
"Want to learn about locals? Go sit in a backyard, eat the food and maybe drink a beer," said a mentor. High praise from a local: "He's OK, he eats local," Or, "he's OK. Not pushy." I'm grateful for the chance to hear such comments.
Then there are the friends who came through with help during tough times and were tolerant of aberrant behavior. And, special friends who offered love and respect - a needed light during the darkest nights.
One very special kamaaina became my kuu ipo. She has provided rare professional encouragement and has made me want to become a better person. There is no greater gift. She also shared her love and knowledge of Maui and its history.
To everyone who has made Maui my home, thanks 'eh.
* Ron Youngblood is a former staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is email@example.com.