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  #1  
Old May 8th, 2012, 09:25 PM
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pzarquon pzarquon is offline
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Exclamation Paul Theroux on Hawaii: "So uncooperative, so complex in its division"

Paul Theroux’s Quest to Define Hawaii
For this renowned travel writer, no place has proved harder to decipher than his home for the past 22 years

Renowned travel writer Paul Theroux has lived in Hawaii for two decades, but in this piece for +Smithsonian Magazine, explains why he "is still trying to make sense of it all." He writes of not getting help translating a Hawaiian chant (netting a 'xenophobic' reply), of being rebuffed at a UH library (illustrative of the 'insular and uninviting' university overall), of not being offered a tour of a voyaging canoe despite offering some of his own local honey.

His ultimate conclusion, that Hawaii eludes any simple definition, is absolutely correct. But his tone throughout suggests that he's largely frustrated because islanders, failing to recognize his preeminence, are understandably reluctant to let him tell their stories. After living here 22 years, I'm sad to think that his understanding of our islands is no deeper than that of a typical weekend tourist.

I shared this article on Facebook, and got quite a few thoughtful responses, from "too busy making labels, no time to live the culture," to "It is really a bridge, an invite for the malihini/kamaaina to examine themselves and their dominant culture and economy more deeply... Maybe too a bit of a elbow to the locals as well to speak and stand up for themselves and the aina."

Your thoughts?
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  #2  
Old May 8th, 2012, 11:38 PM
Leo Lakio Leo Lakio is offline
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Default Re: Paul Theroux on Hawaii: "So uncooperative, so complex in its division"

Not so much my thoughts here, but rather those of a friend who is also working on trying to understand Hawai`i:
http://www.nerdseyeview.com/blog/201...writers-block/

Ryan, you know the author - Pam. She and I have had many conversations about being outsiders who, for whatever reasons, have been allowed a bit more of a peek into the inner workings of Island culture than many other visitors.
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  #3  
Old May 9th, 2012, 12:27 AM
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Red face Re: Paul Theroux on Hawaii: "So uncooperative, so complex in its division"

Thanks for sharing that. It expresses a similar idea, without the frustrated entitlement.

He's written similar pieces before. Seems we've been confusing him for a while.

Happily a State, Forever an Island
Quote:
Individuality is not prized; the family — the ’ohana — is the important social unit. But this Polynesian ideal of the family group, or the clan, extends to other communities. It is as though living on the limited terra firma of an island inspires people to form incurious metaphorical islands, like the Elks and the other exclusive clubs of the past. Even today, the University of Hawaii is an island that has almost no presence in the wider community. And each church, each valley, each ethnic group, each neighborhood is insular — not only the upscale enclaves like Kahala or Koko Head, but the more modest ones too.
The City: Honolulu
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The city is sprawling and hard to define. Look closer and you see not a city but a collection of seaside neighborhoods, backed by the folded cliffs and ancient lava flows; the creases now softened by the greenest foliage imaginable. I live in a small rural settlement some distance away, but I like Honolulu because it seems more a small town with pretensions than a real city.
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  #4  
Old May 9th, 2012, 03:39 AM
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Default Re: Paul Theroux on Hawaii: "So uncooperative, so complex in its division"

Trying to understand Hawaii is like trying to understand the smell of a beautiful flower.
Hawaii is to be experienced ,not "understood".
The milieu of Pauls upbringing may have defined his lack of vision or insight.
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  #5  
Old May 9th, 2012, 11:55 AM
Honoruru Honoruru is offline
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Default Re: Paul Theroux on Hawaii: "So uncooperative, so complex in its division"

This is a fascinating read. Aside from Theroux’s myriad attempts to get to know the real Hawai‘i, I agree with much of his observation. Hawai‘i is indeed complex, much more than we may want to admit.
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  #6  
Old May 9th, 2012, 10:40 PM
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GregLee GregLee is offline
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Default Re: Paul Theroux on Hawaii: "So uncooperative, so complex in its division"

I think Hawaii society is unusually clannish -- not open to change from outside influences. In that way, maybe it's something like the French, with some measure of cultural xenophobia. If there's any truth to that, and it's only my impression, it's very difficult to understand how it could have come about, in historical terms, since so many disparate cultures came together here.

So I'm probably wrong, but I thought I saw something of that xenophobia in the responses to Theroux's writing on Ryan's Facebook page. If Theroux wanted to assimilate to local culture, that would be fine, and he'd be welcome, but that we should change to meet him part way? Not a chance. We're not going to change who we are.
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  #7  
Old May 10th, 2012, 03:10 AM
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Default Re: Paul Theroux on Hawaii: "So uncooperative, so complex in its division"

Hawaii is a group of islands and that would certainly contribute to a sense of local
identity based on locale.
A decent sea voyage was needed just to talk between the islands power elites.
Given what happened after the large scale destruction of the Hawaiian Islanders en masse it is hardly surprising that a xenophobic skepticism should exist.
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  #8  
Old May 10th, 2012, 09:08 PM
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Kaonohi Kaonohi is offline
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Default Re: Paul Theroux on Hawaii: "So uncooperative, so complex in its division"

My experience in Hawai`i is that there are at least two (perhaps more) levels of interaction.

First is the immediate family. They are almost a unit, away from all else.

