“Alllllooooooha,” is how we were greeted when we arrived at our luau, where the word was almost sung many times throughout the (truly amazing) performance. Originally we were a bit on the fence about whether to attend what looked like it could be a very touristy waste of time and money.
Oh were we wrong!
Not only did we learn a lot about all the people of Polynesia, and were astounded by the fire dancing, we were also exposed to lots of Hawaiian language being spoken, which is like listening to the music of the island. It’s very sing-songy, and lots of syllables are repeated in the same word (e.g. the Likelike Highway–“leekay-leekay”). The words are, in general, pronounced as they are written, so it’s very easy to start picking it up.
Actually our exposure to spoken Hawaiian started on the plane ride to Hawaii, since one of the flight attendants announced everything in Hawaiian or at least a mix of English and Hawaiian, and as we circled the airport on arrival, he acted as a tour guide, pointing out areas of interest and telling us their Hawaiian names and their significance.
But the word Aloha has a deeper, nuanced meaning as well than a simple “hello,” since it is also an all-encompassing word for love. One reads about The Aloha Spirit in tourist guide books and that’s what one expects: that it’s about tourism. After all, we’re talking about “the Aloha state.” But in our experience we found it to be a real thing, not a marketing slogan at all. We saw it in several people–from the flight attendant, to the person who checked us into the hotel, to our tour guide (“Cousin” Shannon), and even in the waitstaff at the hotel.
The first day at our hotel, we had lunch at one of the at the ocean side restaurants. Our waitress was named Sophia. She was a little flighty–brought the wrong drinks, etc. But everything changed when she laid eyes on Dashiell. She brought him his pizza and noticed he was slow to eat it. She dug in her tip change purse and put 2 quarters on the table, and said she’ pay him that $0.50 if he ate his whole pizza (I told him I’d pay him $2.00 if he stopped when he was full, but this was of little interest to him). He loved that the game was on, and did his best to eat the whole thing (I helped him, picturing the upset stomach later). Sophia came back to find the pizza gone and was so delighted she cradled D’s face in her hands and gave him a big kiss on the forehead.
Was this just Sophia’s method to earn a bigger tip from us? Sure, maybe a little. But the kiss, too? Call me cynical, but I can envision stateside patrons would be thinking of a lawsuit if a stranger kissed their kid (we would not count ourselves among them). To us, it was a great example of how in a place like Hawaii, there’s still a sense of us all being a large family in the same village; the spirit of Aloha and Ohana (family) are alive and well. So naturally “Auntie” Sophia would be planting her lips on her nephew Dashiell.
Jeff turned us onto the music of Jake Shimabukuro a couple years ago, when he got interested in playing the ukulele. Jake, who is from Honolulu, became famous about 10 years ago, for his stunning ukulele covers of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” He has gone way beyond those covers now, making his own compositions and even working with symphonies. As luck had it, Jake was playing at the new Blue Note Hawaii jazz club when we were in town, at an all-ages show no less, which was perfect for D’s first concert.
We had excellent seats at a booth in front, and had dinner before the show. As we ate, I reminded D of Jake’s incredible life story: how he mastered and reinvented ukulele music. His mom was a single parent who worked a lot of low-wage jobs day and night to support Jake and his brother, and so Jake had a lot of alone time…missing his mother, who had taught him to play ukulele. To fill the time, he practiced. And practiced. And practiced. And he turned that adversity of being a lonely kid into art. I said to D: I bet Jake’s mom is here to see him play. And Jeff said: yes, and maybe Jake’s 3 year old son is here, too.
And we were both correct! Jake’s son Chase joined him onstage for a song, and his mother performed the encore with him.
Here is Jake with his son Chase performing “More Ukulele”:
This was awesome for D to see, to empower him and show him that even a 3 year old can start learning an instrument (Jake started at 4). I’m hoping see Chase will inspire him to also try an instrument…
Here is Jake and his Mom performing Fats Waller’s “Sweet and Slow.”
But even with all that talent, aloha, and ohana spirit, I must say the real star of the show during this trip was our very own Dad!
Check out Jeff, who got chosen to dance the hula onstage at our luau.