Learning To Respect The Aina… Things To Do In Maui
Be Safe. Have Fun. Disrespect None. Love What You See. Hurt Nothing. Learn The Culture. Use A Guide.
Tourism impacts people’s lives, across the world – in both good and bad ways. We all want visitors to the island to have their very “best day on Maui” be an unforgettable trip to Hana. Visitors want to make each day on Maui better than the last. Residents want the same for themselves. Unfortunately, sometimes the goals of visitors collide with those of residents, creating conflict. And, after all is said and done, the interaction could end up ruining a potentially perfect day… for everyone.
The relationship between visitors and the residents is best when it’s based on mutual respect. A visitor needs to understand, that like the visitor’s own hometown, day-to-day life still must go on. Residents must tend to their families, work and community life, traveling the roads, using the stores and visiting the recreational areas too.
Driving can be frustrating, no matter where you’re from, but island driving has it’s own challenges. Most roads in Maui were built over 100 years ago, during the heyday of the sugarcane industry, from little more than dirt pathways. Constant upgrades (widening & lane additions) have developed over the years for the main arteries which have resulted in several multi lane highways. Resort areas have experienced improved traffic flow, but there are few alternate routes when traffic gets snarled.
Many rural and residential roads (especially the road to Hana) are narrow with utility poles and vegetation quite close to the road’s edges. Though this seems dangerous (and it can be), residents have been driving these roads for generations and know every twist and bend. When visiting most tourist areas in the world, it can seem like the residents are the crazy drivers, and if they’re frustrated with heavy rental car traffic while trying to get to work or home, that can certainly be the case, but they also know the road well and know where they’re headed, whereas tourists generally don’t. The main thing to keep in mind is to slow down and let resident drivers pass. Be sure to give yourself a little extra time and just enjoy the scenery!
This symbol of island life is a wonderful tradition and the types and reasons a lei is given are as diverse as the flowers that grow everywhere here. A lei can symbolize love, friendship, accomplishment, respect and appreciation. They are also used to signify celebrations such as graduations, weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, Mother’s and Father’s Day and many other special occasions and holidays – especially the Lei Day holiday held every May 1st. May Day is Lei Day!
There are open and closed lei. A closed lei should be worn on the shoulders with half in front and half in back. If a lei has a ribbon it can be worn at the back of the neck or positioned on the right side if single or the left side if married. It is common for the giver of a lei to place the lei around the recipient’s neck along with a kiss.
Open lei are worn centered on the neck with the open ends hanging down in front. Any lei can be made open but it is considered bad luck to give a pregnant woman a closed lei – only open lei are appropriate. It is also bad luck to wear a lei you intend to give to someone else. Also never take off a lei in the presence of the person who gave it to you. Refrigerate your lei to make it last longer.
Recent research suggests there is ongoing coral bleaching happening all around Maui. Studies have found that harmful chemicals in commercial sunscreens may be contributing to this decline of our reef systems. Another reason reefs are becoming damaged is visitors walking on them. Not only can you become injured and incur nasty staph infections from walking on coral it also causes coral breakage which can take years for the reef to recover from.
Guidebooks are another part of the problem. In order to sell books these publications often offer “exclusive” information on “secret spots” to visit. This has drawn the ire of many residents who see visitors drawn to dangerous places often on private property. This puts the residents and the state at risk should something go wrong.
Many visitors research were to go and what to do well before they arrive on Maui. On sites like tripadvisor visitors speak of fantastic adventures they found through Google Maps not knowing that the time of year can be the difference between a lovely day hike and a harrowing flash flooded nightmare. Again locals speak of sharing warnings and posted “keep out” signage with visitors and hearing responses like “I’m on vacation and I don’t have to read anything”. With no recourse from these misinformed sites and books residents are beginning to call the police in for such trespassing.
Here is what a local Hana resident recently posted on Facebook:
They should lead the fight to remove “Maui Revealed” off the shelf. It should not be allowed to be sold. A book that says that you can ignore trespassing signs and that you can swim in ponds that you have to climb cliffs to get to is just making matters worse.
Your best bet to safely experience unique locations with respect to the local population is to go with a reputable guide or tour. <
Island people work hard. They have to. Many work two or even three jobs. The cost of living is high and as a world class destination the work has to be top notch. Some people who visit from other countries may assume tips are built into the price - they are not in Hawaii. Please make sure to tip well in Hawaii just as the residents do. We do this because we know it’s an important way to say we’re akamai (intelligent) of the ways of Aloha.
There is much about the culture and locations that even the long time residents have no idea about. It’s purposely done that way to keep those areas sacred. Visitors may interpret a residents reaction with anger when they refuse to tell more about certain locations found in guide books or in an app. This is not done out of spite, it is to protect the site’s sacredness and in many cases these areas are often unsafe for visitors to try to access anyway.
