The Funkiness of Hawaii aka The Spirit of the Big Island

Hawaiian catches octopus

Celebrating Some of the Funkiness of Kona

“Maui, Kauai, Oahu or the Big Island?” potential visitors ask themselves before scrolling through the web trying to get a feeling for each island. Let me tell you, they are all completely different from one another. Honeymooners flock to Maui for romance and to sit on a beach. Young people and those who enjoy a vibe in the air like Oahu. Kauai is for people who love the mountains, rain and a slow pace for their vacations. The Big Island? We have adventure, culture and funkiness.

I may offend some of my Big Island neighbors when I say this, but people oftentimes murmur among themselves that the Big Island is not really part of the USA. Where else can you ride your motorcycle without a helmet? Ride in the back of a pick up truck with your friends?  Sell whatever you want to on the side of the road?  Understand what the words “Kapu” , “Kuleana” and “Ho’Ponopono” mean and give each other the shaka sign when driving down the road?

In general, Hawaii is just a funky place to live. ( My neighbors on the Kohala Coast where all the swanky resorts are located and Waimea, where there is a flavor of the upper class, can exclude themselves here.)  When you stroll in downtown Kona, and see the funky shops and buildings, or drive through South Kona and see the tin roof shacks and coffee farms, you know that people actually live here and the place has not been “all dolled up” for the tourists.

We may not have big expensive shopping malls, in fact, we don’t have two story malls like they have in Maui or Oahu, at all. We have open air farmers markets, road side stands where they sell bananas, tacos, huli huli chicken, homemade sausages and fresh cut coconuts.

We also have what would appear to be “run down ruins” to many tourists. I saw some disapproving tourists the other day looking at the church in ruins near Kahulu’u Beach Park. I remember when I first arrived, I thought to myself, “When are they going to clean that up and put something decent there?” It’s such a perfect place for a bikini shop or a beach side bar. But, nope, nothing will probably ever be built there, because that church sits on the site of an ancient heaiu, a Hawaiian place of worship.

In fact, many “choice” pieces of property still hold ancient foundations, which is another thing that gives Kona its cultural flavor.  There are many places along the coast that have been restored to pay homage to the Hawaiian culture and new signs have gone up to explain a lot of the history to interested tourists. After traveling to Maui a few weeks ago, I’d pretty much say that the culture got mowed down on that island. (Unless you see the largest heaiu near Hana)

Another funky part of the island is that the local radio DJ’s have wonderful Hawaiian accents with a touch of pidgin. Turn on KAPA and hear the local dialect, providing another sense of the unique culture on this island. People also use “Mahalo” “Aloha” and “Pau” authentically, while they also greet you by kissing your cheek when they first meet you. Coming from Silicon Valley, where no one touches each other unless they know you pretty well, it’s still pretty new to me when I stick my hand out to shake someone else’s and they look at me strange and go for the cheek kiss instead. Hawaiians greet each other by pressing their foreheads together and then hug each other. It’s such a beautiful thing to see and you can feel the true sense of the word “Aloha” when they do it.

Did you know that “Haole” the word they call white/foreign people here, actually mean’s “Without ‘Ha.” Without the breath of spirit, basically. Because when Hawaiians press their foreheads together, they can feel each other’s breath. White folks did not have that custom and therefore, we were without the breath.

So, when I say “funky” in this post, I guess I mean “that of which I am not accustomed to coming from the Mainland”.  However, in the funk, I see culture, a sense of freedom and beauty and most of all, “Aloha”.  Can I get a shaka for that?

Spread the word if you love what you heard! #365kona so we can say Thanks!

Meet the Author

Julie Ziemelis

Julie Ziemelis is an entrepreneur, business owner, author, blogger and vlogger in Kailua Kona. She created and moderates the “365 Things to Do in Kona” page and the Kona Newbies group on Facebook. She blogs at and and vlogs with her husband, Eric, at “365Hawaii” on YouTube. Julie also authored the books, “How to Move to Kona” and the “Insiders Guide to Buying Real Estate on the Big Island of Hawaii”. You will most likely find Julie in Kona hiking, running, biking, taking photos and sharing Aloha.

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