Monday, March 10, 2008


So here's the new history of the neighbor islands, at least of the past couple decades. Sugar and pineapple pulled out; instead of importing workers to exploit they realized that it was cheaper to go their home countries and exploit them there.

The fields were sold off for golf courses and developments, while the old plantation towns started to fade. Some returned to dust. Others were saved - somewhat.

The first newcomers had the best intentions, I'm sure. They came in and repainted and restored the buildings. They opened cafes and funky breakfast shops and stores selling crystals and dream catchers and Tibetan prayer flags. They were a bit crunchy, they got excited over organic greens, they rode their bikes to work and they believed in solar power.

But something feels off with them. They look like hippies, they wear second hand clothes, and none of them ever pay for a hair cut. And yet, coffee and a cinnamon roll costs six bucks at the cafe, and you can't find a decent lunch under ten dollars ... and even that is a 'wrap' dominated by ten-cents worth of bean sprouts and lettuce. And though they all take Hawaiian names you notice, each year, fewer and fewer actual locals in these towns.

Still, they're nice people and you can get along fine with them as long as you remember that they are more spiritually advanced than you.

Next comes the spas and retreats and expensive resorts. Only: don't call them resorts. Call them Healing Centers. After all, they all offer traditional native Hawaiian healing practices, many so esoteric that even the Hawaiians have never heard of them.

And then the really rich ones start coming in, the multi-millionaires and billionaires who see a stretch of undeveloped coast near-by and want it for themselves.

Which is what brings me here to Kapa`au: another rich guy sees paradise and wants to own it. It's so foreign to me, this desire to pave over, dominate and own what is wild & free & beautiful. Another community is going to fight to save what little is left. I'm not part of this battle: my job this week is only to open the doors and make sure everyone gets to where they're supposed to be. I'll have my own battles coming up; this time I'm just an observer.

And though I'm sympathetic to the community, I'm a bit cynical too. I look around and see ads in the kiosks for Tibetan antiques, naia dance classes, yoga, spiritual learning centers, massage ... the band in the bar next door is playing Gipsy King covers ... the women have hairy toes and the men never seem to comb their hair ... and it's all so new-age generic that we could be anywhere.

And then you cross the line, and go to the plate lunch place, or the gas station for coffee (same taste, 1/5 the price). And you're in plantation Hawai`i again, and there is no sign that the others exist at all. Old ladies lomi the opelu and mix it with limu for poke in between cigarette breaks & it's the only thing on the menu not swimming in grease, the tv is almost as loud as the refrigerator in the kitchen, and super-size mahu ring up your bill. There's two worlds, maybe more, living on the same land and never crossing. Visit one, you'd never even know the other side was there.

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