One of the best parts of our time here in Maui is learning about the Hawaiian culture and way of life. In all of the Hawaiian Islands, Hana has the highest percentage of Native Hawaiians. Because of Hana’s geographic location, it has largely remained untouched by the commercialization and economic expansion that has taken place in the majority of the Polynesian Islands. We have fallen into a community that has been frozen in time since the early 1900s.
There is much to learn from the Hawaiian way of life. They are people of generosity, kindness, and community. The community’s needs take priority of the needs of the individual. It is community that respects its elders. While we missed the actual event, we have been told about the elaborate ceremony that took place shortly before our arrival for the graduating students of Hana High School. With only twenty students per grade, the graduation ceremony contains a portion in which each student distributes leis to family members and friends who have helped them reach the next stage of one’s life. Not only does the community rely on one another, but its members recognize one another that help shape individual development and the overall values found in Hana.
Although we are outsiders, we have been treated with the same generosity and respect. We have been offered fruit by friends, been picked up for a ride into town by complete strangers, and every person we pass on the street gives a quick wave or the “shakah” (the traditional greeting of the Hawaiian people that uses the thumb out with the pinky up). After being on the East Coast for the past three years, the friendliness is refreshing.
Lastly, we have come to appreciate the Hawaiian approach to work. They have more of a European attitude in that they work to live, not live to work. On any given day, there is no schedule of when business owners open their restaurants, as they wake up and decide if they want to work each day. People work when they need to, and enjoy each other’s company whenever they encounter a friend. While there is much to learn about the culture, we have just only brushed the surface.
It has only been two weeks, and yet we have learned so much about what it means to live and work on a farm. In Hawaiian, the word ai’ina means “the land” and sums up how the Hawaiians show their respect for this Island. People here are very in tune with the idea that if you take care of the land, the land will take care of you. During our first training days at Hana Tropicals, one of the farm-owners, Krista, told us that before walking on the land to harvest flowers or vegetables, or to weed out invasive species, or even to take a pensive stroll, you must first ask permission from the land – this increases your awareness and respect for what you are doing.
None of us have had much farming experience before coming to Hana, so we had a lot of learning to do upon arrival! We’ve found that the people are so generous with the time they take to teach others. From as small a lesson as tilting a sickle to get the perfectly-angled cut on a plant stem to one as large the threats that the genetically-modified seeds pose to the environment, this community is overwhelmingly passionate about farming organically and sustainably.
At Hana Tropicals, we’ve bushwhacked through weeds taller than ourselves and denser than Kant’s Inaugural Dissertation. We’ve harvested heaps of exotic flowers (Heliconias, Wax Gingers, “Bee Hives,” Red Snakes, and Tropic Fleurs, to name a few) and washed them clean of soil, centipedes, and scale. The veggie garden has been frequented daily to plant and collect salad fixings and pesto-making supplies. The chickens wake us up at 7AM for their breakfast and release to roam free from their McMansion. We’ve learned about repotting orchids and palms in the greenhouse to ready them for growth outside, and collected compost in our kitchen to create fertile soil for the pesticide-free crops and flowers to grow in. These are just a few of the daily jobs we’ve been able to take part in here over the past two weeks.
In terms of overall themes present so far in our experience, self-sufficiency is extremely evident in Hana. It’s one of the things we’ve learned the most about, and gained faith in its possibility. Everyone here is so conscious of what they buy, where it comes from, and what it contains. Coming from the mainland and living for most of the year in Boston, it has been an adjustment to living in a community. Before coming to Hana, we knew that buying locally was important, and that it helps to put money into the local economy, help small businesses, and improve sustainability. That being said, it is often hard to see the results. Here, so many people eat straight from the land. They grow their own fruits and vegetables, harvest them, and consume much of the food grown on their land. There are many cattle here that are grass-fed and have acres upon acres on which to graze. All of the food is significantly less processed than many foods on the mainland. The locals are exponentially more in tune with nature, the land, what they put in their bodies, and how that nutrition makes them feel. We’ve had the privilege of being able to talk to several locals about their ways of living, and most of them eat from their land in combination with other local sources.
Electricity is also more expensive on Maui than on the mainland, and people are more conscious of their usage. There are houses all around Hana that use solar panels for energy; furthermore, Maui has a goal in the future to be a completely self-sufficient island. It has the chance to be an example for how green energy can be implemented on a larger scale. It’s a magical island, and we can only wait to learn more about how to live sustainably. There is definitely so much to learn and to bring to Seattle and the mainland!
The principles of self-sufficiency and working off of your respective land is something we have lost over the years. Older generations were much more knowledgeable about the plants, animals, and wildlife around them. Schools used to teach these skills to children, but now these lessons have been replaced with technology skills. On the mainland, we tend to go to the store for everything. We buy in bulk at Costco and since the food is so cheap, we do not care if it spoils and has to be thrown away. Not only is this a waste of money, but it’s a waste of resources. Do we even know where this chicken comes from? How the people treat these chickens? Luckily, there is a movement for organic and local food, but there are still many people who remain ignorant of the differences of agricultural products. While herbs can grow easily in numerous environments, we go to the grocery store and buy pre-packaged herbs in a plastic container.
While in Hana, we have become aware of every item we put in the trash barrel as opposed to the compost. We realize that items may be cheaper at Costco than at Mana Foods, the organic grocery store nearby, but the quality and nutritional value is exponentially better at Mana Foods. People are less likely to eat excessively and choose to put better foods in their body.
The other night we watched Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, furthering our understanding about the earth and global warming. As the movie pointed out, we are beginning to see more unpredictable weather patterns and natural disasters, some of which are a result of global warming. While recognizing the gaps in our knowledge and embracing the values here in Hana, we are ready to learn about ways to live in a way that is better for ourselves, and more importantly the world in which we live. Each day, we talk about how lucky we are to be having this experience and how we are going to bring it back with us after the summer.