How did Molokai become the Friendly Island?

By Catherine Aki

There are two stories regarding the origin of Molokai’s friendly nick-name.

According to a story told by Vandale Dudoit, actor Warren Baxter came to Molokai in the 1920’s when the song “Cockeyed Mayor of Kaunakakai” was in popularity. There was some type of parade held in the actor’s honor, so he began referring to Molokai as the Friendly Isle.

Later, in Sophie Cook’s book “Sincerely Sophie,” Molokai was known as the “Lonely Island” or the “Leper Island” back when the book was published back in the day. She wanted to change the island’s image and came up with the “Friendly Isle” to promote what was then the beginning of a visitor industry.  

Among the local people, “Molokai no ka heke” (Molokai is the greatest) is the slogan more often used, whereas the image of a friendly place is more of an outsider’s point of view. People here are very friendly amongst one another as cousins talking in a store, aunties and uncles at a baseball game or classmates playing in school. 

Sometimes the “Friendly Isle” moniker is taken too literally, promising that tourists will be met with open arms by everyone. Too often tourists and new-comers have unrealistic expectations – as if ‘friendly people’ comes with a money-back guarantee. They get offended when someone asks, “who you!?” So often, a person finds themselves either “in” or “out”. If you are “in,” it’s not as important to determine exactly how friendly Molokai really is. If you are “out,” the list of complaints is endless and the whining never ceases.


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