Photo Credit: pikappa
Where's The Aloha Spirit? Why Maui Is My Least Favorite Hawaiian Island
I have been fortunate to have visited almost all of Hawaii’s islands. The Islands of Hawaii that tourists can visit include Oahu, Kauai, Lanai, Molokai, The big island of Hawaii, and Maui. My first trip to Hawaii was a solo trip to Oahu in 2019 for my birthday. Despite the high traffic of tourists on Waikiki beach, I was able to learn about the Hawaiian culture. Local Polynesians taught me the meaning of the “Aloha spirit”.
The locals of Oahu were very welcoming and eager to educate tourists on authentic Polynesian culture. The high spirit and culture were still a very strong presence on the island of Oahu. Anyone wanting to tap into a more authentic Hawaiian connection could find it in Kauai and Oahu. Whether it’s on the north shore or just outside the busy city of Waikiki.
As soon as I stepped off the plane in Oahu I was greeted with the spirit of love. However, in Maui, I felt like American culture, tourism and capitalism had taken over the spirit of the island.
The Aloha Spirit –
Aloha is not just a word or a greeting, it is a way of life. According to locals, It literally means “the presence of breath” or “the breath of life”.
The aloha spirit means to show love and respect to everything on this earth. It is considered a state law to live by the aloha spirit. That is how important it is to treat others with love and respect, as their ancestors did. Aloha is sharing the responsibility of taking care of each other, and it’s shown in the general demeanor of Hawaiians. I was shocked to not receive that feeling from Maui, as I’ve read rave reviews about the island. The locals I interacted with were mostly very friendly, but those interactions were very few and far between.
The Road To Hana
The area of the island where my Airbnb was located was Lahaina and it was overrun with people on vacation. However, after a very long and beautiful drive down Hana highway, also known as “The Road to Hana”, I was able to view a side of the island I didn’t see before.
There were fewer hotels and more houses, livestock grazing grass, and local children playing. On the edge of the forest is where I felt the most connection to the locals of Maui. This is where people with generations of family from the island lived. These locals were likely driven out of the rest of the island to accommodate the tourism industry. This has built resentment amongst the Polynesian people.
As expected, with a focus on American culture comes a lack of authentic Polynesian food. The menus were all very identical to one another. Seafood is very popular, but there are few seasonings added to the variations of fish plates you can find.
This isn’t exclusive to Maui, as I found the same on the big island as well as on Waikiki beach. There is an abundance of major chain restaurants on Waikiki beach like The Cheesecake Factory. There are more unique restaurants like Mama’s Fish House on the island of Maui. Another oddity was there were no restaurants that served beans on their menu. Unfortunately, I still found it very hard to find a great plate of food. Food and the way it is prepared traditionally is a huge element of culture.
Besides the lack of interactions with locals, the island didn’t offer a connection to Polynesian culture. The beaches were mostly occupied by major resorts. This causes there to be a lack of sandy shores as well as public parking. Due to infrastructure, most of the coasts are busy with large hotels. These hotels dominate the lands, reduce the beaches to very narrow but long banks of sand.
The beaches are beautiful, but I wasn’t expecting the reality shock that tourism and capitalism have consumed the island. I hope the spirit of Aloha can return to the locals, along with the return of their land.
When I travel, it is important to me to learn more about the culture of the land and the people. Speaking with Polynesians about their land is heartbreaking, and while their culture has survived the colonization of their land. I felt the most Aloha spirit in Kauai, which seemed less “occupied” by the tourism industry.
Polynesian culture is rich and beautiful and sacred. The spirit of aloha is vital to their way of life and the culture. I hope the locals of Maui are able to find their aloha again.