WINDWARD OAHU, August 26, 2012 ― As part of our continuing weekender series, I sought out the chair of the Hawaii State House Committee on Culture and the Arts, Rep. Jessica Wooley to give us an exclusive insight into the culture and wonderful charm of the Hawaiian Islands.
If you’ve never visited Hawaii before and are looking for a fall tourist destination, Rep. Wooley tells us the islands have something special for everyone and that the Hawaiian culture and Aloha spirit make Hawaii the most welcoming place in the world.
Danny de Gracia: Many of our readers have never had the opportunity to visit Hawaii or meet someone from the islands before. How would you describe Hawaii and its culture?
Rep. Jessica Wooley: Hawaii is as unique and diverse a place as one can find on earth. The beginning of this uniqueness is rooted in volcanic islands that have grown and changed over millions of years, the evolution of the most endangered plant and animal species in the world, and the arrival of culture that arrived, lived and has spread the spirit of aloha.
With these unique values, combined with our beautiful island environment – a paradise that is as diverse as its people – Hawaii is exploding with potential for tourists, businesses, land and ocean management, renewable energy, education, food and agriculture, not to mention Hawaii’s politics.
So much that is special to Hawaii reflects its history, yet Hawaii has a special appreciation for our responsibility to the future. There is a respect for ancestors and kupuna (the elderly) combined with the knowledge that our mo`opuna (grandchildren) will be standing on our shoulders someday.
DDG: What do think are some of the most unique and special things about Hawaii?
Wooley: The unique, multi-cultural and aloha-based relationship between people and the land help make our islands special. The Aloha spirit can be described many ways and reflects a sharing, caring, and reciprocal relationship between its people and the land.
DDG: It seems like Hawaii culture has a very strong emphasis on community and family or what the Hawaiians call “ohana.” Tell us a little bit about the concept of ohana.
Wooley: Ohana is the unit that provides the food, shelter, and education for children, giving them emotional support, love, and security. In ancient Hawaii, parents performed the daily work including farming and fishing. Keiki (children) carried food, water, and materials for the building of houses, canoes, and other items. Keiki were taught by watching and doing. If a keiki showed a natural talent at something, they were sent to live with an expert in that field. Kupuna were considered a source of wisdom and understanding. They helped care for the keiki and developed close ties with them. The spiritual guardians provided a sense of well-being for the family.
The emphasis on community is simply an extension of the concept of ohana. That’s one of the best things about living in Hawaii; so many people are committed to helping others and caring for their community.
DDG: Tell us a little bit about your district and what it’s like there.
My district is on the Windward side of Oahu and now includes much of the ahupuaa of Koolaupoko and Koolauloa. My district shifts toward Kaneohe come November and the neighborhoods include Kaneohe, Heeia, Ahuimanu, Kahaluu, Kaalaea, and Waiahole. Our backyard is Kanoehe Bay, which was known as the fishing breadbasket of Oahu. The district also includes the islands of Kapapa, Ahu O Laka, Moku O Loe.
This Windward area is the hidden gem on Oahu, which is the third biggest island in the Hawaiian archipelago and the hub of the state. Although the majority of the population lives on Oahu and most military, business, and tourist activities take place here, you would never know when you come to the Windward side because of our unspoiled and majestic mountains, country life, traditional agriculture, beaches and parks, and our quietude.
DDG: What are some of the places in Hawaii that you think first-time visitors should check out?
Wooley: For people lucky enough to visit the islands, we have a tourist industry that can serve anyone, with great food, history galore, nature in the extreme, water sports of all kinds, ranches, educational and cultural opportunities every hour of the day, and so much more.
For any first-time visitor, it’s almost too difficult to choose because of our bounty. As a result, the best way to experience Hawaii is with help from someone local. Whether it’s a tour guide, trolley ride, bus driver, museum, or friend, I believe visitors must meet, listen, and learn about Hawaii from people who live here. And before coming to Hawaii, I always tell people to read one of the many books that tell a Hawaii story.
My first recommendation is to encourage people to visit Iolani Palace first because it helps people understand the history and people of Hawaii more clearly throughout their visit. The Arizona Memorial and similar tours should begin in the morning after you are well rested. People should check out boat rides like the ones in Kaneohe Bay, usually leaving from Heeia Pier. I think Kualoa Ranch is a must for lunch, the Poi Factory on Saturday or Sunday for lunch or early dinner, the Sunshine Art Gallery, Chinatown on first or second Friday. It may be impossible to visit all of our museums and theatres while visiting Hawaii, but you must visit some of them. Bishop Museum is a must, and there is also MOMO.
There is so much more.
DDG: As the chair of the House Committee on Culture and Arts, what are some of the kinds of bills and legislative issues that come before your committee?
Wooley: One of the priorities over the last two years has been to protect funding to the valuable art programs. We worked with the Honolulu Symphony to get them back into production. We promoted policies and programs that would help the film industry and for the keiki.
DDG: What would you say in general are some of the biggest challenges that Hawaii faces?
Wooley: Food security and self-sustainable energy are two of the many challenges that face our great state. We have the highest average energy bill in the country with the lowest consumption use. There are a variety of alternatives that we have at our disposal.
With our geographical location, solar and wind energy are making a great difference for many Hawaiian families and should be more readily available and affordable to those who currently not using one of these sources. The Big Island of Hawaii is taking advantage of geothermal energy, which is currently powering 20 percent of the island.
DDG: Last but not least, is there anything you’d like to tell our readers in D.C.?
Wooley: Come visit! There are many other places in the world with pretty beaches and majestic mountains, but the Hawaiian culture and Aloha spirit is the most welcoming place on Earth. Aloha is served every day to presidents, leaders, and people of all nations.
We greatly appreciate Rep. Wooley’s time and the opportunity to interview her. For more information about the Hawaii State House Committee on Culture and the Arts, click here.
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