In July, suddenly it seemed as if everyone I knew was traveling to, or had just returned from, Hawai‘i. Neighbors. Friends. Social media acquaintances. And they all came back saying a version of the same thing: I feel so rejuvenated. I needed that. I was so burnt out.
On the one hand, I was happy for them. It’s been a trying couple of years, and who doesn’t want to take a break in a beautiful place? On the other hand, I wondered about the choice to visit now—especially given the staggering number of post-pandemic travelers—and about the mindset with which they visited.
Not because I wanted to travel-shame, but because I was fresh off a month-long dive into the stories you'll soon read. Stories that take you back to the day in 1893 when American businessmen staged a coup d’état and overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy, stories that take you into the fight for Hawaiian sovereignty, and stories that offer suggestions for new ways to visit more conscientiously.
The questions posed here might make you uncomfortable. In fact, I hope they do. They made me uncomfortable. While I consider myself a thoughtful traveler I’ve traveled to Hawai‘i many times without a full grasp of the history of sovereignty, colonialism, and the oppression of Native Hawaiians, and without giving much thought to who was profiting from my visit and who might be suffering because of it.
I aim to hold on to that discomfort for as long as possible. For we, mainland travelers, should no longer be at the center of the conversation about Hawai‘i. It’s time for us to cede our desire to treat the islands as an escape in order to hear from the people who have made that escape possible for so long.
In the digital age, it's easy to just book a trip with a couple of clicks—flight, hotels, restaurant reservations—but if we spend a bit more time reading, thinking, and educating ourselves, we can intentionally plan a trip that gives to the community just as much as it gives to us. —Aislyn Greene, deputy editor
Hawai‘i Is Not Our Playground
“Have you sunbathed at Waikīkī Beach? Snorkeled at Shark’s Cove? If so, our route that morning [on O‘ahu] would have seemed confounding,” writes AFAR contributor Chris Colin in Hawai‘i Is Not Our Playground. “My guide Kajihiro drove us inland, away from the beaches and souvenir shops. Up a gentle hill we went, and at the top, he pulled over. We were pointed back down the hill now, looking at the most visited tourist destination in the whole state.
“As many as 4,000 people a day visit Ke Awalau o Pu‘uloa, the inlet shimmering faintly below us. Most of them know it by its newer name, Pearl Harbor. As I tried to picture warplanes roaring in, Kajihiro grabbed a worn binder from the backseat. Opening it up on his lap, he proceeded to walk me through all that had come before that moment in 1941, and all that had led to that moment—history omitted by the USS Arizona Memorial tour.”
Hawai‘i has been reinvented for the mainlander’s imagination, but its locals—facing historic overtourism and a crippling pandemic—are trying to change that.
And what’s at stake
In What Is the Hawai‘i Sovereignty Movement? a Hawaiian scholar explains the multifaceted movement asking the United States to return the lands taken during the 1893 coup d’état that overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy. “What’s at stake here is 1.75 million acres of land—close to half of the lands of the archipelago—and the right of the Hawai‘ian people to their own government,” says Dr. Jonathan Kay Kamakawiwo‘ole Osorio. “But the sovereignty movement is not one monolithic thing. We do not agree among ourselves about what form that sovereignty should take.”
It’s “love for our lands,” roughly, but so much more
“There’s a sense of the deification of the land and elevating the land to something bigger than just the scientific sum total of its parts. Not thinking of, for instance, volcanoes in the ocean as purely some sort of natural phenomena, but deifying them in a way that gives them a certain amount of unknowability—and being comfortable with that unknowability. Looking at a space and recognizing that this is bigger than humans will ever be able to comprehend, and we have to give some reverence to that and see ourselves as people who are in a relationship with something bigger than us.” —Kawai Strong Washburn, a climate activist and the author of the novel Sharks in the Time of Saviors, which follows the struggles and triumphs of a Hawaiian family touched by the divine.
The Revival of Traditional Voyaging
“The canoe I usually sail for is called Mo‘okiha O Pi‘ilani. It’s a 62-foot-long double-hull canoe. It typically fits anywhere from 10 to 16 people. When we sail, the wa‘a is the vessel for so many different spirits. There’s the kūpuna, the ancestors. And there’s everybody who put their mana, their spirit energy, into creating the canoe, because there isn’t a company that makes them—it’s communities that get together and sand [the wood] endlessly till your hands are soft or bleeding. The voyaging canoe has my blood on it.” —Brendan George Ko, photographer and author of the new book Moemoeā, and member of Maui’s Hui O Wa‘a Kaulua voyaging community.
A New Way to Visit
How to Better Connect With the Islands
“Our whole thing is about interaction. I would rather meet you and develop a relationship with you so that you can come to us and talk about your plans and what you want to do and how you can be a good visitor on our island. . . . Because the minute you step off the plane, you have a responsibility to the people of Hawai‘i to mindfully think about what you’re doing here, where you’re going, where you’re shopping. Hawai‘i is a special place. When you come, what is your intention?” —Lesley Texeira, is the cofounder of the Maui-based company Aloha Missions. She and cofounder Tamika Recopuerto help visitors better connect with—and give back to—the island.
One Way to Support Maui’s Natural Spaces
“The vision from my dad that I try to carry on is that people need to understand why these cultural resources—in this case the archaeology and the plants and the rocks—are important to maintain. You don’t know what secrets they hold that we haven’t discovered yet.” —Edwin “Ekolu” Lindsey, president of Maui Cultural Lands, an organization that invites travelers to help restore the island’s natural spaces.