10 Hawaiian Facts That Will Impress a Local
Spout off some Hawaiian fun facts during a game of pub trivia in Wisconsin and you might look like more than an Ed Hardy hat rack to your beer-blind friends.
But, arrive in the islands and bust out “Haleakala is the world’s largest dormant volcano!” or some shit like that and all you’ll score is an eye-roll and a “frickin’ haole,” muttered behind your back.
From the fact that the Big Island’s lava fields were used as a training ground for astronauts to Hawaii’s history of infanticide, the Aloha State is teeming with outrageously fascinating trivia.
Memorize these 10 Hawaiian facts, Alex Trebek and maybe then you can make a real impression:
Queen Ka’ahumanu outlawed hula.
Homegrown Maui girl and Kamehameha the Great’s most cherished wife was born in a Hana cave and earned serious respect from females when she persuaded her second husband to (gasp) eat publicly with women.
But, those Protestant missionaries—the same peeps who introduced native Hawaiians to wondrous things like guns and syphilis—convinced the formidable queen to prohibit hula, deeming the ancient form of storytelling a proponent of heathen values.
In response, hula became a clandestine endeavor—hidden from public view but danced in secret.
It wasn’t until King David Kalakaua’s reign, in 1883, that the law was officially lifted, thereby giving birth to the modern luau—and allowing for those heathen practices we simply call vacation.
Mongooses are centuries-old evidence of Hawaiian agriculture’s ill-advised start.
The sugarcane boom in the 18th century irrevocably altered the landscape of Hawaii in more ways than one.
In response to the glut of plantations popping up around the islands, land laborers got the brilliant idea to import the Jamaican mongoose to control the crop-damaging rodent population.
Small and crafty, the mongoose seemed like the perfect solution. Only problem? Mongooses are diurnal, while rodents wreak mad havoc at night.
Mongooses barely scratched the influx of rats, but did a serious and lasting number on Hawaii’s fragile ecosystem, chowing down on the nests of native birds and tossing back turtle eggs like they were jellybeans.
Today, the wily mongoose is considered one of the biggest threats to Hawaii’s endemic species. (Nice going there, Gerald O’Hara.)
It’s considered inauspicious to proffer a closed lei to a pregnant woman.
Leis are as ubiquitous in Hawaii as surf racks and SPAM, but give a tied lei to a woman who’s expecting and you’re something of an asshole.
Cultural etiquette dictates that leis given to preggers babes must be open-ended. Tied, and you’re more or less implying a future in which the umbilical cord wraps around the fetus’s neck.
Sound dark? This is Hawaii. You try living in the most isolated archipelago in the world without developing some pretty strange preoccupations.
Captain Cook got Kauai drunk on rum.
Captain James was hiding more than an irrepressible desire to shack it up with native Hawaiian women, when he sailed into the port of Waimea in the 18th century: the ole chap had a couple of barrels of rum clanking on his ship.
Hawaiians took to the spirit like bees to honey, determining that they could make their own blend decades later, when sugarcane was introduced to the Garden Isle.
Commercial production began in 1837, in the town of Koloa when the “tall cane” that flourishes in Hawaii’s volcanic soil spurred boatloads of raw sugar that could be spun into libations.
Today, that rich, boozy past is recalled at Koloa Rum Co.—the oldest rum distillery on the island and the producers of a chief ingredient in many an artisan island cocktail.
Many of Hawaii’s species are total pacifists.
Despite Hawaii’s violent past, it is, by and large, a tranquil place, where smiles are readily given and most residents operate by the tenets of peace and pono.
Need evidence besides the warmth of your resort’s staff (who, ahem, get paid for saying aloha?) Look no further than the bushes. Not in your wife’s panties, perv—the ones in nature.
Several of Hawaii’s plants and animals have gone through tremendous evolutionary changes since they landed on the islands’ sunny shores—whether as canoe plants that traversed the Pacific with the earliest Polynesians or as hitchhikers on ocean-borne storms.
Due to Hawaii’s isolation—and, importantly, the fact that few plants and animals had to shield themselves from outside threats (aka haoles)—their defensive features softened, before ultimately becoming obsolete.
Mint lost its pungent scent and taste because there were no animals lurking around, threatening to eat them. Nettles became nettle-less, raspberries lost their thorns, the Happy Face Spider ceased producing poison and flies became flightless, because there were no predators from which to run. In other words, them things got lazy.
Kamehameha the Great had a concubine.
King Kamehameha the first—an impressive beast of a man, if there ever was one—was simultaneously feared, revered and hated.
Responsible for conquering the islands in a bloody coup that resulted in the establishment of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1810, he promoted trade with Europe and the U.S., worshipped his native gods and took several wives—most of whom he outlived.
