A walkabout along Waikiki Beach


MENTION Hawaii and instantly Waikiki Beach and Polynesian men and women in leis and grass skirts swaying away in hula dancing to the strumming of the ukulele under the coconut trees and the background of swelling blue waves come to mind.
And Hawaii is a typical tropical group of hundreds of islands in the Pacific. There are eight main islands. These islands with rainforests, white sandy beaches, rocky coastlines with active and passive volcanic each have their unique rich cultural heritage and history.
I had first heard about Waikiki Beach from a song sung by the Hornettes when I was 12 in 1982 and it was a hit back then and still is now. I had a privilege to stand at Waikiki bBeach in Honolulu City on the main Hawaiian or Oahu Island when I went for the Jefferson Fellowship on Global Migration/Public Sentiments last month.
Although there was no Polynesian dancing to the tune of ukuleles, it was still a magnificent beach. But this time with thousands of tourists flocking to the beach to swim, surf, sun bathe or just hang around and relax to soak up the view and generally marvel and to rethink about the song on Waikiki.
Unfortunately, Waikiki is not a natural beach although it’s the original site. But it is almost entirely manmade or reconstructed with sand brought in from sandy beaches from other parts of Oahu Island or in the sea (pumped out on to the beach).
This is because of sand erosion over the years and its reconstruction is now a multi-billion kina business with five star hotels, classic restaurants, bars, shopping centres and other eye-catching tourist attractions. Otherwise prior to the redevelopment it was just like any natural beach with wide sand, lined with coconut trees that you can find throughout the coastal areas of Papua New Guinea.
Another thing I found out is that Honolulu is a now a multi-cultural place with people of mostly Asian origin like Koreans, Filipinos, Chinese and Japanese and Caucasians. Most of these Asians came before the Second World War to work on large plantations of pineapple and sugar cane. And all these ethnic groups including the native Hawaiian Polynesians all have assimilated into one new Honolulu community to work and live under the American constitution.
But Hawaii is a typical tropical island in the Pacific discovered in the 1700s by the Europeans.
British explorer Captain James Cook was officially recorded to be the first such explorer to the island although there were reports of other Europeans discovering it earlier than Cook.
It has a rich, colourful and controversial history of settlement by Europeans and of course by the native Hawaiian chiefs in extending their respective kingdoms by fighting wars. But a very significant event happened on Jan 14, 1893 when the original Hawaiian Polynesian monarchy headed by Queen Liliuokalani was deposed by mostly American businessmen and residents . That move eventually led to Hawaii becoming one of the 50 states of America.
Another historical site on Honolulu is Pearl habour which was bombed on Dec 7, 1941 drawing the United States to the Second World War. The Japanese made a surprise attack and bombed 18 warships among them the sunken USS Arizona which is now a museum.
The attack killed a total of 2,008 American airmen, soldiers and navy officers. Now Pearl Habour is a memorial park to commemorate that loss and other naval loses in the Pacific theatre.
Not only does Hawaii have history of controversy and conflict but it also a history of a peaceful community that is involved in agricultural, fishing and cultural activities.
One important aspect of the culture and history is the Ulup Heiau temple where chiefs and priests did ritual ceremonies around the 1400s. This is a typical Hawaiian story long before the arrival of the Europeans.
This area was swampy and waterlogged and under a massive agricultural project, the Hawaiians established large gardens of taro, kaukau, sugar cane and other root crops. There were also inland fish farming projects and fishing in the sea.
The temple is now in ruins. But it is a strong remainder of the Hawaiian culture long before the arrival of the Europeans.

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