Updated: Nov 19, 2021
I LOVE HAWAII. I go as often as my schedule and bank account allow. I just got back from my first visit to Molokai and it was breathtaking. There’s beauty there that is almost too much to take in, warmth and humidity (this Midwestern girl loves a bit of humidity), birds chirping, sunsets, warm sand, shells, the
water . . . I also gained something I didn’t expect: an education about a native Hawaiian family’s commitment to preserving their history and culture. As a personal historian, I was overjoyed at the opportunity they gave me to hear their story.
Molokai is known for being relatively untouched by the seemingly unchecked tourism that you’ll find on the other larger Hawaiian Islands. It’s sleepy and quiet with not a single traffic light on the whole island. There are no golf courses, big hotel resorts, ABC stores, or restaurant chains. And many of those who live there want to keep it that way. In fact, some locals have posted yard signs that read, “Visit, Spend, and Go Home.”
As part of our time spent on Molokai, we visited the Halawa Valley and attended the Halawa Valley Falls Cultural Hike. Halawa Valley is on the far east end of the island and is only accessible by a one-lane road, at times hugging the roaring ocean – intensely beautiful if not a bit jaw clenching.
Once we arrived in the valley, we were treated to an education about Molokai history and culture like none I had ever read or heard about before. The Solatorio family owns and operates the Halawa Valley Falls Cultural Hike. The elder of the family, Anakala “Pilipo” Solatorio is the last elder born and raised in the Halawa Valley. In fact, his family is the last original family left in the entire valley. Their purpose in leading these cultural hikes is to educate and share their history and way of life while simultaneously preserving their stories for future generations. The hook for me to go on the hike was the beautiful waterfall at the end but the real beauty for me turned out to be in their storytelling.
The Solatorio’s taught us that “Halawa” means “sufficient breath” or “sufficient life” and that the valley has provided and sustained their ancestors and their family for over 1,000 years. Through hard work, they live off the land by farming taro, hunting wild boar and deer, and fishing in the streams and ocean. Pilipo and his son, Greg, and their family have opened their valley (yes, they own the Halawa Valley) to visitors, by guided tour only, so that tourists and even the locals can learn about and honor their rich history and what they value.
Greg and Pilipo explained that because of Hawaii’s legacy of colonialism, the people of Molokai are fiercely protective of their way of life and don’t want outsiders to erode the culture that remains and that they cling to.
Despite this history, Greg and Pilipo are
committed to teaching visitors and tourists about the Island of Molokai and the Halawa Valley. After listening to Pilipo share his people’s history and his own story, we hiked through the valley where they showed us ancient walls that were the foundations for ancient dwellings, sacred grounds once used for religious ceremonies, trees used for medicinal purposes, other trees abundant with flowers and fruit, and ultimately the jaw-dropping waterfall and pool.
Greg and Pilipo believe that education and storytelling is the key to saving their family’s culture and history. Greg was quoted on the website, gohawaii.com/Living A Cultural Legacy:
“Our culture, our family, our traditions, and our ways here in this valley – this is my expertise. I was always taught from my elders, especially my father, that culture is not secret, it is sacred. And that is what a lot of us need to understand, especially us cultural practitioners, culture needs to be shared. The minute we don’t share culture, that’s the minute our culture dies.”
And, when asked why it is important for culture to be taught by those who practice it, Greg responded:
“We say, ‘Nana i ke kumu,’ we go to the source. And without these sources – the people who within these places who keep these stories alive – everything is gone. But when you have people that were born and raised in that place, seeing what the place used to look like, seeing what the elders used to do, and they hand it down to the next generation and teach them the exact things over and over again, now the story lives on forever.”
On our tour, they spoke further about the sharing of their culture with visitors and locals alike. Keeping their culture to themselves breeds ignorance and misperception. But, if they share it with everyone, their stories and histories will never die. And share they do. With everyone. In a most gracious and welcoming way.
If you’d like to learn more about the Solatorio’s story and the Halawa Valley, I encourage you to view the film, “Sons of Halawa.” You can access it by clicking on:
You can also read the article I referenced above by clicking on: