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MOLOKAI: THE PEOPLE

June 22, 2015

Oh, Moloka’i. If wishes were fishes, I’d already live there with a boatful. We got to Maui the first night after dark, so besides our hilarious shuttle driver (he swore so many times without me realizing it because he dropped them so poetically) and air so humid and sweet I wanted to bottle it up, our Moloka’i adventure was my first taste of Hawaii.

(And maybe my favorite. Shhh.)


We flew to Moloka’i on a little six-seater passenger plane. It was about a half hour flight, and I loved watching the kaleidoscope of blues shift and swirl in the water outside my window. Our pilot flew around the north side of the island, extremely close to stunning cliffs. They are the tallest sea cliffs in the world. (Online it says “arguably” the tallest. That confuses me. Either they are, or they aren’t, people. I say they are.) The North side of Moloka’i looks a bit similar to the Na Pali coast on Kaua’i. The cliffs are covered in clinging green, broken up by incredibly high and incredibly beautiful waterfalls.

Even flying overhead, I immediately felt like Moloka’i was a Hawaiian Southern Utah. The homes were simple, humble, and to me, beautiful. There were fields of green and red dirt roads stretching out below us like a patchwork quilt. I know. You had me at HELLO. About 7,000 people live on the island, and everyone knows everyone. I mean, right down to the make and model of each other’s cars. People don’t use addresses, but rather give directions based on neighboring landmarks, like the number of telephone poles, mailboxes, colored front doors. To say this island is charming is a drastic understatement.

Our entire trip to Hawaii, I felt the aloha spirit that makes the islands what they are. However, there’s a certain sort of added peace that seems to permeate Moloka’i – the kind of pureness and beauty you see in wildflowers or a child’s beaming face. It’s very difficult to language, but it’s this raw and untouched existence that makes your heart swell. It’s the kind of place you need to know still exists in the world.

I loved that it wasn’t very touristy, and I loved that people knew and loved Cody, and vice versa. I felt like we had family from the moment we landed. One of his families there left a vehicle at the airport with keys inside for us. After an epic struggle with the stick shift and gear shifting (reverse means neutral with the passenger outside pushing… right….?) we figured things out and checked into Hotel Moloka’i, at the room one of Cody’s other families had rented for our stay. Then we went to the grocery store, Friendly Market, to meet up with an aunty who had a lei and flower crown for us.

(This is a good time to mention THIS sign at the Friendly Market)

Are you getting a feel for the kind of place this is?

Our days on Moloka’i mostly consisted of driving around, kicking up red dust, building sand castles on empty beaches, and dinners. Eating and coming together is so HUGE in the Hawaiian culture. Our first night, a few of Cody’s families arranged a little back porch potluck. The food was delicious (stay tuned for THAT post) but being home, it is even more so the company that I crave. People in Hawaii greet people of the opposite gender with a hug and a kiss, but the embrace is spiritual and emotional as well. Cody’s friends just grinned to have him at their table, in their homes. They were overjoyed at his return and the start of our new family together. They wanted to give us all they had, and what people have in Hawaii, and especially Moloka’i, is the stuff that matters most. They gave us their time, their back-porch view, and their laughter. I expected to feel awkward or a little out of the loop, but I never did.

I had beautiful, brown-eyed kids on my lap, uncles swapping me seats so I’d have the ocean view, jokes being thrown my way, funny videos being shown to me, stories being told and questions being asked. It was the most astounding and insightful view into community and family that I think I have ever experienced. I was loved. Not just welcomed or given courtesy, but LOVED for my story and my spirit. Those are the people of Moloka’i. They extend a love so pure and free that when you go, it almost feels like you made it up.

One of my favorite visits was a brief drop-by to visit a man named Junior and his wife. Junior wasn’t home, but we stood in the garage with his sweet wife “talking story” (the Hawaiian way to describe a good chat) and I had that familiar, overwhelming surge of love I often felt as a missionary. Like it was so involuntary and so much bigger than me. And this cute woman, with hair wet from the shower, face bare of make up, just radiated real goodness and real beauty. Scrolling through pictures of their latest camping trip, and laughing together while a tender rain misted outside, I felt I had quickly gained a sister. It’s that immediate and that genuine. Junior later texted and said that his wife fell in love with my spirit, so I knew she felt it too. Why don’t we say things like that in our culture? Really.

Our last night, we attended a graduation luau. Graduations are HUGE culturally. The grad parties go to the extent of a wedding reception – tents, lights, centerpieces, pictures, catering, huge guest list, live music, etc. Since the graduating class is so large, the families coordinate, and stagger the parties for each graduation to be celebrated on their own night. This can take the whole summer.

