Discovering the Indigenous Aloha Spirit

Hawaii, popularly known as the ‘Paradise of the Pacific’, constantly brings up images of warm tropical climate, gentle breezes, beautiful soft-sand beaches and glimmering seawater, scenic volcanoes, hula dance and passionate local people wearing lovely flowery leis. And yet, to Hawaiians and perhaps those who have taken a more in-depth exploration of this archipelago, it is far more than a summation of the general impressions that one may immediately recall. 19 students from S.H. Ho College, together with Prof. Samuel Sun, Master of the College, embarked on a fascinating, eye-opening journey on 26 May 2016 to explore Oahu and the Big Island, two of the eight main islands at the southeastern end of the Hawaiian archipelago. To them, Hawaii turned out to be essentially a cultural melting pot of great historical, ethnical and geographic interests.

The amazing nine-day trip was highlighted by visits to historical and geographic sites like the Bishop Museum, Iolani Palace, Polynesian Cultural Center, Big Island volcano and lava tube, Pearl Harbor, etc. The trippers also went to see the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Jaggar Museum, walked through a lava tube, visited beautiful beaches like the famous Waikiki Beach, appreciated the night view of Halema’uma’u Crater, made leis, learnt the hula dancing and paid a visit to Master’s residence and the house of a CUHK alumnus there.

While trippers were absorbed by the big collection of Polynesian cultural artifacts and natural history specimens in the Bishop Museum, and excited in watching the shows by performers demonstrating various Polynesian native arts in the eight simulated tropical villages in Polynesian Cultural Center, the majority of them considered the visit to the Big Island volcano the most unforgettable memory for the whole journey. 

Rebecca Qin was touched by a ceremony performed at the volcano crater which subtly showed Hawaiian respect for nature. ‘Under the thickening grey mist was Halema’uma’u, home to the goddess Pele. We performed a ceremony, chanting the Aloha song and presenting the goddess with the leis we made the day before, as a token of respect. I was not much of a believer in religions of any kind, but this ceremony really touched me with its solemnity. It occurred to me that humbleness and modesty, part of the Aloha spirit, was one important reason that Hawaiian people could stay in harmony with nature.’ 

That night, when they returned to Halema’uma’u Crater after dinner, they were captivated by another wonderful scene—a marvelous ‘display of power and beauty’ by nature. Amid utter darkness and late night cold air, they saw the volcano breathing a bright red flame into the sky, setting the clouds on fire. No wonder the Hawaiian people consider it a holy place.

‘Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.’ The trippers will possibly understand better this quote by Miriam Beard after touring around the volcano and peaceful forests on the Big Island, or talking to the friendly Hawaiians, from which they felt the Aloha spirit of paying respect to nature and were inspired with new meanings in life. Later when they returned to Oahu from the Big Island, they went to the Pearl Harbor and looked at the memorial tablets, on one of which wrote a quote from Rene Quinton: ‘It is a hard thing to have survived when we owe our place to the dead.’ 

They also sailed to visit the Arizona Memorial—a pure white memorial building standing over the remnants of the sunken battleship, inside which was the complete name list of all the soldiers killed during the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor, carved on white marble. ‘It reminded me that war was not just about countries and armies, it was also about those individuals who could not but surrender their lives to the callings of absolute rulers and unpredictable fate. Living at a time of peace, I could never have imagined such situations. It is surely going to be something I will remember throughout my life,’ Rebecca said. And her companions in the journey will likely echo her words.