The People of Molokai

The people of Molokai are a friendly and hardy bunch. They come from a rich history of struggle, selflessness, and human triumph. The result is a modern community that is decidedly laidback, unpretentious, and kind. The atmosphere is

The stats

Molokai is only the fifth largest island in the state of Hawaii. The number of local residents is only about eight thousand, and most of them are working in the plantations, ranches, and tourist establishments. The island of Molokai is actually just 38 by 10 miles big. Kaunakakai is its biggest town, and is also the location of the island’s two ports.

Small town, big Heart

Many visitors are often surprised by how friendly and caring the locals get. These visitors, after all, are more used to the hustle bustle of metropolitan cities – places where you don’t stop to say hello and just scurry about doing your own business.

The people of Molokai do not give in to this impersonal lifestyle. One of the things that the traveler will notice, when he or she sets foot in the island, is the kindheartedness that surrounds him or her. This is not a society of me! me! me! Living is simple here, and people can always afford to extend kindness towards others, even to those coming from foreign countries.

The alohas are well-meant. There is always a sincere gesture of caring, even towards strangers. The people are always open. There is no holding back when it comes to visitors; and you won’t feel any tinge of embarrassment if you approach a local for directions or help, or just to chat. The aloha spirit is alive and well in Molokai.

Roots to the past

Perhaps this generally pleasing disposition is rooted to Molokai’s complex past.

Molokai is largely known – then and now – as the leper island. Its town of Kalaupapa was where patients with Hansen’s Disease were banished before cure was developed in the 1940s. During this time, there was a stigma associated with the disease, and colonies seemed like the best appeasement to the general public.

When the Molokai leper colony was established, people with the disease were left to fend for themselves. They were brought to the island by boat. However, the boats were not to dock on the shores of the islands. Patients had to jump overboard and swim to shore. Supplies were delivered the same way. There was so much public fear and loathing of stricken persons that, in a way, they were on their own, in this isolated island.

Father Damien de Veuster was a Belgian priest who came into Hawaii initially to administer at the Big Island’s North Kohala town. This was in 1865, a time of Hawaii’s public health crises, where new and deadly diseases were being introduced into the population by seamen and traders. Diseases included syphilis, influenza, and leprosy.

The king back then was King Kamahameha V; and he decreed to quarantine those afflicted with leprosy in a remote section of Molokai. There were no apt health program back then, and the government had just planned on giving the patients supplies and fertile land to plant on. However, since the disease is debilitating, this was nearly impossible. The banished citizens began to veer towards wayward practices. Public drunkenness was common, and there was little or no hope.

After much thought and prayer, Father Damien stepped in and volunteered to administer to the banished citizens of Kalaupapa, Molokai. The priest was presented to the patients as "one who will be a father to you, and who loves you so much that he does not hesitate to become one of you; to live and die with you."

Father Damien then proceeded to rebuild the community and revive the hope of its people. In a matter of months, churches, schools, and homes were built. Basic rules were established, and farms were put up. The once downtrodden attitudes had given way to revived hope. The friendly and joyous dispositions seeped back in.

Father Damien was the symbol of selflessness. He did indeed become the father of the stricken. He built homes for them, cared for their wounds, and buried them when the time came. He helped paint their houses and plant crops. He made the community turn around, and became an example of triumph. His message of servitude rang out throughout the world. The plight of Hansen’s disease victims became known, and help came in.

By the time Father Damien himself suffered from leprosy, there were already trickles of support from the outside world. A couple of other church volunteers came in. At the same time, a handful of medical professionals helped administer to the health needs of the community.

This put the community back up on its feet, renewing the aloha spirit that has always been there – only this time, stronger and more real.

Outside Kalaupapa

Of course, Molokai was not limited to Kalaupapa. Several communities were situated around the leper colony, albeit within epidemic-safe distances.

The first communities in Molokai were said to have been made up of settlers from the Marquesas, Tahiti, and other South Pacific islands, although there was no written history about this during the early times. It was only during Captain James Cook’s landing on the island when there were documentations of foreign visits – this time, by European explorers.

Soon, missionaries made their way into Molokai’s east end, where there was a population of about five thousand. They built a church, with relics that still stand today.

Supposedly, the earliest settlement in the island was in the Halawa Valley. This was because of the area’s rich resources. The land was fertile, and there were plenty of water sources. At the same time, it was near the ocean and allowed them to partake of sea’s bounties. Aquaculture became prevalent for some time (it has only seen some revival in the present.) This is also a testament to the people’s reliance on nature – the land for bountiful harvests, and the seas for fish and seafood.

Molokai - its people today

These early communities, both within the Kalaupapa town and outside, make up the backbone of who the people of Molokai are now – sturdy, kind, and friendly people who have an intricate relationship with nature and its bounties.

It is no wonder that the island is often referred to as "The Most Hawaiian Island." Even when there are migrant residents today, the core of the island remains truly Hawaiian.

Speaking to a Molokai local - communication made easy

Even though Hawaii is an American state, its pacific island roots remain intact. Hence, there are certain language intricacies you should be aware of when speaking to a local. These refer to Hawaiian and English words that take on various meanings when in Molokai. It is good to note that most, if not all, Hawaiian words have spiritual foundations. These should not be taken lightly and should be spoken with accuracy and respect. Hence, it is important to know the basics about the language, especially for conversing with a local.

Here are some examples:
1. Aloha: This, of course, is probably the most well-known Hawaiian word. It is somewhat tantamount to saying “Hello.” It actually means love, respect, regard, and greetings,
2. Mahalo: Another common word, this one is often taken to mean “thank you.” True enough, it can mean “grateful,” as well as praise and esteem.
3. Kane and Wahine: These are terms used to refer to man and woman, respectively. They are also sometimes used as husband and wife.
4. Ae: This is a term to mean “yes” or “in agreement.”
5. A’ole: This means no, the opposite of Ae.
6. Ohana: This is the word for “family.”
7. Keiki: Meaning “child,” this word is often used in association with Ohana, and Kane and Wahine.
8. Pau: This means “done” or “over with.”

To say thank you to a local, it would be nice to say Mahalo Nui. This means “thank you very much.” If someone says thank you to you, you might want to say “A’ole Pilikia.” This means “no problem” or “no trouble.” If you have to excuse yourself, say from a discussion, you say "E Kala mai ia'u."

Being an American state, English is also widely used around the island. Of course, some terms may take on a more local meaning. Plus, English may have mixed in with several local languages, resulting in a totally different and foreign sounding term. In conversing with a local, it is important to know some of these.

1. Shaka: This refers to the “rock on” finger gesture, where the middle fingers are folded in a fist, leaving the thumb and pinkie protruding. This is the local way to say “good job.” You are likely to see this often as it is as popular as the wave.
2. Brah: This means close friend, much like how “bro” is used nowadays.
3. Da kine: This refers to something with a name you cannot remember. Say, you bought something and forgot what it was when talking about it to a friend. You use “da kine” to refer to it.
4. Geev’um: This sounds like “give some” with a silent S. It means “go for it!”
5. Howzit: This is a common street greeting that means “what’s up?” It sound like a shortened “how is it?”
6. K-den: This is a shortened version of “okay then.”