And as we mingled with each family, each ecstatic to update “Elder Mortensen”, it humbled me almost to tears that a people so loving, so accepting, so nonjudgemental, and so ready to celebrate individuals and life in general exist. These are a people who know how to LIVE and rejoice. We colored coconuts at the post-office (they supply them free and you just pay shipping) through “Post-a-nut.” The postmaster was so kind, and so delighted with our artwork, so joyful to be managing postcards and packages, slapping all kinds of stamps onto colored coconuts. It just struck me a lot – that maybe there is some kind of satisfaction and joy with the present that we are really lacking, and could really use to learn from these people. The way they are is a gift to all those who encounter it.

And finally, there is a sense of gratitude about the people of Moloka’i – a knowledge of just exactly how special and sweet this place is in the world. All along our drives, there were signs protesting tours, development, commercialization, essentially protesting any kind of non-authentic tourist attractions. And while Moloka’i is beautiful, peaceful, and pleasant, the people also have an air of privacy. Not so much hostility, but a desire to keep what is sacred and simple just that. And as someone who loves a tiny town in Southern Utah more than anywhere in the world, I understand. I do. Moloka’i and its people are the kind of thing you clutch close, sharing with only those who will completely understand.

Our last day on the island, we drove around and made a few stops to say goodbye. And although there was an ache in my heart the whole morning like I’d lived there my whole life, there was also a sweetness. A sort of unspoken assurance in each backroad, woman hanging wash, children chasing the dog around the yard. We will be back to this place. We will be back with these people.

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12 comments

nimbus June 22, 2015 at 1:31 pm

This looks so much fun. One place I still would like to visit.

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Anonymous June 28, 2016 at 3:29 am

Molokai is a special place, one of Aloha and healing Mana. I was born there and now live on Kauai love both places. But my roots are back in Molokai. Keep Molokai, Molokai.. or the saying back home goes : Don't change Molokai, let Molokai change you!!! One love..

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Kolea Aki-Paleka June 22, 2015 at 10:22 pm

Hi my name is Kolea Aki-Paleka. I am from the island of Moloka'i and is currently living in Hurricane Utah. Lots of appreciation for writing such a great review on my home island. Mahalo!!!

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Emma Jane June 23, 2015 at 7:03 pm

MATCHING GIRAFFE SHIRTS>>>>>>>>>

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Shelby June 23, 2015 at 7:08 pm

It is a beautiful, special place in the world! I think you would love it! 🙂

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Shelby June 23, 2015 at 7:09 pm

I love Hurricane! It's a great area! Gotta love that red dirt, yeah? Thank you for reading and thank you for your sweet words! I loved hearing from you. My husband knows your family!

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Shelby June 23, 2015 at 7:09 pm

IS THERE ANYTHING MORE TO LIFE?

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Anonymous June 28, 2016 at 3:29 am

Hi my name is Ziona Wallace Huntsman. I am from Molokai. I presently live in Murfreesboro, Tn. Thank you for such a beautiful journey and sharing your love of our people and our island. It is special indeed.
I miss living there..always love going home to visit.

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Unknown June 28, 2016 at 3:30 am

ON point with your touching words of gratitude and appreciation. Its people like you that will always be welcomed on this enchanted and so-real island of Molokai. Mahalo for your beautiful words and expressions. I was laughing with my husband because before i even got the the writing of you mentioning the word "missionary", my heart was touch with the holy spirit through your words of kindness and then I knew why. I dont even know you personally but i do know just from reading your scripting, molokai also needs more of you here! Mahaaaalo and a hui hou!

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Unknown June 28, 2016 at 3:30 am

I grew up on Moloka'i and now live in High Point, North Carolina. I miss it everyday. I'm so happy you were able to experience the beauty, love and simpleness that is only Moloka'i. Being from the island, I know the people there opened their homes, as well as their hearts, to you and you are now ohana and always will be. Aloha no!

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Kolea Aki-Paleka June 28, 2016 at 3:30 am

Can't believe I've only now read your reply. There is nothing like Southern Utah, but I'll always miss my home. We just recently flew back from Moloka'i yesterday. A vacation I will continue to remember along with the new memories I now hold. Really, Which side of my family? The Paleka's or the Aki's?

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Ivy Mendez July 22, 2016 at 4:10 pm

Thank you for this insightful piece. It captures the essence of Molokai for those who love her unlike anything I've read before.

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