Day 0: Arrival in Waikīkī in the dead of night
The view from our hostel in Waikīkī on the night of our arrival.
Last time we traveled to Hawaiʻi (in 2010) we tried so hard to avoid Waikīkī. While on the island of Oʻahu we stayed in Mānoa near the University of Hawaiʻi. But this year, with our favorite hostel booked, we had to find a place to stay in Waikīkī. It wasn't really as bad as we thought it would be, but we did spend the first two nights looking around us in amazement at how Disneyland-ish/Las Vegas-style the whole district is. And of course, it is just swarming with American and Japanese tourists—including us!
Things close down early in Hawaiʻi—at least that's how it seems to us New Yorkers, where you never have any trouble finding a restaurant open at 10 or 11pm, or even midnight, to have a late dinner.
But in Waikīkī, one of the few places still open when we arrived was an Udon joint on Kuhio Ave.
First dinner in Hawaiʻi: udon bowl for $6.
On the plane from New York, I told my wife that I didn't want to eat Japanese food in Hawaiʻi if we could help it, since we can get that kind of food all the time in NYC. Instead, I wanted to eat "Hawaiian" food. Of course, what "Hawaiian food" is is up to interpretation. Sometimes "Hawaiian" food, for me, means traditional items like kalua pork, ahi poke, poi, haupia, et cetera. But sometimes, as we found out at a popular "Hawaiian" restaurant later in our trip, it means fried meat/fish, white rice, and macaroni salad—Hawaiʻi's famous "plate lunch." To ask which is the true Hawaiian food is simply to ask the wrong question. Hawaiʻi is a super diverse place; so is Hawaiian food.
Day 1: Exploring Honolulu
Good morning Waikīkī!
Morning view from our hostel in Waikīkī.
We scheduled one day in Honolulu at the beginning of our trip before heading over to Hawaiʻi Island, aka the Big Island, for three nights of camping (on that, see my next post).
We grabbed breakfast on the border between Waikīkī and Ala Moana—after a bit of a walk—at a 24-hour diner, the Wailana Coffeehouse.
First breakfast in Hawaiʻi: waffles with strawberries, a "Chinese style" omelette (with shrimp and soy sauce!), hashbrowns, toast, pineapple slices, and damn good coffee. (Sorry New York, but Hawaiʻi definitely has better coffee than you do!)
Then we took the bus downtown to our first stop of the day: Kawaiahaʻo Church.
Kawaiahaʻo Church, Honolulu
Kawaiahaʻo was built in the late 1830s. The first company of Christian missionaries to the Hawaiian Islands arrived in 1820. So this was just a decade or two later. As such, Kawaiahaʻo is one of the oldest standing church buildings in the Islands. The church began on this site in the 1820s with a structure built of pili grass, in the traditional Hawaiian manner of hale (building) construction, but it was later replaced with this edifice. And what is this edifice built of? Coral, actually.
The quarried coral walls of Kawaiahaʻo Church
Inside, it looks sort of like any other church. Although there are distinctly Hawaiian characteristics, too, and not just nā hae Hawaiʻi, the Hawaiian flags hanging above the pews.
The interior of Kawaiahaʻo Church
On the second floor of the church is additional seating as well as portraits of numerous aliʻi nui (royalty/nobility), including the monarchs of the Hawaiian Kingdom (1795-1893).
On the walls of the first floor are various stone tablets memorializing the mostly haole (white) pastors of the church who helped spread the gospel of Jesus in these "pagan isles" (as the early missionaries would have put it).
I didn't really want to see too much missionary history while in the Islands, cause like most historians (and like many Hawaiians), I tend to see the history of the Christian mission in Hawaiʻi (1820-1863?) as a history of colonialism—through ideas and through the modification of behavior—that directly led to the outright colonialism of the 1890s (and continuing), instigated by the children of those missionaries. But, ya know, I keep an open mind. And despite being a skeptical Jew and a historian of ka moʻolelo o nā makaʻāinana (the history of common people), I can still find a lot of joy and wonder in visiting an old church, whether in Honolulu or in New York.
Behind Kawaiahaʻo Church is a small cemetery. Here are buried all the famous missionaries (or at least a lot of their descendants).
The cemetery behind Kawaiahaʻo Church
I was able to recognize most of the last names from my study of nineteenth century Hawaiian history. These were the families that eventually took over Hawaiʻi in the 1890s.
Look! Even Sanford Dole, the first President of the Republic of Hawaiʻi after the monarchy was overthrown in 1893 (and later the first Territorial Governor of Hawaiʻi under U.S. control), is buried here.
The graves of Doles. George and Sanford were brothers. Their father was a missionary to Hawaiʻi. George worked on sugar plantations in the late nineteenth century; Sanford was a judge. The rest, they say, is history. (Oh, and James Dole—the pineapple dude—was their cousin.)
