Just off the coast of Maui, is a remote island called Molokai.
One must board an eight-person plane to get there. Though you feel every movement with the wind, it is totally worth it to see the huge cliffs of Molokai from the sky.
Molokai is a hidden gem, but it’s not for everyone, which is exactly why I fell in love with the Island and its people.
Sure, Molokai has a dark history, but it is rich in culture. The population of the entire island is that of the small town in which I now reside when I am in New England. Only 7,000 people. The locals scoff at white tourists, huge picket signs are found throughout the entire island that say in bold letters – ‘COME. SPEND. AND GO HOME’. It’s not exactly a warm welcoming. So why do I love it so much? It’s rich in beauty, serene in landscapes, and calming to the soul. It’s the perfect place to rejuvenate your spirit, to reconnect with yourself and to find clarity.
You can drive the whole island in one day. There is only one town on the entire Island. This is Old Hawaii. This is Hawaii before it became commercialized. It’s what the locals have fought so hard to hold onto, their unique culture and their way of life.
Despite the majority of the locals not liking tourists, I found Molokai a friendly place to be. I find that when traveling, go with an open heart and leave your spirit pure, the right people will gravitate towards you, and that’s exactly what my experience was.
Meet Uncle Yama.
It was a hot and sunny morning, when I had wondered into town (the one and only town on Molokai Island). I was sitting alone enjoying my most recent book when this man came over to greet me.
“My friend, I have a few spare moments of time, if you would like, I can share with you the culture and history of Molokai.”
Recognizing this man as an elder in this sacred community and knowing how rare this moment was, I closed my book and encouraged him to continue his story.
“We raise our children to respect their elders in all ways. We raise them to address their elders as Auntie or Uncle. It doesn’t matter the color of the skin, how recently you met, or from what part of the island you are from. If you see an elder across the street, you run to them, open the door and help them out of their car. When in public you offer them your seat and you always greet an elder whenever you see them.”
The proud man looks at me and says, “You are family now, and I am Uncle Yama.”
Uncle Yama continued to share with me that his mother had 13 kids that she delivered on her own. Her last child that she had, she gave birth to in the bushes, and cut the imbilical cord with her own teeth. And she had 108 great-grandkids the day she died (PBS did a documentary on her – Happy Birthday TuTu Ruth).
When Uncle Yama was 8 months old a Tsunami came in and brought their entire house in-land. Everyone (including the house) survived and they ended up spending the remainder of their days in the jungle near a waterfall.
Uncle Yama is the Sole Proprietor of a 14-person household. He is 74 years old. He works three jobs just to make ends meet and he loves teaching his grandkids the Molokai lifestyle. He sleeps only 3 hours every night and has the most vitality that I have ever witnessed in another human being. He says, “We live a very poor lifestyle, but it is because we know we are rich in all the important things in life.”
Their main source of income comes from this food truck – ‘A taste of Molokai’
Here they serve the worlds most delicous Poke Bowls.
Uncle Yama’s granddaughters sit on a cliff with binoculars, guiding the fishing crew with a walkie-talkie. Once the best fish are found, the nephews release a net and they wait for the tiger sharks to swim up and have a feast. Once the water settles, the nephews and Uncle Yama jump in the water (Yes, with the sharks!) and bring back the best the ocean has to offer.
As if swimming with sharks was no big deal, Uncle Yama revealed to me that when they hunt boar on the island, they only bring their pocket knives with them. Which means they must jump on the boar in order to catch it. He then went on to share with me that there are 100,000 deer on Molokai Island!
The last bit of wisdom that Uncle Yama left me with was the true meaning behind ‘Aloha’.
“How big is your Aloha? Your love. Aloha is much more than a simple greeting, it is a way of life.”
He went on to tell me about how his wife of 42 years almost divorced him when he was fighting the government. Which brings the conversation full circle. Why is it that the locals on Molokai despite tourists?
Like the other Islands of Hawaii, foreigners set out to commercialize Molokai. They even succeeded for ten years, building a 260 million five-star resort. Kepuhi Beach Resort. An exclusive resort that banned the locals from the islands most beautiful private beaches. But that’s not the thing that lead to Unlce Yama’s rebellion and near divorce. It was during this process the resort owners deemed it best to rid the island of the wretched animals that the locals consider to be sacred. They did so by shooting them from a helicopter and leaving them to rot.
This was the part of the conversation that Uncle Yama was most emotional about.
“My wife, she didn’t understand why I was so upset that they were shooting the pigs. She challenged me about my Aloha. But when I told her that the boars raised our families, they were the only thing we had to eat, and though we killed them, we respected them, we made sure they had a nice life and an easy death, we honored them. So, for two full years I lead the fight with the government. It was a very stressful time. But soon, the rest of the locals and I won, the resort was shut down, and we saved the future of many animals. What my wife didn’t understand was, I was fighting for our Aloha the whole time.”
Uncle Yama and I talked for well over an hour. The gratitude I feel for this man and his story is tremendous.
An hour later, I was standing in the middle of Kepuhi Beach Resort, laughing as I realized that I was indeed staying at the SAME abandoned resort!
They had opened a small section of the resort up to condos with a pool and beach access, but at a closer look, everything that surrounded me was boarded up. Walking around I couldn’t help but feel sad for the memories and the dreams that died here, it truly was a spectacular resort. Though I was happy that Molokai was able to successfully preserve their unique lifestyle.
Keep Molokai, Molokai. Old Hawaii. 🙂