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Honokaa 9 August 2021

2388 :

Last day: a history tour

We're spending our last day, apart from packing for our return, wandering around the historic sugar town of Honoka'a, a fascinating little slice of Hawaii's history.

I chose Honoka'a based on our previous stay here, when we were unable to find lodging in Hilo for the Merry Monarch Festival, when the Hotel Club Honoka'a was the only available accommodations, an hour-plus away. I got a sense this was another of those little kipukas – in Hawaiian, the word for a little island of original vegetation spared by a lava flow, but in this context used by old-time Hawaiians to describe a slice of original Hawaii relatively unaffected by the onslaught of tourism and “progress” like Hawi and to a certain extent, Hilo itself.

Of course Hawaii's fragile traditions, like the quilt, are treasures that may not long survive. And so I feel fortunate that our last glimpse of Hawaii is here.

2389 :

2390 :

Hamakua is sometimes called “the Sugar Coast” because toward the end of the 19th Century, when Hawaii was relatively undeveloped, it looked like paradise to many, many peoples whose existence was strained by economics and crop failures: the Portuguese from the islands had experienced years of orange crop failures, and had sugar cropping expertise and horsemanship. The Japanese were overcrowded and looking for new islands to settle. These are the components that, with the kanaka maoli, native Hawaiians, settled this windy, rainy, fertile coast.

2391 :

As I already noted, we're staying at the Hotel Honoka'a Club, founded by a Japanese family in 1911 to care for the cane workers, paniolos (cowboys), and traveling salesmen (“drummers”) that came through town. There was wealth and opportunity in this town, and Main Street, first called Government Road, now Mamane Street, is lined with wonderful turn-of-the-century wooden buildings. Our wonderful Hawaiian-born hostess, Annelle, welcomes us in 2013, and again found a place for our family (that require four rooms) in her venerable establishment. Like every 100-plus year old building, it's a labor of love to hold the old girl together.

2392 :

Just down the street, the People's Theatre building, also a landmark in the National Register of Historic Places, reveals a bit about the spirit of cross-cultural equality that prevailed in Hawaii during the first decades of the 20th Century. According to Annelle, the spirit continues; driving past the schools this morning (all clustered together in an impressive complex) the ethnic salad that is still Honoka'a was evident.

2393 :

We lunched today at Andrade's, a re-imagined version of a restaurant in the same building, built by an immigrant Portuguese family from the Azores and Madeira. Our lovely wait-person, also the family CFO managing the whole building, recounted their recent history, beginning with her youthful apprenticeship in her Grandmother's restaurant “behind that wall” that endowed the new place with the recipe for the Sweet Bread on which our pork sliders were served. “We perfected the pork recipe,” she added proudly. 

With a green papaya salad, delicious lunch! Again effacing the need for dinner.

2394 :

Annelle poked her head in and spoke at some length of the strength and resilience of the Honoka'a community, the way it “takes care of its own” in the manner, I guess, of small, historically stable towns like itself Caspar would like to be. As she spoke I was thinking about how our travels so often seem to focus on kipukas like that, and the necessary process that might turn Caspar into such a social paradise.

2395 :

Clearly, over the years, shared concerns and campaigns must go a long way toward building the trust and community that solidify a random gathering of homes and businesses into such an entity – in Caspar, we have a long way to go.

2396 :

Everywhere on this trip, we have seen the effects of the recent plague we have all lived through – closed businesses, empty shops – and have not seen the inevitable distress that such closures and vacancies have caused: a generalized loss of our collective sense of humor, of welfare, progress, rightness. Seems like here it will regenerate more surely and quickly than in less diverse communities. 


And yet, it's raining again, hard: the rain that makes these fertile hillsides so productive, whether it be Macadamia nuts, Sugar cane, or cattle also keeps the tourists away.

And “away” is where we'll be going at this time tomorrow! Aloha!

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