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Healing in Hawaii: Etiquette in the Land of the Mother


There’s nothing like a major health crisis to put things into perspective. Conditioned to pushing myself past exhaustion and ignoring stress levels over decades as I battled on the work front and yearned for approval on the personal front, I hit the proverbial brick wall when I was diagnosed with a rare disease called pheochromocytoma in February of this year. Surrendering to the surgeon’s knife at the start of April, I was forced to confront the truth about the choices that I was making and how little value I placed on myself. Requiring healing and an urgent refocus on the collective whole, I longed for a special place to retreat to so that I could regroup and realign, the geographical equivalent of a mother’s womb. For me, that place is Hawaii.

The healing Islands of Hawaii, with its warm waters, majestic mountains, active volcanoes and lush tropical splendor, enliven one’s spirit like no other place in the world. With a culture steeped in age-old wisdom and intuition, it’s a land of circles and cycles rather than ladders and all things linear. Time seems to stand still in Hawaii, where the neurotic pace of modern society holds little relevance. 

Hawaii’s relaxed air tends to give the impression that anything goes. Nothing could be further from the truth. Like all good mothers, she demands respect and protects what is sacred to her. Here are things to remember when visiting:
  1. Behave With Gratitude & Respect - Sentences in Hawaii are frequently punctuated with Aloha (hello, goodbye, welcome, good wishes) and Mahalo (thank you, with gratitude, praise, and with respect). Visitors are expected to use these terms in conversation. Always show deference towards any altars, roadside crosses and temples.
  2. Don’t Mess With Mother Nature - Touching sea turtles, whales and any sea creature is considered a serious faux pas in Hawaii. As is littering beaches, the ocean, parks, volcanoes and nature reserves. Don’t damage coral by stepping on it. Never take lava rock or black sand (as it’s considered bad luck) or kill a gecko.
  3. Wear the Lei - The lei represents the welcoming spirit of Hawaii. Accept your lei and wear it with gratitude. The correct way to wear it is draped across the shoulders, half on your chest and the other half down your back. Never remove the lei in front of the person who gave it to you as this is a sign of disrespect.
  4. Adhere To Local Customs - Always remove your shoes before entering a home.
  5. Refer to Hawaiians In Correct Manner - Hawaiians must never be referred to as “natives” as this is considered derogatory. Instead, they may be referred to as locals or Kamaaina, or “child of the land.” Refer to the mainland as “the mainland,” not “back in the States.” Remember that Hawaii is the 50th state of the U.S.A.
  6. Patience Is A Virtue - Leave your rushed, uptight behaviour at home. When driving, refrain from honking the horn in traffic. Do wave others in, as they will do for you.
  7. Eat The Poi - When offered poi - a taro root not unlike potato that has been cooked, pounded and fermented - graciously accept to taste some. You’ll otherwise run the risk of offending your host.
  8. Don’t Bag The Hula - The hula is more than just a dance. It is considered a sacred expression of local culture and tradition. In family or community get togethers, young and old alike stand up and partake in the graceful dance that’s as old as time. If you don’t feel inclined to participate, then the least you can do is to look on with respect and enjoy the activity. Snickering or making fun of the dance will be viewed as a marked sign of disrespect.
If you too long to bridge the cultural divide and are eager to embrace the world’s diversity in your travels, check out my e-Reports on Culturally Correct Behaviour.

Posted by Victoria Ugarte on 4th May, 2014 | Trackbacks
Categories: Hawaii (USA)
Tags: USA, etiquette, Hawaii

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