Editor's Page: Changing Their Worlds

Two articles this month focus on communities that took charge of their destinies.

HONOLULU Magazine Editor A. Kam Napier.

Photo: Linny Morris


There’s an old saying in Hawaii: “Be humble, no grumble.” I think—at least I hope—that this plantation-era sentiment is falling by the wayside. It’s a hard habit to break, though, if you grew up here. That lesson of humility soaks into your bones, but I believe it holds a lot of us back. It makes us settle for things we aren’t even happy with, because, in part, the ethic is not without some emotional benefit. After all, it’s difficult to insist on what one deserves. It feels like conflict.

We worry what people will think of us if we grumble—gotta look humble, right? Kamaaina, have you ever found yourself cringing at the sight of someone making a scene in public about some minor injustice? Maybe it’s the lady in a slow line, sighing loudly and repeatedly checking her watch, or the guy at the theater shushing some noisy teenagers. We hear that little voice in our head: “Eh, no make li’dat.”

No make. Well, what can we make when we’re regularly telling ourselves and each other, “No make?”

I’m no different. I wrote last month about some challenges I’ve faced remodeling an old apartment. I’ve been stunned by the number of things I’ve had to return along the way, the number of vendors I had to stay on top of despite being the paying customer. Once, at the end of a long day going around and around about how I wanted a certain task executed, I went to dinner to relax. Then the first appetizer arrived burnt. Sure, we’d ordered the hamburger sliders well done, but didn’t expect the buns themselves to be charcoal black. And at first I just couldn’t bring myself to send them back. The old local habits kicked in—don’t complain, don’t make waves, don’t stand out—and I glumly ate my way through one burnt slider before I could muster the energy to say, in that apologetic way we stand up for ourselves in Hawaii, “Sorry to ask this, but the sliders are really burnt, could we get some new ones?” (We did, no trouble at all.)

This is a long-winded way of saying that I read with admiration two stories in this issue. In Lavonne Leong’s “From the Mountain to the Sea; Saving the Heeia Ahupuaa,” we meet three community groups working, in what will be a lifetime effort, to restore this Windward Oahu ahupuaa to its pre-contact function. Ancient Hawaiians, living off the land, had divided the island into pie-slice-shaped districts called ahupua‘a, with everything from hunting to farming to fishing occurring along the length of a valley stream. The people you’ll meet want the He‘eia ahupua‘a to be like that again. I think they approach their work with humility, but with an unwavering determination that they will make, and not wait for someone else to do it for them.

Then there’s Tiffany Hill’s look, at Kailua Beach nearly one year after a sweeping ban on all commercial activity there, something for which the residents of Kailua argued vociferously. The libertarian in me thinks the ban goes too far, that tax-paying businesses have a right to public parks, too. The Waipahu boy in me thinks—and, yes, I’m aware of the irony here, please see my photo above—“Man, those pushy haoles sure know how to get their way.” But another voice in my head says, Good for you, Kailua. You saw how you wanted your community to be and made it happen.

So, everyone, grumble—humbly—but go forth and make.

Did you know? The traditional Hawaiian subdivision of land had four levels: mokupuni (whole island), moku (the largest subdivision of an island), ahupuaa and ili (generally two or three per ahupuaa).