Man Camp Called Off
When California resident Bryce Anderson visited Molokai in February, he thought it was the perfect place to get away from the city.
Anderson runs a company called Man Skills Academy (MANSA), a San Francisco-based organization built on developing men’s real-life skills and social relatability that Anderson feels are lost to technology. Wanting to hold a back-to-the-basics nature retreat for MANSA, Anderson created Man Camp Molokai and began promoting the island and the event to group members.
“Are you ready for the adventure of a lifetime on the coolest island in the entire world??!” he posted on the social planning site meetup.com. “On Molokai … the water is bluer, the land is greener, the animals are tastier, the people are nicer and the adventures are endless.”
Anderson lined up his cousin, a Navy SEAL, to teach survival and navigation skills. He made plans to rent a 6,000-square foot beach house and advertised camping, hiking, fishing and hunting expeditions on the 26-acre property his family owns on the west end.
“The plan is to eat as much local fish and game, that we have caught or hunted, as possible,” he wrote. “… On Molokai, there are ample natural resources and more fish and wildlife than I have seen anywhere else in the world. Guys literally fish with nets because the ocean is overflowing with marine life in this forgotten paradise.”
By the beginning of March, Anderson had 11 other men on board for two five-day trips at the end of April.
However, Molokai residents weren’t as excited, and many expressed that they found the posts extremely offensive.
In the wake of protests on social media and direct correspondence to Anderson, the trip has been cancelled.
“There are many things I like about Molokai and I wanted to share this amazing place with the men in my group,” he said. “But I have learned that there is a pono way to do things.”
Land and natural resources were one of the concerns residents expressed on social media, in addition to respect for cultural and historical values.
“It was very culturally inappropriate, all of it,” said Molokai resident Teri Waros, owner of Kalele Bookstore. “He didn’t understand what this island is truly about. … The marketing approach is what killed it.”
Hawaii resident Jenny Lynn said on the Molokai Dispatch Facebook page that she felt the advertising was “sensational” and “disrespectful.” She referenced Anderson’s description of Kalaupapa as a “haunted leper colony” and references to a game in which the losers would have to wear grass skirts, which she felt was insensitive to the history of hula.
This, said Anderson, was not the message he wanted to send to residents. Within days, he had taken down the event website.
“Publicizing the event as I did, and not taking additional steps to get approval from the community was a mistake,” said Anderson. “I do not want to and did not mean to shine an unwanted spotlight on the island and apologize for putting everyone on high-alert.”
Anderson insisted that his intention was not to trivialize the island’s subsistence lifestyle and that “profits were tertiary” to the goal of experiencing Molokai living.
“Our plan was to fish and hunt only enough to feed us during our short stay on the island,” he said. “… We would not wear out our welcome by raiding the waters or hunting for more than one or two deer for us to eat. That said, I realize that fishing and hunting are not just fun adventures for the people of Molokai. Many of the people rely on the `aina to survive.”
In reality, few of the activities he advertised had actually been confirmed, and expeditions like a trip to Kalaupapa and camping on Molokai Ranch property had only been suggestions to the group when Andersen wrote the online description, he said. Anderson and the MANSA members only planned to practice basic SEAL survival skills, go hiking, possibly fish and work on team-building exercises. All of the group members were close friends whom he knew he could trust to act appropriately, said Anderson.
However, Anderson said he didn’t want the event to cause further conflict.
“Unfortunately the community decided that this was not the right time for us to visit Molokai,” said Anderson. “I would have probably done the same if I were on the other side of the equation. … I have respected their wishes. I have called off our upcoming trip to Molokai.”
Different Kind of Tourism
Molokai community members said they’re not opposed to visitors coming to experience a Molokai way of life—but they must come with a certain understanding.
“Locals out here are willing to teach [visitors] as long as they’re willing to respect,” said resident Loke Rawlins. “That’s key. As long as they respect the land, they’ll be fine.”
Waros said she feels Molokai’s approach is unique within Hawaii.“We do need to attract the right kind of visitor, and that’s what I see on Molokai,” said Waros. “The mana of this place kind of weeds out what’s inappropriate. I don’t know if any of the other islands could do what Molokai could do this week.”
Conflicts between tourism and Molokai’s sustainability is nothing new. Glenn Davis, who used to live in East Halawa, remembered tourists paying hundreds for fishing the hunting trips, which upset many residents.
“Guys would take coolers and coolers of deer meat and fish,” said Davis. “Not too many people were happy.”
While Molokai continues to enjoy a rural lifestyle and thriving culture compared to the rest of Hawaii, Molokai’s economy benefits from tourism are the least of any island. The Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) reported that in January 2015, Molokai’s average visitor spending per trip per person is $707, compared to the second least, Lanai, at $1120 per trip per person.
Molokai saw a slight increase in visitors in January of this year over January 2014, however. HTA reported that visitor arrivals increased 17 percent, from 5,177 visitors in January 2014, to 6,060 visitors in January 2015.
Anderson said he plans to hold the camp in another location, and in the future, he hopes to return with a different purpose.
“It was suggested by several gracious Molokai natives, that I come to Molokai at a different time and with a different agenda,” said Anderson. “If agreeable, I would like to come to Molokai by myself or with one other to learn more about your culture, talk about community projects that we may be able to help out with and make amends to anybody I may have offended or frightened by our proposed visit.”
Anderson said he’s interested in helping local organizations with community service projects the next time he’s in town. On the Dispatch’s Facebook, residents thanked him for understanding and being willing to listen. Anderson said through his previous visit and this experience, he’s established good relationships with residents and looks forward to visiting under different circumstances.
“Many of the locals were very gracious in their opposition to my proposal and again, I was touched by their commitment to the Molokai way of life,” said Anderson. “The time and effort that the locals took to voice their concerns, teach me about their culture and explain what’s at risk led me to [cancel the camp]. Thanks for your thoughtful emails and for educating me on your wonderful culture.”