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Travel stories

Soaking in Hawaii’s Polynesian heritage

May 15, 2017 by The Go Ahead Tours Team

Go Ahead Operations Specialist Haley said “aloha” to an island getaway when she traveled to Hawaii on tour, and learned a lot about the faraway 50th state. Here, she shares a bit about Hawaiian culture, language, and more—including her can’t-miss moment from the tour.


There are two opportunities to join this traditional Hawaiian festivity on tour—one, at the farewell dinner, and another with a visit to the Polynesian Cultural Center on an excursion. At the Polynesian Cultural Center, you can explore different “villages” to learn about the Pacific Islands and how their unique cultures influence Hawaiian history. You’ll also watch a canoe parade, where members from each of the different Pacific Island nations show off their traditional dress and dances. Of course, the luau itself is a lot of fun—you’ll learn to hula, and you can see (and taste) some traditional Hawaiian foods, including a taro and a special style of roast pig.


On tour, I learned the Hawaiian alphabet contains only thirteen letters—which explains why many Hawaiian words are comprised of repetitive sounds and vowels. Case in point? The famously long fish name, humuhumunukunukuapuaʻa (that’s the reef triggerfish—a common one to spot while snorkeling!). Another interesting thing to know: The apostrophe that appears in many words is part of the alphabet, and is called the okina. It’s used to mark a moment you’d pause in a word’s pronunciation.

Laws (the kapu)

The kapu are ancient Hawaiian laws that concerned everything from how societies were organized to how people could behave. Breaking the kapu almost always resulted in death—unless the breaker of the kapu reached a pu’uhonua, or “place of refuge” to escape punishment. On tour, we learned about the pu’uhonua at Coconut Island in Hilo. The tiny island is just outside the Lili’uokalani Park and Gardens, and legend holds that swimming to its shores healed sickness and redeemed those who’d broken the kapu. Hawaii’s most sacred place of refuge is Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park—which is where I took this picture of the amazing black-sand beach.

Long-lost skills

At the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum in Honolulu, we had some free time to explore; that’s where I watched a presentation about Hawaiian wayfinders. During the 1960s and 1970s, there was a resurgence of interest in Polynesian culture, and sailors wanted to relearn navigation techniques used by the first people who called Hawaii home. Since then, people have traveled around the world using these ancient methods, which include using the stars and wave patterns on the water as guidance. If you’ve seen Moana, you might already know a little bit about how the ancient Polynesians explored the Pacific!

A lasting memory

Today, many different people live in Hawaii, especially on the Big Island. The smaller islands are more sparsely populated, and communities have strong cultural traditions that tie them together. We saw this in Kula, a farming and ranching area along the Haleakalā Volcano, where immigrants from Asia have settled for centuries. There, we met a local at his farm where he grows coffee and protea, a type of tropical flower. He showed our group how he harvests coffee beans and cares for the horses who live on the ranch—and we got to taste the coffee, too. The view from his front porch was incredible, looking out over Halekalā and the Pacific. I just loved this visit because we got to spend some time with a local at his home, and learned how he and his family have made a living in this beautiful place.

Have you ever been on a Hawaiian vacation? Share you favorite memory on Facebook!

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