Wednesday, March 24, 2010


DREAMIN’ OF REALITY: One of the peculiarities of the ease of travel over the past century or so is the lack of context that causes parachute residents of a new chosen community tend to think the local culture began the day they arrived.

And because the “local” Hawai`i culture is both so familiar and so foreign to newcomers it’s easy to forget that all may not be as it appears to them in retrospect.

It’s the reason why there is a difference between kama`aina- literally familiar with the land, including it’s history- and the malihini and why, while it occurs all over the county and indeed the world, it is a unique distinction in Hawai`i.

So it seems to be with our friend Joan Conrow’s “review” of John Wehrheim’s movie “Taylor Camp,” in which she apparently attempts to superimpose the island and culture she found on arrival with that of late 60’s and early 70’s Kaua`i.

Joan writes:

Taylor Camp was the beginning of the end for Kauai, especially the North Shore. Because the campers reflected an attitude that was sharply at odds with local culture, an attitude that still persists to this day.

The board brush approach of that statement seems to see a monolithic “local culture” but it’s impossible to analyze that culture without separating out what was culture derived from a truly unique, native and later mutli-cultural island and that superimposed at the time by years of cultural genocide courtesy of the western capitalist missionaries along with normal provincialism that yields cultural traits that can be found in any mid-western American town.

She continues:

Those who came to Taylor Camp didn’t care that no one else on the island wanted them here, except others like them who had arrived earlier and spread the word, encouraging more to come...

They didn’t care that locals were offended by their nudity and lifestyle, or that they largely lived apart from the locals, literally lost in their own little world, just like the mainland transplants of today who stick to themselves and don’t care that locals are offended by the extravagant eyesores they construct in the view planes. The campers with their treehouses were essentially no different than those who build mansions that are similarly occupied by transients who are just passing through, removed from the larger workings of the community.

A pretty strong statement that could be expected from someone who wasn’t there. But the reality was these people weren’t building even permanent structures much less mansions and the “treehouses" blocked no view planes and were in fact invisible from the road and most of the beach.

The fact is that most of the long oppressed working class locals and those few who still practiced a truly native culture were not just tolerant but unusually welcoming given the traits of this new and different kind of haole.

“Haole John’s” stylized depiction of an us and them dynamic- achieved through interviews with the likes of western luna’s stooge Mayor Malapit- notwithstanding, a very different dynamic was underway.

While the power elite- the same paternalistic white ruling class and selected “coconuts” (brown on the outside, white in the middle) may have taken this approach the vast majority, especially the young people, were at least curious and in many ways took the cultural revolution of the 60’s as a cue for their own cultural renaissance.

Joan continues:

I was struck by how the campers, with few exceptions, gave nothing back to the place that they supposedly loved so much. Instead, they just took: food stamps, welfare, the time and patience of Clorinda, the longtime Hanalei postmaster who had to pass out their mail through general delivery, rides from people who had the cars they couldn’t afford or eschewed, fish from the ocean, water from the streams, schooling for their children, medical care. They were skimmers, folks who came in and took the cream off the top, much like the land speculators and Realtors and vacation rental operators who continue to exploit “Paradise” today, leaving their trash and doo doo and houses behind.

If all you knew was what John put in the movie you might believe some of this to be true. The fact is that Clorinda and the Chings- and almost all of the Hanalei businesspeople- loved the campers and had none of the animosity, much less a barely tolerant attitude, that Joan may have gotten from John, who was certainly was in no way a camper and was more akin to the invading, rich, land-owning and raping haole that Joan apparently abhors.

While there were many more transient “campers” who might have fit Joan’s description what Wehrheim apparently intentionally left out of his movie is that most were gainfully- if not legally- employed in the pakalolo trade.

And guess what? In that sense they fit perfectly into the local culture because soon after their arrival, not so coincidentally every family on the island- including most of the members of the police department- were driving brand new four-wheel-drive trucks thanks to the “money trees” in their back yards.

But for the “hippies” it was a lot harder. Since they had no back yard- and did it as a job- they hiked miles up streams and mountains to grow their crops- working a lot harder than anyone could imagine.

More from “Joan”:

But what really jumped out was the campers' selfishness, their insistence on doing what they wanted with no thought to how it affected the locals or this place, their overall lack of respect. One example was how they started living on the beaches, which prompted county officials to shorten the shoreline camping period from one month to two weeks, so locals ended up getting screwed. They also gave fake names like “mermaid’s pool” to places that already had perfectly good names conferred on them from ancient times. Amazingly, not one person interviewed in the film expressed one word about the Hawaiian culture or history. Instead, it was as if the place never existed until they arrived.

Here is where the inability to put things into historical context is most egregious. First of the current county camping permits are the same as always- one month spread out over a year. Some changes were made but not until the 90’s but there is no such thing as a shoreline camping permit- only ones for designated county parks.

And as far as making up names there were few if any places that didn’t have haole or pidgin names way before anyone from camp got there. It’s only since the late 70’s that more and more have regained their own names. For example no one- not local people not anyone (although in retrospect we’re pretty sure the Chandlers knew)- ever mentioned the name “Makana” but rather called the mountain across from camp “Bali Hai” since it was the one depicted as the mythical island in the movie South Pacific... which is where many north shore places got the names that were used at the time.... and it was local people who gave them those names.

And, as we said before, in many ways the influx actually contributed to the beginnings of the revival of the kanaka maoli culture which had been suppressed to the point of virtual extinction until soon after the arrival of these new westerners who eschewed that suppression and encouraged cultural expression.

It’s also easy to conflate those at Taylor Camp with many of the other “hippie enclaves” on the island. Camp was a place that tolerated and in fact encouraged transients, being the “gateway” to and stopover for Na Pali where many hundreds of others came and went.

But Joan lumps the few dozen who actually lived there- many of whom at the time developed relationships with and now live as part of that same local culture Joan sees being disrespected- along with the transients who, like today rich or poor simply come to paradise to exploit it.

Joan’s view of a continuous kanaka culture ignores the fact that it was for all intent and purpose killed off way before the sixties, practiced perhaps by a few families who kept it alive at home but were either afraid or embarrassed to do so publicly.

Many of us who came to know these families - not necessarily campers, many of who moved to the Big Island where they are members of that community- especially in Anahola shared political support for the rebirth of that culture and provided an atmosphere where the fear and embarrassment were at least in part a thing of the past.

This is not to say that the hippies- and that covers a lot of ground from the political activists to the druggies and hangers on- somehow directly caused the rejuvenation and free expression of the native Hawaiian culture that bloomed shortly after they got here.

But the very attitudes that supported and encourage that renaissance make the contention that they somehow are to be lumped in with the rich haoles who now build gated mansions on the hill and wouldn’t know an ipu from mele is only possible if you overlay the current zealousness of native culture today on the suppressed, traditionally provincial, plantation-mentality of “local” culture of the day.

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