Another stop on the Mai Tai Tour
Wednesday night we made another stop on the Mai Tai Tour, this time at the House Without a Key in the Halekulani Hotel. I don’t think there was ever any doubt that this would be the top spot on the tour. The setting can’t be beat. The House Without a Key is on the spot where a beach house used to sit a hundred years ago. Earl Derr Biggers stayed there and made it the setting for the first Charlie Chan story, The House Without a Key. It is now part of the Halekulani Hotel, which is absolutely gorgeous. The Halekulani was remodeled during the pandemic and was still undergoing renovations in August when we visited. The best place for sunset cocktails is the outdoor lanai where you can find a musical group performing every evening under the 100-year old kiawe tree. We heard Pa’ahuna. the bass player, Pakala Fernandes, is a member of the Farden family of muscians, the most famous of which is his cousin, ”Auntie” Irmgard Farden Aulili. Pa’ahana has performed there for many years. The performance always includes some numbers performed by a dancer. On this evening, the dancer was Miss Hawai’i 2021, Allison Chu. She was gorgeous. We arrived before the band opened their first set and stayed until closing. You can’t beat listening to Hawaiian music under a tropical moon near the ocean. The Mai Tais were the best. Made of two kinds of Baccardi with Lemon Hart 151 floating on top and garnished with lime and sugar cane.
For flavor, ambience, and music, the House Without A Key Mai Tai surpasses all the others.
We did four tours this week. The first was to the Hawaiian Plantation Village which showcases how Hawaiians lived during the plantation era. We were guided by a gentleman named Take. He’s Japanese and grew up on a plantation. The Plantation Village houses replicas and restorations of the homes that Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, Portuguese, and Puerto Rican immigrants lived in as laborers in the sugar cane fields. Sugar was one of the canoe plants, along with taro and sweet potato, that Polynesian voyagers carried during their colonization of the Pacific. By the time Cook arrived in 1788, it was growing on all the islands, and he noted it in his journal. Around 1840, some missionaries started a sugar plantation, but the sugar industry got its real start during the California Gold Rush when Hawaiian beef and sugar fed the Forty-niners. American and European businessmen were quick to see the potential for Hawaiian sugar. During the Civil War, the Northern states were cut off from Southern sugar so they turned to Hawai’i. In 1873, King David Kalakaua entered a Reciprocal Agreement with the United States, under which the US eliminated tariffs on Hawaiian sugar in exchange for access to Pearl Harbor as a naval base.
Sugar is a very labor intensive industry. The Hawaiian population, which numbered between 250,000 and 1 million at Cook’s arrival, had been decimated by imported diseases so that, by 1850, they numbered around 25,000. Those that survived had little interest in working on plantations. They continued their lifestyle of subsistence farming and fishing. Planters looked to other countries for labor. Growing sugar is hard work and conditions are terrible. In order to reduce labor strife, the planters adopted a divide and conquer strategy of bringing in people from different cultures, different nations, speaking different languages in the belief that laborers would stick with their own kind, and that, without a common language, would be unable to communicate grievances and organize for better conditions. The plan didn’t last long. In 1879, the Portuguese arrived and brought the ukulele. Soon it was the national instrument. The uke is a laborer’s instrument, made by laborers for laborers. It was played on the porch of the plantation store and under the mango tree by the sugar mill. Music attracts people and soon people were getting together and sharing their meals. In time they developed a common language—Hawaiian Pidgin—which defeated the planters’ plot. Pidgin can still be heard all through the islands along with Hawaiian music. The third legacy of these gatherings is Hawaiian cuisine known as ”mix plate” which can be had at many local eateries. Mix plate might be kalbi from Korea, or katsu from Japan, or Chinese short ribs, or chicken adobo from the Philippines, or other combos of meat and fish along with rice, mac salad, and maybe kim chi or musubi. It’s become a metaphor for the mix of cultures in Hawai’i.
We took three other tours this week. We spent the better part of a day at the Bishop Museum. They have a fascinating exhibit of Samoan tattoo designs and culture. We also caught a movie in the planetarium called ”The Wayfinders” about Polynesian voyaging and navigation, and especially, the voyages of the Hokuleia. The Hokuleia is currently in Tahiti, having arrived there last week. The director of the planetarium gave an overview of the Hokuleia’s celestial navigation. You can get more of it here. I’ve been getting up late at night to look for the stars used by the navigators.
We visited Iolani Palace, which has been undergoing restoration in the last 20 years. Iolani was the home of the last two monarchs—David Kalakaua, who had it constructed, and Lilioukalani who lived in it as queen and was imprisoned in it when the monarchy was overthrown. It’s an impressive symbol of Hawai’i as a nation, but also a sad and sobering reminder of American imperialism.
The third place we visited was Shangri La, the home of Doris Duke, tobacco heiress, who amassed a huge collection of Islamic art to fill her Diamond Head home. The art is beautiful and inspiring. She clearly had great knowledge and taste for Islamic art. But as you wander through it, you can’t help but wish that it was presented in a context that told about the creators of the art and their lives. Who made these tiles and tapestries? Why and how did they create such beauty? What did it signify to the people who viewed them? Without that context, I’m sorry to say, you see only what one person, with an excess of money acquired through a monopolistic, rapacious capitalist enterprise can accumulate.
Tonight, we are going to the Hawai’i Theatre in downtown Honolulu to hear Raiatea Helm, a great Hawaiian songstress..