“Why Do I Have to Learn the Culture of Hawaii?” And Other Newbie Questions


I received a question from someone on one of the my Facebook groups who is considering moving to Hawaii Island.

“Why is it that everyone is encouraged so strongly to learn Hawaiian culture to visit or live there? This same demand for learning culture is not required on people who live in Hawaii or any other person coming to the mainland or any other country. No one is required to learn the history of California or any other state to live there.”

Why Learn the Culture?

To learn about Hawaiian culture is to learn about respect for the land, ocean and the people. You may have heard that there is tension between tourists and locals in Hawaii. When you treat people with kindness and aloha, and try your best to remember the culture and customs here, you will see that the mirror of respect is returned.

It’s a pretty well known fact that when you show up in Paris, the locals can be downright rude when you have not shown the time and energy to learn French! This is not just a Hawaii experience, its an experience that shows up when you visit a place where the locals have a deep respect for THEIR OWN culture and language.

I’m not an anthropologist, but it’s like being invited to dinner at a strangers home. You may wish to ask what kind of food the host enjoys beforehand, or what is the custom of greeting or departing or the appropriate attire, or all the little things that make up culture, but can either leave the hosts with a feeling that you took the time to help make THEIR time comfortable and happy and not just what YOU took out of it. Get it?

Can you imagine inviting people into your home time and time again and each time the guests showed up less and less prepared to help make you feel better about inviting people over?

Waipio Valley Taro Farmer Story 

I had the good fortune of speaking to a taro farmer down in Waipio Valley. We had driven on the  county road, crossed the river and had parked to stand and peer into the back of the beautiful valley.  Well, as we were standing there with our visiting friends, the farmer/land owner approached us and let us know we were trespassing! (In as nice of a way as you can let people know that). We told him we were sorry and thought that we were on the County road. When he saw that we were truly sorry and apologized, he told us that he had had similar run in’s with less kind visitors who called him names and refused to move their Jeeps.

You can imagine why he wants the road blocked before the river. (Which I think he as done by now)  He also said he found photos on Instagram of male tourists standing on the birthing rock in the back of the valley near the waterfall where people are not supposed to go..he said he had never been there himself, as it was Kapu for men to be there. When he saw that we were shocked and equally dismayed, he told us a few more stories and we gained MUCH insight into why there is anger towards visitors who are not only ignorant of customs and trespass, but are downright rude to a local like that farmer. (KAPU means NO TRESPASSING)

Why Learn the History?

The Hawaiians are called the host culture. Many visitors come unaware that Hawaii has sensitivities that are quite alive in the people who still have strong ties to their ancestors way of life. When I first arrived here, I did not know the story of the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom. 

When you start to read, listen and learn, you get a very clear picture of what happened in the Hawaiian islands over the past few hundred years and how it may taint the perceptions of those whose ancestors went through it.  Learn more about customs, etiquette, tips for fitting in. 

ALoha in Sand(Updated- One of the members of my Kona Newbies group asked a question about the native Hawaiians (Kanaka Maoli) views on mainlanders buying land in Hawaii. As housing and land prices continue to skyrocket, many Hawaiians AND local residents, are increasingly seeing their opportunity for homeownership of the land they call home, evaporate. Watching your family and friends have to move off the islands because they can not even hope to live here and own property, causes frustration and yes, anger. So, if you choose to move here, please come with a lens of understanding and PLEASE don’t say things like “it’s happening all over the country”. An indigenous culture is not losing ancestral homelands on the mainland, so please read up on the history to get some cultural sensitivity to this issue.)

Here is an important story from Queen Liliuokalani herself:  Buy the Book/Read an excerpt 

Why Learn About Aloha?

As I shared in a recent book I wrote about moving here the first time,  I met a young Hawaiian man who shared with my husband and I that Aloha is a circle. You give kindness, respect, love and good energy to people (and the land!) and it comes back. You can not take more than you give or you break the circle.  One of the absolute treasures of these islands is the Aloha spirit -the kindness that permeates the culture. I have heard dozens of stories from my friends who live in the islands that when they go back to where they came from on the mainland, they notice that people are impatient, intolerant, rude, curt, and just sometimes mean.

Wouldn’t you want to preserve a way of life that just FELT GOOD? Young people greeting you by calling you Auntie or Uncle, people being courteous and actually going out of their way to help you if you need it and no honking! It’s a beautiful thing and it’s VALUABLE. And you HAVE TO SHARE INTO IT. So, when you get nudged by people who may have only lived here for a short time and have absolutely no Hawaiian genes in their body, it’s because the Hawaiians created a way of life that is worth preserving and teaching others about.

Eric and Julie Ziemelis provide a complimentary real estate match making service for people considering buying or selling a home in Hawaii. We connect you to our trusted, knowledgeable, and experienced agents. We also provide private Facebook groups to learn more about buying a home in Hawaii and living successfully and building community. Email us to learn more [email protected] or visit MoveToHawaii365.com 

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 365Kona.com and MoveToHawaii365.com 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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