Letter to the Editor: Not Just Hot Bread

What’s the common advice given to many visitors to Molokai? It’s raved about in numerous travel books, posted on websites and passed on excitedly through word of mouth: “Make sure you go get hot bread at Kanemitsu Bakery.” As I boarded the early morning flight from Oahu, I looked forward to experiencing this quintessential activity later on that evening. Instead, I was treated to so much more that I anticipated. My first visit to “the friendly isle” can seldom be read about in travel books and websites or pre-packaged in a tourist’s itinerary. To go to a place where development has not destroyed the beauty of this isle and where culture has not been mass commercialized, is to arrive in Molokai. After coffee and pastries I met up my friend Noelani Lee and the Ka Honua Momona team to take part in the community workday on the fishpond at Kalokoeli. We armed ourselves with water shoes, gloves and a few folks with chainsaws ready to tackle the invasive alien species of mangrove that covers much of the fish pond. Our group was 30 strong, an intergenerational and multicultural team of youth and adults committed to spending three hours of the Saturday morning giving back. The mangroves are a tenacious enemy to the life of the fishpond, but not impossible to defeat, one root at a time. When armed with people who care and who know that we take much more from the earth than we give back, all things are possible. This simple, but strenuous act of community can only create more aloha in this world. Next, after working hard all morning we went on a leisurely drive eastbound towards Halawa. With trusty guides at my side, Noelani and Ikaika talked about their work with the community and the importance of the fishponds to the livelihood of the island, pointed out beautiful places along the way – Kamalo, Mapulehu, Rock Point, and the story of the Whispering stone. We were serenaded by Ikaika’s enchanting voice as he sang and strummed the ukulele all the way to the end of the road, Halawa. There we walked into an ohana gathering where they were celebrating birthdays of family members. True to Molokai’s reputation of friendliness, the aunties and uncles invited us to sit, eat, drink and sing along. I heard about this Hawaiian family’s lineage and kuleana to malama the land in Halawa. I could feel the mana vibrate around us and understood that with purpose and determination we can all take on the responsibility to take care of the land around us. I felt that at home and I began to regret that my visit was a mere 26 hours. Our evening was spent enjoying the taiko performances, bon dances and food at the Obon festival. Whether you were in an exquisite kimono or shorts and t-shirt, we were all invited to dance and remember our ancestors. Everyone seemed enthralled by the drums, especially the children who all lined up in front of the stage to feel the full power of the taiko. At this community event, parents need not worry about children running around freely. They know that the aunties and uncles are all watching out for the keiki. It’s hard to imagine having to live any other way – fearing for the safety of your children in a public space. Communities like the ones on Molokai do not just happen by chance, they are created by choice. There is a powerful force happening here, one that you can miss if your heart is not open to it. There is a difference between existing in a place and living in a place. Molokai is a place where people live – listening to their ancestors, to the natural elements and ultimately living with aloha. Driving to the airport to catch the morning shuttle back to Oahu, we remembered that we forgot to do the hot bread run. Oh well, Molokai is more than it’s hot bread. I’ll have to save it for my next visit. Luis Rodriguez wrote is his poem Every Road, “every road should come to this end: a place called home. Molokai, I will return. Mahalo. Aloha a hui hou. Lai-Lani Ovalles 16 July 2006


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