Exploring the Hilo Market

This morning we explored the farmers market and the shops in Hilo.  Since Hilo is not a large tourist destination, we were able to get a taste of local culture, customs, and produce.  The first thing I ventured to was the farmers market.  I was instantly struck by how busy the market was.  Most of the people that I saw there were locals, probably purchasing fresh produce for their meals that day.  Where I am from in New England, I am not used to seeing such a crowd at farmers markets.  There is a market very close to where I live every Sunday in the summer, but it is very sparsely populated and there are very few stands.  The fact that this market was bustling this late in the morning demonstrates the sense of community that envelops this area.  I observed people greeting each other on multiple occasions – I could hear lots of “howzits” being exchanged, telling me that the people talking were not tourists.  Despite my obvious and pungent haole aura, anywhere I stopped to make a purchase, the merchant and I would always share a friendly conversation.  These conversations seemed genuine as well, not just a ploy to get me to buy more stuff.  The friendliness of the Hawaiian community here in Hilo is truly unparalleled.

During my adventures at the market, I happened to get completely lost and by a stroke of luck ran into a vendor selling native Hawaiian shark tooth weaponry.  They consisted of a Koa wood handle with a groove along the side, and inside the groove shark teeth were fitted to produce a sharp edge.  I overheard the vendor talking about his Hawaiian ancestry.  He said that he was half native Hawaiian, and half Portuguese.  However, he was very proud of his native Hawaiian ancestry, and very forward about it as well.  He took great pride in the traditional craftsmanship of the blades, made out of hand carved Koa wood, natural cord binding and other natural materials, all hand crafted.  I thought back to our hula lesson the other day and how we learned about the importance of hand craftsmanship in the Hawaiian culture.  Each item that a hula dancer uses must be handmade, so it is imbued with their own mana, or energy.  The same goes for the weapons.  According to the vendor, crafting the weapons out of the native materials by hand connects the object to the land and its power.  Each weapon had a specific use as well.  Some of the smaller, single-tooth blades were common household tools.  However, the vendor said that the larger, battle blades made out of a bunch of teeth used to be used only by the ali’i for ceremonial purposes and for leading into battle.  They were imbued with a greater energy than that of the household items, and even the vendor seemed to hold a greater reverence for the ali’i weapons than he did for the common blades while holding them.

Both of my experiences at the market made me think about who is considered Hawaiian and who isn’t.  It was clear that the man selling the traditional weapons was, and he was really proud of it too.  At the same time, a lot of the people in the farmers market did not at all appear to be native Hawaiian.  I am not one to judge, but the people that I bought my apple bananas from looked like they could have showed up from New England three days ago.  However, they seemed like they spoke at least some pidgin, since I heard a few “howzit’s” and other language like that come from their booth.  They may not be natives, but they are definitely locals.  The man I bought a bracelet from was not a native Hawaiian either.  I talked to him briefly, enough to learn that his son was studying economics at the University of Alaska, and that he was from the mainland and had lived here for many years.  Even though he lived here, he did not fit in well, and did not at all have ties to the land.

In the article What Kine Hawaiian Are You? I read a lot about how to determine how someone is native or not.  There has been a lot of focus on blood quantum in the present and the past.  Some things, like the 1921 Hawaiian Home Act, require 50% or more blood quantum to be considered a native.  The man selling the weapons would just barely, if at all, be considered native.  However, he was more proud and connected to his ancestry than many people I have talked to.  And even though the two fruit vendors most probably do not have any ancestry to claim, they blended right into the culture, and I was taken aback by their appearance after hearing them speak.  Then there was the bracelet vendor, who was just some haole who ended up selling bracelets in Hawaii for some reason.  After I finished reading the article, I had a pretty good idea about who would be considered Hawaiian.  After visiting the market and seeing the local culture first hand, I understand the confusion.  There are so many people of so many backgrounds, I couldn’t quite tell who was from where and what their Hawaiian connection is.  The more I think about “what kine Hawaiian are they?” the more ambiguous the answer seems.

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15 Comments

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