First Stop- Hilo, Hawaii
After 6 days of sailing through the Pacific Ocean, we finally got to Hilo, a small town in the Big Island of Hawaii. Everyone onboard was very excited to be in Hawaii and eagerly waiting to get off the ship. After breakfast and the immigration paper work, we were off to discover! Some of us had field labs and field programmes; and others were free to roam around the island.
First, we went to a Kumu's house. A Kumu, in Hawaiian culture, is a teacher, who teaches about Hawaiian culture. Our Kumu was called Kumu Paul, who taught us about Hawaii being a neutral country till 1893 when the United States invaded and took over. And the Queen of Hawaii told the people of Hawaii to refrain from fighting and killing. It was a peaceful transaction, but the Hawaiians held on to their culture and heritage, and hoped to be liberated again.
The very first thing we learned about the Hawaiian culture was Aloha, a word that Hawaiians use for both Hello and Goodbye. Aloha is done by two people touching their forehead and nose together and then taking a deep breath. According to Hawaiian culture, Aloha is shared forever. Once you share an Aloha, as one takes in a breath of you, one takes in a part of you in and vice versa.
A group of three students taught us how to do Hula, a traditional Hawaiian dance and it is both spiritual and joyful. We learned a Hula choreography ourselves. It was a very happy themed song, and the entire class, even the professor enjoyed the experience very much. One more Hawaiian concept that we learned was Mahalo, a word which is perceived as thank you. However, Mahalo means that, I admire what you have to give or offer me. It was a very unique concept that was shared with us.
One last thing that we learned was Ho'okupu, a prayer towards the Hawaiian gods. A Ho'okupu is made out of leaves, coconut, bananas and dried leave ropes. In the Ho'okupu we put notes of our spiritual aspiration and what we would like to hold on to and pass on to our future generation. The Kumu placed our Ho'okupu's on the shrine in front of his house and devoted them to the Hawaiian gods.
My second day in Hilo, I was fortunate that my Hula teacher, Makalani took her time to show me around town and explain the culture and history. I had the opportunity to try local homemade Hawaiian ice-cream, which is not exported out of Hawaii. And I have to admit that it was one of the best ice-creams I have ever had. I was blown away by the beautiful sound of Ukulele, a smaller version of the guitar in Hawaii. Another interesting element that I learned was that, women in Hawaii wore flowers on the right side of the head to show they were single, while wearing flowers on the left side would mean that they were taken!