There was a time when newcomers to Maui were mostly on their own, with and without a partner. Some stayed indefinitely. Others came and were rejected by the island either due to finances or attitudes.
The realities of island life were either accepted or resisted. Some suffered from "rock fever," living on a chunk of land cut off from everywhere else by an ocean even though that self-same ocean can be considered a connection.
All of those who came fell into two categories - timid adventurers or escapists. The timid didn't want to get too far from what they grew up with. The escapists didn't like where they had been, perhaps due to crowds, freeways, unhappy personal relationships or even racial tensions. Some just wanted better surfing or a hippie lifestyle.
Personal advice boiled down to "Work at what you can until you can work at what you want. Live where you can until you can live where you want." Without the support of family and knowledge of island ways, the price for living on Maui was non-negotiable.
Islanders welcomed those who were willing to work and wait for invitations. Island society isn't so much a melting pot as it is a parfait with different layers integrated on the edges of distinct flavors. "You want to learn about the local community, go sit in a backyard, eat the food, drink the beer and keep your mouth shut," was the advice of an astute kama'aina politician.
Dealing with pidgin was another hurdle. Native speakers preferred to hear a malihini haole sound like a malihini haole. Clumsy attempts at pidgin sounded like a put-down. It takes years of listening before pidgin becomes a natural form of expression. Besides, there is more than one kind of pidgin. A certain humility is useful. More than once I had difficulty understanding particularly thick pidgin. Laughter and communication began when I said, "I'm sorry, but I've got haole ears."
Being pushy marks a haole more than skin color.
While being the county guy in charge of complaints, I often ended up facing an annoyed newcomer, usually one who had come to the island for the weather and wanted all the perks enjoyed on the Mainland. I always waited for the individual to say, "back home" it was this way or that. I loved saying: "You're not back home."
All of above is based on experiences with a Maui that had a population of less than 50,000. With the number now above 150,000, the game has changed. It's possible for a newcomer to associate only with others of similar background, values and attitudes, including a sense of superiority. These folks will always be outsiders worthy of the label of blankety-blank haole.
This examination of attitudes and behaviors was prompted by the conclusions contained in the book "Haoles in Hawaii" by Judy Rohrer. According to a foreword by Phyllis Turnbull, a professor emeritus of the University of Hawaii Political Science Department, the book is "the inaugural volume in a succeeding series on ethnicity planned by the University of Hawai'i Press." Turnbull writes that the book argues "that ethnicity is a sociopolitical construct, not a genetic fact." Rohrer "marches us through several centuries of Hawaii history in such fields as colonial, gender and whiteness studies."
In many ways the 100-page treatise is irritating. Rohrer, the holder of a political science doctorate, loves to tell readers what she is going to say, says it and then tells the reader what she has told them. A wordsmith she is not. The book seems to be a compilation of other writers' conclusions - a lot of academic research related with academic correctness.
Another irritant is her constant reference to HCE. Only once does she explain HCE stands for Hawaii Creole English. Uh, you mean pidgin? One new thought, at least for me, is that Hawaii after the overthrow became an American colony. The ultimate goal is "Americanizing" the islands to the exclusion of Kanaka Maoli culture except where it can be used by the visitor industry.
Rohrer details the different kinds of haole but she left one sort of haole out of the mix - the transplant who never felt rooted in a place and people until he arrived in the islands.
"Haoles in Hawaii" is a tough read due to all the repetition and academic vocabulary but it does spur a rethinking of our (haole) place in what Hawaii was and is. The book is available from University of Hawai'i Press. See uhpress.hawaii.edu.
* Ron Youngblood is a former staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.