He also took a concubine—and not just some wavy-haired beauty from the Ke’anae Peninsula.
As was custom among the kings of the islands during his time, Kamehameha had an aikane, which is, to put it bluntly, a boy toy. A man slave. A bloke who bl—you get the point, don’t you?
So astounded by the king’s mutable sexuality were Cook’s sailors—who I know and you know were prolly just as familiar with the idea of bro jobs (c’mon, they were at sea for, like, decades)—wrote, “He with many of his attendants took up quarters on board the ship for the Night: among them is a Young Man of whom he seems very fond, which does not in the least surprise us, as we have had opportunities before of being acquainted with a detestable part of his Character which is not in the least anxious to conceal.”
Puritan beliefs aside, say a prayer of gratitude no matter which way you swing: Hawaii is considered one of the gay-friendliest states in the nation, giving rise to its nickname as Fire Island.
STDs, smallpox and measles decimated the Hawaiian population by 84%.
Cook’s arrival in Hawaii paved the way for more than the launch of iron and sugar in the islands. Foreign-borne diseases joined him and his compatriots when they sailed to shore in 1778, introducing Hawaiians to a slew of diseases that took them out faster than the weapons the euro trash also so kindly introduced to natives.
Chief among these maladies? Smallpox, measles and STDs, which, between Cook’s arrival and 1840, annihilated a whopping 84% of the native Hawaiian population. (And yet, the same sailors who spread these diseases disparaged Kamehameha for his sexual proclivities.)
That devastation has yet to be recouped. Today, only 6% of the Aloha State’s total population is native Hawaiian, with Asians predominately roaming its shores.
Hawaii’s state fish is named after a mythical pig.
Humuhumunukunukuapua’a—Hawaii’s state fish and arguably one of the easiest words to utter to impress an unwitting mainlander—translates to pig fish and not just because of its cute little snout.
Years ago—back before full-fledged humans wandered from rainbow to ‘ohia forest—Hawaii was ruled by mythical gods with more shape-shifting abilities than Sylar.
Of them was Hina’s bastard son, who earned his name when Hina’s husband—in the know of her infidelities with his brother—dubbed him a Kamapua’a (that’s “Hog Child” to you, gringo).
The illegitimate kid had a rough go of it, spending much of his lifetime fighting for his father’s love and pillaging the islands in pig skins.
After murdering Hina’s husband and getting the cold shoulder from his real father, he fled to the Big Island, where he sought solace in Pele’s arms. Disgusted by Hog Child and daunted by his uncanny abilities to shape shift, she blew him off, leaving him the wetter sides of the island as a consolation prize.
When Kilauea erupted, he threw himself off the coast and, upon hitting the water, transformed into the state fish we know today.
Happen to spot one? Consider yourself blessed. Lore suggests that humuhumunukunukuapua’a protects peeps from feeling the pain of unrequited love.
Hawaiians played the flute with their nose.
Think of Hawaiian music and you might be prone to think of the ukulele. Which makes sense and all—our most well-known musician, IZ, was rarely seen without one.
But, back in the day—like, before the electronic keyboard and Peter Gabriel—Hawaiians swayed to a different beat: they played the bamboo flute, but only with their nose.
Otherwise known as ‘ohe hano ihu, this dandy instrument—which was up to 21 inches in length—wasn’t just used to serenade babies and communicate with birds. The nose flute was a common means for courting, suggesting the theory that you could kiss and play at the same time.
SPAM saved Hawaiians from starvation.
Pop into a MinitStop or peruse the more inventive menus around the islands and you’re bound to spot SPAM in one of its fabulously forms.
Keep your shock to yourself, because this is standard fare for us over here in our swimsuits and slippers.
As in, we eat 7 million cans of this questionable tinned pork per year and celebrate our penchant for it at the annual Waikiki Spam Jam.
Due to increasing tensions with Japan and prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaiians—who share the Pacific with the former U.S. rival—were prohibited from deep sea fishing, thus reducing islanders already-limited dietary selections.
Thanks to the Land-Lease Act during World War II, loads of SPAM were shipped to soldiers overseas, providing roughly 15 million cans to allied troops each week. The preserved pork shoulder ultimately founds its way to the G.I.s stationed in Hawaii, while also serving the islands’-wide shortage of meat.
And, as any soldier knows, there’s always a trade to be made when you have something you don’t want and someone else has something you do, maybe including a lap dance hula or two.
Engender a cringe in you, Miss Priss? If it’s good enough for our Oahu-born Prez, then surely you can try it too.
Plus, it’ll add to your Hawaiian street cred, now that you’ve got these facts down pat. (Ain’t that right, Voltaire?)