This is Auntie Jane, a beautiful angel on earth here in the little village of Volcano, on the Big Island of Hawai’i. She was one of the first people I met my first weekend here. The Sunday morning Farmers Market at the Cooper Community Center is the big local weekly social event , when everyone comes together to buy fresh produce, coffee, baked goods, pottery, art, flowers… and to “talk story,” as Hawai’ians say. This is the nexus, the social center of life in Volcano.
I was a little hyper that morning with all the bustle, and I was trying to make contact with a local man I had been corresponding with for almost 2 years in regards to preparing my rainforest land for construction of my little house, which I’ve named Loti’i. He suggested we meet at the Farmers market to talk, but I hadn’t found him yet.
Auntie called out to me in the parking lot, and she smiled and spoke words of welcome, because she had never seen me there before. She was sweet, warm, and calming. “You looking for Hank? Come. We find you Hank.” And she did.
I saw her again tonight at a wonderful concert by the Maui Supergroup duo known as “Hapa,” who recorded the largest selling album in the history of Hawi’ian music, and who do a comedy turn in Adam Sandler's next movie, due out in February. It was a Christmas season production by The Volcano Art Center at the Kiluea Military Center Theater, known to the locals as KMC. It’s a wonderful old theater, a local treasure, with magnificent acoustics, as lead singer Barry Flanagan demonstrated by stepping away from the microphone to sing a verse unamplified. Every syllable was distinct and easily heard by the audience of several hundred, even in the back row, where I was seated.
Auntie Jane recognized me in the crowd at intermission, and called me over to talk story. She was proud of the beautiful lei her son (or was it son-in-law?) had given her. And she wanted know if things had worked out with Hank (they had.) And she reminded me to call her Auntie Jane. Family is very important in Hawai’i, and one’s extended family, called Ohana, IS family. To Auntie Jane, everyone is Ohana. This is the true spirit of aloha. Everyone is Ohana.
When I first moved to Texas, it took me a while to get used to being called Sir. In Texas tradition, younger people address their elders as Sir or Ma’am, and since I’m older than many, I got called Sir a lot. After a while I came to enjoy it, expect it, even look forward to it. Here in Hawai’i the tradition is similar but different. In Hawai’i elders are addressed as “Uncle,” or “Auntie,” reflecting the inclusive sense of ohana. It’s a sign of distinction and affection to be called “Uncle,” and the first time I was addressed as Uncle I had a grin on my face the rest of the day. Elders are respected here in a way I’ve never seen anywhere else in America. I think they have something to teach the rest of the country in this regard.
Need convincing? Just look at this beautiful angel. She’s revered in the community. She’s one of the elders. She’s Auntie Jane. And to her, everyone is Ohana.
Photo & text © 2010 by David Kinne – Loti’i Journal is a series about my experiences in the volcanic rainforest on the Big Island of Hawai’i