The People of Lanai

Part of its small island charm is the unspoiled nature that makes it a tropical paradise. Lanai is painted with greenery because of its verdant rainforests and long stretch of grasslands. The setting sun also adds to the color of its surroundings, as it slowly fades into an orange sky, casting its shadow on the blue-sky ocean. The scenery, however, is not the only thing that's brightly painted. Lanai also has a colorful history, which makes this island worthy to be explored and discovered. The colorful history of the people of Hawaii is reflected through arts and its tradition, as seen on its lei, quilt, and the Hula.


The first settlers in Lanai were the Marquesas. They were Polynesians who came to the island more than a thousand years ago. Later, the Tahitians came to live in this island. During that time, Lanai was still regarded as an evil land, a place where sorcerers reside. Visiting Lanai back then was "kapu" or forbidden. In order to drive away the evil spirit, Prince Kaulalaau, a son of a Maui chief, exorcised the island. But this is just one of the legends about the Lanai Island. Some said that the prince was banished to the island and actually surprised many when glowing fire were seen from Maui. The Maui chief recognized his son's courage and let him take control of the island. The prince then encouraged people from other islands to inhabit the isolated Lanai.

According to some accounts, it was only in the 15th century that people started to come in waves to inhabit this island. In 1790, Lanai became part of the Kingdom of Hawaii after Kamehameha the Great unified the islands. At first, some of the native inhabitants opposed the great king's reign over the land, which led to mass killings. With no match to his weapons and power, eventually, they submitted to his rule.

Traders, whalers, and missionaries came to this island and cast their indelible influences in the culture and tradition of the people of Lanai. The course of Lanai history took a major turn when James Dole arrived in the island in 1922 and started his pineapple plantation. Because of the labor force required to run the plantation, jobs are plentiful in the island. People from various locations around the world migrated to Lanai to work in the pineapple plantation. Koreans, the Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos, and Portuguese are some of the early immigrants of this island. Producing a large part of the world's pineapple supply, it earned the nickname "The Pineapple Island."

Like the rest of the islands of Hawaii, Lanai is a melting pot of various cultures. The culture of the contemporary Lanaians can't be traced back to one specific group of people, because Hawaiian culture is actually a hodgepodge of cultural influences. The people of Lanai takes pride in this. In fact, the locals celebrate cultural diversity through its many festivals and events. One of the famous festivals in Lanai is the Festival of Aloha. This event is held usually in September to showcase the traditional dance in Hawaii, its music and history.


The rich culture and tradition of the people of Lanai are reflected through their contemporary way of living. The sea food dishes that people in this island used to prepare are still present in local home tables and restaurants. Poi from taro is still considered a staple food of people in this island. The Kalua pig is also one of the popular dishes served during special occasions. Aside from its local cuisines, the island also takes pride in its dances and songs that came from the ancient settlers. The Lanaians of today, like the thousands of people who came before them, still perform the Hula and play the ukulele to greet visitors or to make the celebrations a great deal merrier.

Lanai is also home to folklore. The history of the island itself is deeply rooted to the myths and legends concocted by the early settlers. Lanai was once known as the "island of the ghost," inhabited by man-eating spirits and fiendish ghouls that are controlled by the sorceress Pahulu. It was said the the spirits were exorcised by Kaululaau, which encouraged people from other islands to inhabit the then secluded Lanai. Many people, even today, believe that there are still spirits roaming around the island. Some believe in the stories of the old about the Night Marchers who roam at night beating their drums, trying to find the entrance to the other world, or going to a battle to avenge their untimely death.

The stunning features of the island were also the setting of interesting legends. The beautiful rock formation Pu'u Pehe (the Sweetheart Rock) is said to be the place where the body of a young girl from Maui (Pu'u Pehe), who died of drowning, is buried by her lover. According to some, this 80-ft. rock is haunted by ghosts.

A vacation to Lanai won't be complete if you miss the amazing Keahikawelo, also known as the Garden of the Gods. This garden is not of lush greenery and blooming flowers. Instead, what you will see here are boulders and rocks of different shapes, sizes, and colors. Science explains the amazing rock formation as a result of the thousands years of erosion. However, the ancient people of Hawaii have their own stories to tell about the existence of this unique geological feature. The fascinating legends reflect the ingenuity of the ancient Lanaians in making up stories to explain the peculiarities of the things around them. One legend, for instance, tells that the rocks were formed to serve as a vessel that would house the spirits of the Hawaiian warriors. Another legend says that the boulders were accidentally dropped from the sky when gods tended their garden. Another story claims that these rocks and boulders are sculptures made by the gods who enjoyed artworks. In order to sculpt the rocks, the gods created strong winds.

The people of Lanai today

There are more than 3,000 people who consider Lanai their home. In this island, there is no such thing as ethnic majority, because everyone is part of a minority. Many Lanaians even claim that they have "mixed ethnicity." English and Hawaiian are the languages commonly used by people here; English is the spoken language, but Hawaiian remains the language of the heart for some. There are several people who use the Hawaiian Pidgin, a combination of English, Hawaiian, and other languages. In the past, the residents of Lanai earned their living by working in the pineapple plantation, but after the plantation closed down and tourism opened, many residents are now working in hotels, restaurants, and other tourism-related workplaces.

The people of Lanai are best known for being laid-back. They are also among the world's friendliest people, always ready with their warm smiles to show their courtesy and generosity to visitors. Like their surroundings, their warmth and generosity are bountiful.

Those who call Lanai their home deeply appreciates nature's gift of beauty to their land. The Lanaians make efforts to protect their old fishing villages and the amazing topographical features of the place such as the Keahikawelo and the numerous beaches. Compared to other Hawaiian islands, Lanai is less developed. Not all areas are densely inhabited. In fact, there's no stop lights and barely any paved road. People here embrace simple ways of living and are very accommodating to guests who visit their island.

Although the island is relatively small, it has so much to offer in terms of natural wonders and activities. For city dwellers and impassioned travelers, the small island is a tropical paradise to rediscover. This is probably why its residents can't leave the island and tourists come to Lanai all-year round. The beaches in the island are not just ideal for swimming, they are also good spots for snorkeling, kayaking, and other thrilling water activities. One of the popular beaches here is the Hulopoe Beach. It is a wide stretch of sand surrounded by the azure water of the Pacific. Here, you will also get the chance to catch a glimpse of Spinner dolphins. With world-famous beaches, you can expect people here to be fun-loving and athletic. Often you'll see them lounging by the beach with sands between their toes and basking in the warmth of the sun or seaside breeze. Many of them are also into water sports such as surfing, swimming, diving, and kayaking.

There are so many things to do in Lanai, uncovering the rich history of the place, listening to the tales explaining how the wonderful structures came into being, experiencing the warmth of Lanaian welcome, and basking in the beauty and calmness that the place brings to everyone. The seclusion of the place and the rustic simplicity of the people's lifestyle also make the island an ideal place if you want to escape the bustling city life. The natural beauty and the serenity of the place will surely keep you at peace and reinvigorate your spirit.