Thursday, March 12, 2009


Here is a list of surprising things we have learned in Hilo, Hawaii.

1) There are a lot of things about food that we just didn’t know before we moved to Hawaii. First, we’ve found the variety of tropical fruits grown on the Big Island to be stunning Bananas alone, (called Mai’a in Hawaiian) have over 50 varieties. And the variety is important culturally (all except two varieties of bananas were forbidden fruit for women to eat under penalty of death until the early 1800’s) and for the survival of the plant (multiple varieties increase the chances of survival of a fruit in case of an attack by bugs or disease). Fruit seeds are more important to our life than we knew. Chocolate is made from seeds that grow in football shaped fruits attached to a cacao tree trunk and coffee “beans” are really the seeds of a bright red edible fruit called the coffee cherry. We didn’t know that most edible fish are nocturnal. Fisherman go out at night to catch fish which explains why fish arrives in the early morning at the Hilo pier. In bad weather, like we’ve had this past week, many fishermen do not to go out which limits the quantity and choices at Suisan’s fish store at the pier as well as the local fish delivered around the island to restaurants and grocery stores.

2) Being in Hilo has made us appreciate the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. It comprises 28% of the Earth’s surface; if the continents of Europe and Asia were combined they would still only fill one third of the area of the Pacific Ocean. From Hawaii it is thousands of miles to any other island nation or continent. Though we thought we knew the ferocity of the Pacific’s waves after living on the west coast of the US, the ocean here is more ferocious and faster changing. The ocean around Hawaii can go from kiddy pool calm to killer waves sets instantly. Even seasoned local fishermen fishing off the shores near Hilo and Puna have been swept away by sudden wave surges and lost to the ocean.

3) We were surprised to learn that the Pacific Islanders were navigating the Pacific Ocean long before the Europeans were able to navigate the Atlantic Ocean. They developed a navigation system based on their own star constellations that allowed them to sail thousands of miles across the Pacific from island to island. Instead of defining huge constellations of disparate stars into animals and human figures that stretches the imagination to visualize, Hawaiian constellations define readily visible star clusters. Constellations like Hoku-‘iwa, Na-hiku (the Big Dipper), Na-hoku-pa (5 stars in a circle), Hanai-a-ka-malama and Hoku-ke’a (the southern cross) combined with knowledge of the tides and phases of the moon allowed navigation in the dark of night with no land in sight for thousands of miles. The information was memorized in chants and transmitted through generations. We can’t imagine the skills and knowledge required to sail across the Pacific Ocean in an outrigger canoe made from hollowed-out trees and tied together with the fibers from coconuts shells.

4) The world feels noticeably Atlantic-centric from Hilo. The news, movies, politics, and even people’s speech and verbal references are centered on Europe and North America. In Hilo the language is infused with Hawaiian, Filipino and Japanese words that are needed to shop or understand directions. We buy fish like Ehu, Opakapaka, Gindai, Uku, Opelu, Ono, and Ahi; and we tackle recipes with produce like Kalo (Taro),’Ulu (Breadfruit), Rambutan, ‘Ohelo berries, and Lilikoi. These aren’t the subjects of mainstream TV. The Earthquakes, volcanic activity, storms, and politics of the islands and people in the Pacific and continent of Hawaii are rarely covered in the news, even by Asian news services.

5) Although rarely mentioned in the international news, massive amounts of SO2 and volcanic gases, known as VOG, are being released from the Big Island’s volcano greatly impacting life in Hawaii. Since the major eruption last year, the daily VOG emissions have been killing crops of tropical flowers and changing the taste of locally grown coffee. We have learned from our solar panel that the VOG strongly reflects the sun’s energy decreasing the solar energy collected and that it persists in the atmosphere for weeks. We think the huge cloud of VOG floating between Hawaii and the island of Guam, 4000 miles away, is having a far greater influence on global weather than the world yet realizes.


Keahi Pelayo said...

Really interesting comments and factoids about Hilo.

Victoria Hokulani said...

Wow, I never thought about the vog affecting global weather, but damn, this is the coldest winter that we have had in the nearly 15 years we have lived on the Big Island. It was 52 degrees this morning in Mountain View and the first day of spring is a week away? I can tell you the last time I went to Kailua-Kona that the vog overhang definitely cooled that place considerably. It was dreary and cool. Not a typical K-K kinda of day. I think you may be onto something about that, for sure.

Grif Frost said...

Aloha! Wonderful blog...thank you for sharing. Coming up on our eighth year since we made our move to Hilo...after living in 37 cities on three continents Hilo is by far the best...your blog helps remind us NOT to take the opportunity to live in this wonderful place for granted...

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