Also present on the grounds of Kawaiahaʻo Church is the tomb of Lunalilo, Hawaiʻi's first "elected" monarch. He served for about one year before dying in 1874. The Constitution of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi stipulated that if a monarch died and no heir was named then the Legislature of the Kingdom would elect the next monarch. This happened upon the death of Kamehameha V in the early 1870s. Although the legislature could have picked anyone, the government yet held a public election where they let the public cast votes for the next monarch. Lunalilo ran against the future king, Kalākaua, and Lunalilo won the popular vote.
Above the mausoleum's entrance it reads: Lunalilo Ka Moi. "Ka Mōʻī" means "The King."
The tomb of Lunalilo, mōʻī of the Hawaiian Kingdom (1874)
Our next stop on Day 1 was the Hawaiʻi State Art Museum, housed in a very nice building from the 1920s in a style I will call "American tropical colonial," cause that's what it basically is. (Wikipedia says it is the "Spanish mission style.")
Hawaiʻi State Art Museum, Honolulu
We had no idea what their collection would be like. Turns out it comprises mostly twentieth century work, but the museum does a good job cultivating new work from contemporary artists, too, so there was some interesting twenty-first century material here as well. The museum also does a good job balancing the representation of Native Hawaiian (Kanaka Maoli) artists with those of non-Hawaiian descent, especially Asian-American artists in Hawaiʻi.
Perhaps my favorite works in the museum were photographs. Photographs of Kahoʻolawe showing the effect of decades of U.S. military testing there were stunning but heartbreaking. And I also really liked the work of Kapulani Landgraf. Her piece, "ʻĀpuakehau Heiau" (1993—made on the 100th anniversary of the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom), is shown here. What she has done is tracked down the site of the historic ʻĀpuakehau heiau (a religious temple), a site on Oʻahu now thoroughly developed and transformed. By writing the moʻolelo (history) of this heiau onto her photograph of the site, Landgraf restores the past to the present.
A work by artist Kapulani Landgraf at the Hawaiʻi State Art Museum
We then walked past Washington Place, the home of Queen Liliʻuokalani, but it was closed to visitors.
Washington Place (built 1846), Honolulu
For lunch, we ate at a place called Hukilau (named for a traditional Hawaiian fishing technique). I didn't take any photos of our meal, but it was good. Back on the street, walking around, we took Beretania Street (named for Great Britain, transliterated into Hawaiian in the early nineteenth century as "Beretania"—although in contemporary Hawaiian it should be spelled/pronounced "Pelekania") to the Honolulu Academy of Arts, our next destination.
The Honolulu Academy of Arts
The Honolulu Academy museum is a like a little Met—I know that's a snobby New York City perspective, but that's what it reminded me of. Their collection is quite expansive: Hawaiian and Pacific Islander art; East Asian, South Asian, and Southeast Asian art; European and Euro-American art. We spent hours there. Of course, we went straight to the gallery of Hawaiian art first. As with the State Art Museum, I found a lot of interesting things, but I'll just post one image: an anonymous painting from the 1850s that says a little something about Hawaiian history. (But if you want to know about the story behind another painting in the Hawaiian art gallery, you can check out my earlier post about Hubert Vos' "very fishy painting"!).
Anonymous, "The Burning of the Harbor Master's House, Honolulu" (1852), Honolulu Academy of Arts
Besides The Lei Maker—which is everyone's favorite painting at the Academy—this was my favorite. Yes, it is by an anonymous painter, probably a haole, but who knows. It tells the story of a riot of whalemen in Honolulu (not a rare occurrence during the height of Hawaiian whaling in the 1840s and 1850s—on this, see chapter 4 of my dissertation...haha). This one was memorable, though, for the rioters set fire to the Harbor Master's House. Being that I've been looking at the records of the Honolulu Harbor Master in the State Archives here (more on that in a future post), I found the above painting to be very interesting.
I'm not sure what the painting tells us. Who are all these people? Many of them wear funny hats. They all look like firemen. So where are the riotous whalemen? Where are the Hawaiians? The painting raises lots of questions, and the answers will have to wait for another day (and perhaps a future post).
Lastly, before heading back to Waikīkī for the evening, we stopped at the Ward Center to visit my favorite Hawaiian bookstore, Nā Mea Hawaiʻi (my translation: Hawaiian stuff). Their translation: "Native Books."
Nā Mea Hawaiʻi, a great bookstore for students of Hawaiian history, language, and culture
Having to buy something—last time we were here, three years ago, I bought a copy of British missionary William Ellis' 1823 narrative of a tour of Hawaiʻi—I actually found something I really, really needed: Pukui and Elbert's Hawaiian Grammar. Their dictionary is great (and actually essential), but feeling like my Hawaiian-English translations are still pretty bad, I'd say after two years of language study that it is time to get to work on polishing my grammar. So here goes!
Well, that evening we got drunk at Uncle Bo's near the Ala Wai canal. Walked home in the rain. "Home" as in our hostel in Waikīkī. It was a great first day in Hawaiʻi. The next morning we would wake up at 5 AM to get to the airport to catch a flight to Hilo. To find out what we experienced on the Big Island of Hawaiʻi, please read my next post (which I will hopefully write within a day or two)...
Mahalo for reading!