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10 Amazing Island Stories

Next time you’re out in public, take a look around. The person next to you may have saved a life. Or won a million dollars. You wouldn’t know just by looking at them, you’d have to ask. So we did. Here are some Islanders who have experienced the unusual, done the extraordinary, from the sublime achievement of reclaiming a once nearly extinct language to the wacky experience of winning a musubi eating contest.


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Photo by: Olivier Koning

Kaumakaiwa Kanakaole

speaks Hawaiian fluently.

Spoken Hawaiian once verged on extinction. A new generation has brought it back.

I was part of the first class of the Punana Leo o Hilo Hawaiian immersion program, in 1985. Prior to that, I was raised speaking the language. My mother could speak Hawaiian, and so could my grandmother and her mother, Edith Kanakaole. And using the language as part of the ceremony and protocol of hula, I had an understanding of the metaphor and poetry of Hawaiian language even before I had the skill to converse.

Today, there are more than enough people around me to be able to speak Hawaiian on a daily basis. On average, I’ll speak Hawaiian for more than half of my day. I have an easier time expressing myself to my grandmother in Hawaiian than in English. My brothers can understand, but can’t speak as much. My cousins are all involved in Hawaiian language revitalization movements. And I have more and more friends who are products of the University of Hawaii system who have been speaking the language for a few years.

The UH language students are often limited in conversational Hawaiian language, even if they’re skilled in the technical aspects. There’s a natural rhythm and intonation to conversational Hawaiian that’s often missing. They’ll speak in a monotone, and you can see the process going in their heads as they’re speaking, putting words and phrases together.

I actually look forward to speaking with people whose language skills are not as good. It takes extra effort, but it’s really not frustrating. Any sort of Hawaiian language experience is better than none at all, and to be able to hear it on a daily basis, at whatever level, is refreshing.

You can often tell where a fluent Hawaiian speaker is from. Dialects vary from island to island, even between different ahupuaa, or districts. In the more southern Hawaiian islands of Maui and Hawaii Island, a lot of glottal stops are used and the language is a lot more guttural sounding, so it sounds like chanting. The northern islands use a lot more nasal techniques.

When you hear Hawaiian language unexpectedly, it strikes a chord. Whether you know the speaker or not, you turn around and you already have an ancestral familiarity. I feel as if I know them already, even though we’ve never met. The language has given us a deeply rooted, binding connection. It’s these moments in my day that truly validate what I do, as an educator or a musician or a hula practitioner or even just as a speaker of the language.


Jane Greenwood

responds to medical emergencies, including the occasional emergence.

In 2006, the EMS supervisor helped deliver a baby boy in a car at a Honolulu gas station.

We got a call for an “OB case.” That’s all they really tell us. You never know what you’re going to get until you get there. It was just me and two interns.

I guess the couple was on the freeway driving to the hospital. She told him they had to pull over. He took the airport exit and turned into a gas station.

When we pulled up, the dad was in the driver’s seat, she was in the front seat and their son, maybe 4 or 5 years old, was sitting in the back. I went to the passenger door. She had broken her water all over the seat. She looked at me and all she said was, “It’s coming.”

They were in an older car that had a bench seat in front. I felt so lucky. You never see that anymore. I got the dad out and laid her down on the bench. I could already see the top of the baby’s head. It was ready. I reassured her and told her I’d done this before. I helped her breathe, told her to push. Then she pushed again and the head popped out. I helped the shoulder down and boom, the baby came right out. It all happened in less than two minutes.

I’ve delivered 10 babies in my career and that was the only one I’ve delivered in a car. We see so much death and sickness and illness and trauma. It’s cool when we get to see something miraculous and beautiful. 


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Honolulu Magazine February 2018
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