Friday, March 13, 2009

Niihau--Can We Appreciate the Isolation?

Nothing creates intrigue like hearing a place is off limits. Ni‘ihau, 17 miles away from Kaua‘i, is an illusive and forbidden land. This privately owned island houses over 200 Hawaiians.

The majority of the population lives in the community of Pu‘uwai. This is the only island where Hawaiian is the primary language (though children learn English in grade school). Rumor has it this is the only place where some full-blooded Hawaiians still exist. Though a notable irony since the people who own the island are non-Hawaiian.

Unlike the rest of the archipelago, there is no electricity (but people use power generators for their televisions and refrigerators); no cable TV, phone service, indoor plumbing, wireless, or paved roads.

For work, the residents farm and create shell necklaces and craftwork that sells for big bucks on Kaua‘i. Unfortunately, the economy is suffering from draughts, hurricanes, and a lessening of ranch activities. There is talk of a bigger military presence on the island to subsidize the economy, and maybe a high-end resort. But as of now, the land and its people are a pristine example of life without outside influence.

As a tourist, the only way to visit is by invitation from a local. Otherwise, you have to settle with diving off shore or taking a helicopter tour over the uninhabited edge of the island.

It seems to this traveler that there is something special about the isolation of Niihau. No other Hawaiian island has been able to retain its soul in quite the same way--and for that we might be able to appreciate the fact that we are not quite wanted there. Don't some places have to stay sacred?

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