Is it possible to decolonize a Hawaiian vacation?
June 15, 2019 11:34 AM   Subscribe

How can we plan a Hawaiian vacation for a family of four, in a way that most respects the native people of Hawaii, their culture and environment?

We have no personal connection or roots in Hawaii, but want to plan a visit some time in the next year. We'd love to find a way for our tourism dollars to go to lodgings, tour operators, and other experiences that support native Hawaiians, rather than huge conglomerates... (We also have two little kids under the age of 4). How can we do this? Are there travel agencies, networks or other sources for this kind of travel in Hawaii?

Bonus: our family loves Hawaiian music, and when our babies were born we mostly played them Hawaiian slack key guitar music. We'd love to attend some kind of authentic music festival or performance.

We can travel any time of year!
posted by amoeba to Travel & Transportation around Hawaii (7 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This is a not complete answer to your question, not even close, but one thing your family can do is be mindful of the accommodations you choose. It's my understanding that there are a lot of illegal vacation rentals on all the islands, in the sense that the rentals are in neighborhoods not zoned for tourist rentals. When local housing gets converted to AirBnBs (or whatever), that negatively impacts the people who call that area home by driving up the cost of housing.
posted by stowaway at 12:02 PM on June 15, 2019 [12 favorites]

Best answer: Which island(s)?
For example, on Maui you can attend the Slack Key Show starring George Kahumoku, Jr. and other native musicians. I attended in May and found it very good. It's more of an adult concert; I didn't see many children.
Hawai'i magazine has a list of best luaus which includes notes on cultural values. (In general luaus attached to a hotel are more generic.)

You might also explore Travel2Change
posted by blob at 12:51 PM on June 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This is thorny... when you say you specifically want to support Native Hawaiians, do you mean to exclude the generations of Hawaii-born descendants of Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, Pinoy and other peoples who came/were brought over as plantation/ranch labor? It's pretty easy enough to avoid conglomerates (unless you go to Lanai), but it's going to be a lot harder and potentially weird to plan a trip that solely benefits people who identify as ethnically Hawaiian.

Have you looked at the island of Moloka'i? It's not the Waikiki experience, but if what you read appeals to you, choosing to vacation there will help keep you on the right side of shopping local, because the island actively resists corporations, touristic and otherwise. The only car rental agency is locally-owned. There are no chain restaurants. I don't know who owns Hotel Molokai these days—it's the one hotel there is, managed by a small conglomerate—but I prefer to VRBO it anyway. This is my favorite beach house, fwiw, though I happen to know it's owned by a (small-scale) Californian winemaker.

There are no staged luaus like you'd find on the other islands, but for a different kind of native Hawaiian experience, you'd definitely want to take a Halawa Valley tour with Pilipo Solatorio. If you're interested in seeing the pali, I'd suggest taking a small boat around the backside of the island with Walter Naki. Musically, there's almost always something going on—the Pau Hana Friday kanikapila at the hotel restaurant, some kind of weekday jam at the Coffees of Hawaii store, and evening gigs at couple of other venues. You could do worse than to plan your trip to coincide with the annual Moloka'i Ka Hula Piko event in late May, for a surfeit of traditional music and dance.

There's no getting around the fact that the airline you fly will be a major corporation. That said, Hawaiian Airlines is an excellent carrier with routes from many major US cities, and Alaska Airlines is a great option as well, though obviously less invested in the local economy. (n.b.: you'll have to catch an island-hopper to get to Moloka'i)
posted by mumkin at 1:52 PM on June 15, 2019 [25 favorites]

Best answer: There's a guidebook coming out in November for exactly this purpose: Detours: A Decolonial Guide to Hawai‘i.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 3:58 PM on June 15, 2019 [23 favorites]

Best answer: On the subject of guidebooks, those you should avoid in particular are the ones in the series by Andrew Doughty. They are called "Maui Revealed" "Kauai Revealed" and so on. My understanding is that the author became very successful because he wrote about some spots that were very beautiful but actually protected/on private property, and they were overrun with trespassing tourists.
posted by hummingbird at 4:37 PM on June 15, 2019 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Bani Amor has written extensively about decolonizing travel. Here is their website and a recent article that talks about Hawaii specifically.
posted by Brittanie at 8:27 AM on June 16, 2019 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I have worked with some of the folks behind/in DeTours on various projects, so a huge thumbs up to the agents of KAOS suggestion.

There is/used to be a Native Hawaiian network of organizations thinking about this very topic (what does it mean to be a host culture, and what do Kanaka Maoli want from visitors as guests, in a real sense, and not just the commodified aloha available to the tourist). I'm spacing on the name, but I do remember that I found Kipahulu (in Hana Maui) via their network. A ton of O'ahu organizations doing similar land restoration work host regular community work days, Kākoʻo ʻŌiwi is one on the windward side that has been expanding the wetland kalo grown on island.

Also nthing avoiding Airbnb. I know that it's tempting to avoid Waikiki and stay in non-tourist neighborhoods to get the "authentic" experience, but Waikiki has the most availability of unionized hotel jobs - this is a Hawaii hotel guide provided by the Local 5 union, and they are great resources in general anyway. Those unionized jobs are hugely important in a tourist economy that has low unemployment but high cost of living (and high homelessness, especially among Native Hawaiians).

I'll think of more and post again.
posted by spamandkimchi at 12:23 PM on June 16, 2019 [6 favorites]

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