We know visitors come here for the culture and the aloha – the welcoming nature of the people. Visitors enjoy seeing and learning about the traditional cultural practices, spending their hard earned money on many of the wonderful things to do in Maui, including: luaus, farm stands, local restaurants, tours, leis and flowers, local treats, museums and other representations of Hawaiian culture, including canoeing and surfing events. The residents should be given much mahalo (thanks) for the aloha provided. One of the best ways to show your appreciation is by choosing to do things in Maui that support the host culture and the people. It will make your next visit even better because you will have built a connection with the ways of the Hawaiian culture.
For most residents, their livelihood depends on tourism in some form. It is the island’s primary industry and it’s a tough, competitive business. Oftentimes frustrations occur when the number of visitors needed to sustain the businesses is surpassed and too many visitors for the infrastructure to handle show up. There is a delicate balance and it must be maintained.
Don’t be shy about stopping at local businesses to find gifts, enjoy meals, treats and drinks along the road to Hana. These kinds of venues are a wonderful way to meet the residents. Have some fun and enjoy things like authentic Hawaiian shaved ice, coconut candy and banana bread. Taking a legal, professionally guided tour is also an important way to support local businesses as they give back to the community in many ways.
Residents will always look out for the best interests of their neighbors and the larger community. In many cases those interests are wide ranging and varied including public safety, maintaining recreation spots, finances… and in most cases it comes back to community investments. If the county/state ends up spending a lot of money rescuing visitors from places they shouldn’t go, that money isn’t well spent and other priorities will go unfunded. Instead, the community really wants to spend the money to improve the parks, trails and areas where the visiting public is more than welcome to visit, in a safe, peaceful and fun environment.
Too often visitors are sold on the idea of experiencing picture perfect or off-the-beaten-path locations, inaccessible to the general visiting public. Attempts to reach these publicly inaccessible areas often result in serious injuries that require the visitor to be rescued, sometimes successfully and sometimes not. There are signs like “Kapu”, “No Trespassing” or “No Parking” posted to inform visitors. When they’re ignored everyone loses. The community atmosphere of a traditional Hawaiian village disappears as gates and barriers go up to keep people out. Areas can be closed for a variety of safety or cultural reasons. When the posted warnings are ignored, it leads to friction.
Residents of Hawai’i truly want visitors to be safe, enjoy their time here and eventually return home to “talk story” about their “trip-of-a-lifetime” memories of Hawai’i, and most importantly, pass along their fundamental spiritual concept of “aloha”.
Please relax and get on Maui time. There is no need to rush or always be first. You came here to get away from the rat race, right?
How important is the word “aloha” to the Hawaiian people? It is best explained by the actual “Law of Aloha” which is a real law on the books in Hawai’i.
Hawaii Revised Statutes Section 5-7.5 states:
“Aloha Spirit“. (a) “Aloha Spirit” is the coordination of mind and heart within each person. It brings each person to the self. Each person must think and emote good feelings to others. In the contemplation and presence of the life force, “Aloha”, the following unuhi laula loa may be used:’
“Akahai“, meaning kindness to be expressed with tenderness;
“Lōkahi“, meaning unity, to be expressed with harmony;
“ʻOluʻolu” meaning agreeable, to be expressed with pleasantness;
“Haʻahaʻa“, meaning humility, to be expressed with modesty;
“Ahonui“, meaning patience, to be expressed with perseverance.
These are traits of character that express the charm, warmth and sincerity of Hawaii’s people. It was the working philosophy of native Hawaiians and was presented as a gift to the people of Hawaiʻi. ”Aloha” is more than a word of greeting or farewell or a salutation. ”Aloha” means mutual regard and affection and extends warmth and caring with no obligation in return. “Aloha” is the essence of relationships in which each person is important to every other person for collective existence. ”Aloha” means to hear what is not said, to see what cannot be seen and to know the unknowable.
(b) In exercising their power on behalf of the people and in fulfillment of their responsibilities, obligations and service to the people, the legislature, governor, lieutenant governor, executive officers of each department, the chief justice, associate justices, and judges of the appellate, circuit, and district courts may contemplate and reside with the life force and give consideration to the “Aloha Spirit“.
Respect is Aloha. Humility, patience, pleasantness, kindness – all these things are important to the ohana and the culture.
When you hear someone speak of ‘showing their “aloha”’ to someone, just remember, to them this means showing the highest respect a person can have for another, themselves and the world. Giving you’re “aloha” (see above) will get you farther than anything else you do on vacation in Maui. Connecting with the culture here and embracing the “Aloha Spirit” can be life changing and can bring healing and relief to your life – even after returning home. Learn and practice the “Spirit of Aloha” and you will have the ultimate souvenir of your travels – a larger perspective.
Mahalo for visiting our humble post about island life in Hawai’i. We hope you learned something new about this beautiful and heartfelt culture. This is the goal of every one of our tours – to share the beauty of the land and sea while sharing our Aloha with visitors about the etiquette and lifestyle of Maui’s native culture.
Aloha Nui Loa!