March 11, 2012

Land of Aloha Holds the Heart of Janet Oakley 2012 EPIC Award Finalist

I grew up in Pennsylvania, went to school in Michigan and have lived many years in Washington State, but I have to say that my heart is in Hawaii. So I jumped at the chance to write about it. 
I first went to Hawaii in the summer of 1969 on a one -way ticket. It was an boisterous time of change for a new state. During my first three months there, sixteen high rises and hotels went up along Waikiki Beach, forever changing the skyline. There were soldiers and sailors there too, coming for RR or finishing out their tour of duty in Vietnam. And I fell in love with it all – the craggy Ko'olau Mountains and the jungle trails to hidden falls, University of Hawaii campus (where I got a BFA in Textiles), the beaches and historic places. And I met my future husband there. I lived there for eight and half years, then left. I returned nearly 35 years later and keep going back ever since. 
So what is Hawaii? Why does it tug so? 
Some Basic Facts 
Hawaii is made up of eight main islands, Hawaiʻi, Maui, Oʻahu, Kahoʻolawe, Lanaʻi, Molokaʻi, Kauaʻi and Niʻihau accompanied by many others, including Kaʻala a small island near Niʻihau. Northwest of Kaua'i are a series of nine small, older masses, remnants of much larger volcanic mountains. Adding in more than 100 more small rocks and islets, Hawaii stretches out over 1,500 miles. It boasts a population of 1,374,810 souls (2011 estimate) spread out over these islands, the majority of it on Oahu (953,207). Its official languages are English and Hawaiian, but Hawaii is demographically unique as it has the highest percentage of Asian Americans and Multiracial Americans, as well as the lowest percentage of White Americans in the U.S. . It boasts military bases, several colleges and a university and the only royal palace in the country. 
A Land of History and Culture 
I've always been drawn to history, and oddly, it was my first time in Hawaii that I read the book Hawaii (though I had seen the movie in London). A first years later, while a guide at Mission Houses Museum in downtown Honolulu, I would take 45 minutes to refute some of the information in the novel about the arrival of the missionaries. It was an exciting time. Changes were happening. Native Hawaiians were rediscovering their culture their way with Hawaiian study classes at UH and an attempt to find remaining speakers of the Hawaiian language to preserve that language. And that first summer, I saw a guy dance the hula – in the old way-- for the very first time, something that thrilled me then and now. Today there are Hawaiian immersions schools and hālau that teach hula. I took the new voices into my tour, trying to paint a balanced picture. One good place to learn about the Hawaiian Islands Kingdom is  
History Walk 
All the islands have stories to tell, but downtown Honolulu has an area within easy walking distance where you can see some of the most important structures from the 19th Royalty period, beginning the beautifully restored Iloani Palace (closed when I was there as a student), the not so well- known but amazing Washington Place (1844), home of Queen Liliuokalani, and the Mission Houses Museum with its beautiful New England style house brought prefab by ship from that part of the world in 1821. It has one of the few basements in the state, made from coral rock. Also not to be missed is Kawaihao Church next door to Mission Houses. 
There are many who look down on the missionaries for whatever reason, but what is amazing to me is that they created an alphabet for the Hawaiian people in just couple of years and literacy by the end of 1820s was equal to or higher than New England. All Hawaiian documents from the royal governments are in Hawaiian and preserved to this day for study. Very few indigenous communities in world that had only oral history could claim that. And today it is put to good use for the Native Hawaiians. For a fabulous look at Ancient Hawaii, go to the Bishop Museum. You can get there by bus. 
The Beauty and Beaches 
Call me silly, but I love the beaches at Waikiki. They are some of the best in the world and if you get down by the zoo, you get a feel for the old Waikiki. I love the old hotels, Royal Hawaiian and the Moana Surfrider, a bit built over out on the street, but gorgeous inside and on the beach-side. But you have to get out to the North Shore to see some of the biggest waves in the world during the winter months and to the beaches at Kailua. On Kaui and Maui, there are wonderful sandy beaches but the Big Island is bit rough, but I loved them too. 

Janet Oakley
writer, historian, educator
 Tree Soldier 2012 EPIC Award Finalist
Book Trailer
(Pictures provided by author)


  1. I have visited Hawaii twice and there is so much more I want to see. It is beautiful. Great post!
    Debby236 at gmail dot com

  2. I've only visited Hawaii in the airport, to and from Guam. I wish I could have stayed to visit, but now we're on the east coast. My husband has traveled there for work several times. I'd love to see it all, someday. Great post.

  3. We've been to Hawaii, Ohau twice and Kaui. I also love Hawaii, and would go back tomorrow if I could. I especially loved the middle of the big island and the land of the cowboys. Fascinating when you think about it. Cowboys in Hawaii.

  4. The paniolas came into being in the 1860s. I beleive that was the time that cattle ranches were set up on the Big Island. Parker Ranch and Anna Ranch all have histories with cowboys coming over and starting or managing these ranches, marrying Hawaiians. I went to my only rodeo up in Kamuela on the Big Island some 40 years ago.

    Once at my house in Hilo, some steers got out and wandered down near my yard. A half-hour later, some men on horseback came racing down to get them out of the sub-division and back up the hill to the pens.

  5. I love Hawaii! I've been there three times, to Oahu, the Big Island, and Maui. I enjoyed it all, but I think I liked the Big Island the best because it has a little of everything. The cattle ranching area reminded me of my native Montana, but there were also the great black and white beaches. I hope to go back again someday!

  6. Spent Christmas 1974 in Hawaii...beautiful place with lots of history. Pearl Harbor memorial was impressive. Loved the beach and sites.
    Thanks for all the information!

  7. Have not been to Hawaii, but would love to go! Thanks for great post about it!

  8. Thanks for bringing back lots of wonderful memories with your post, Janet! I lived and taught in Maui for 3 years and still think about it every day. Like you, I also met my husband in Hawaii and fell in love with island life. Many of those memories inspired my first novel, Exiled to the North.

  9. Thanks for all your comments. One thing I discovered on my latest trip back is that there are a number off CCC camps on Kaui, the Big Island and Maui. My husband and I actually slept outside some wonderful cabins in Haleakula Crater so long ago. They were built by the CCCs. Hmmm. Like the future and past were calling.


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