Second is the nationality. I say this based on the origin of the family; there are full Hawaiians, hapa Hawaiians, Samoans, Tongans, Micronesians, then Portuguese, Caucasians, and Orientals, then 'others.'

Third we have cultural and semi-cultural groups: Polynesians (and perhaps Micronesians), Early invasions (elite Caucasians), Early immigrants (Portuguese), Later invasions (Caucasians), and later immigrants (Orientals).

Cutting through what I can see is: Kama`aina Haoles and immigrant Haoles - definitely different cultural groups.

Also there are differences from one island to another.

We are not an integrated society, but a loosely woven and somewhat tolerant society (praise aloha!). Each separate group has a different level of integration with others, and I wouldn't touch that subject with one full-grown bamboo!

We are much like a conglomeration of mice, rats, squirrels, raccoons, cats and dogs all dumped together in an enclosure with strict rules on how we aren't supposed to kill each other, with punishments imposed.

Oh yes, then, the police and judiciary and social services..... anodder whole story....
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  #9  
Old May 11th, 2012, 05:55 PM
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Frankie's Market Frankie's Market is offline
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Default Re: Paul Theroux on Hawaii: "So uncooperative, so complex in its division"

Quote:
Originally Posted by pzarquon View Post
Paul Theroux’s Quest to Define Hawaii
For this renowned travel writer, no place has proved harder to decipher than his home for the past 22 years
This is my favorite part of the article:

Quote:
I secured an introduction from an important island figure, and I managed a few interviews. One sneeringly reminded me that she would not have bestirred herself to see me had it not been for the intervention of this prominent man. Another gave me truculent answers. Several expressed the wish to be paid for talking to me, and when I said it was out of the question they became stammeringly monosyllabic.

Observing protocol, I had turned up at each interview carrying a present—a large jar of honey from my own beehives on the North Shore of Oahu. No one expressed an interest in the origin of the honey (locally produced honey is unusually efficacious as a homeopathic remedy). No one asked where I was from or anything about me. It so happened that I had arrived from my house in Hawaii, but I might have come from Montana: No one asked or cared. They did not so much answer as endure my questions.
Hmmm. And I'm sure Mr. Theroux's compensation from the Smithsonian is a year-long magazine subscription, with a couple of adult ticket admissions to the museum, right?

Get real, Theroux. You get paid good $$$$ for writing your articles. Now if you don't wanna pay those interviewees, fine. That's up to you. But portraying them as money-hungry mercenaries is not only uncalled for. It's hypocritical. After all, you're asking them to provide the info that makes your livelihood possible.
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  #10  
Old May 11th, 2012, 09:47 PM
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Default Re: Paul Theroux on Hawaii: "So uncooperative, so complex in its division"

Quote:
Originally Posted by Frankie's Market View Post
Get real, Theroux. You get paid good $$$$ for writing your articles. Now if you don't wanna pay those interviewees, fine.
This part of what Theroux says is pretty strange. I guess he's comparing people's reactions to those he previously experienced among various primitives in other parts of the world. He doesn't seem to be making allowance for the fact that folks here are not aboriginals. What response would he get making his way along Wall Street carrying a big jar of honey and offering it to passers by as an incentive for cultural interchange? "This my own honey -- good -- here, try some! We be friends!"
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Old May 12th, 2012, 10:46 PM
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Default Re: Paul Theroux on Hawaii: "So uncooperative, so complex in its division"

Theroux says he has lived here for over two decades, yet he hasn't developed relationships that would enable him to ask his friends for the answers he seeks regarding the culture. People are reticent to share the culture if they don't believe you want to genuinely embrace the culture. His attitude is somewhat like, "Perform for me and I'll throw you a fish."
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  #12  
Old May 13th, 2012, 11:19 AM
Kalalau Kalalau is offline
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Default Re: Paul Theroux on Hawaii: "So uncooperative, so complex in its division"

Haoles I know who live in Hawai'i pretty much have given up on friendly relations with other groups. They don't bother trying. Minimize contact seems to be the rule. Offers of friendship aren't extended or accepted. Yet I knew a haole girl who had a Hawaiian boyfriend, because I was friends with her, I was his friend as well as friends with his family. However his friends would not even shake my hand. Then theres the haole friend whose elderly haole dad got lost in town once and a kind Hawaiian man got him home. A part Hawaiian part Chinese part Haole woman I know told of being constantly bullied for her haoleness in schools, but is as an adult she is married to a Hawaiian man and is knowledgeable enough about the culture that she teaches Hawaiian culture to the children of the kids who bullied her in school. Her own kids left the Islands very gladly at the first opportunity, fed up with the bullying, and are happy to stay away. I met an heir to one of the Big Five families at a party once, even he stays away as much as possible, for decades. From the mainland it looks like relations are not belligerent but are definitely not friendly. Mexican friends who visit the Islands encounter no prejudice from any side, they love it.

On this side, we know a happily married interracial couple, she white, he Black, and when they throw parties the white people party in one part of the house and the Black people in another. Nobody's a bigot, thats just how things work out.
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  #13  
Old May 19th, 2012, 03:28 AM
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Default Re: Paul Theroux on Hawaii: "So uncooperative, so complex in its division"

The condition of being haole is the state of having no sprit or soul.
It is a form of emptiness not implied or disclosed by skin color.
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