Kauai’s Aloha Spirit

DSC06901My personal experience is that Kauai still has an abundance of the “Aloha Spirit.”  This  tendency to treat people kindly and take everything in stride, without getting overly upset, was  particularly evident during preparations for what was expected to be back-to-back hurricanes in early August.

As Iselle and Julio were bearing down on the Hawaiian islands, Kauai residents took precautions, stocking up on food, water and gasoline.  Lines were long, but tempers didn’t seem to flare at any of the grocery stores, hardware stores, or gas stations where I stocked up on  supplies.

Emergency SuppliesIn fact, some people went out of their way to make sure everything went smoothly.  I even saw a local resident at the Shell station in Kapa’a get out of his car and become the unofficial traffic director. He calmly guided cars to the pumps in an orderly manner and politely directed a lady who was blocking a motorist’s exit to back-up and get in line with the rest of the very patient motorists.

20140805_101714There were a few nervous tourists who complained about long lines and empty shelves, but most of the kama’aina (locals) just calmly accepted the fact that supplies are limited on this remote island and that replacements wouldn’t arrive until the ports reopened.

Before I arrived on Kauai, the only thing I knew about “Aloha,” was that  this Hawaiian word meant both “hello” and “goodbye.”  Since then I’ve come to understand, there’s a deeper meaning behind this common greeting that’s an integral part of the local lifestyle.

Serge Kalihi King describes “Aloha” in The Little Pink Booklet of  Aloha  as “the joyful (oha) sharing (alo) of life energy (ha) in the present (alo).”

Did you know this special “Spirit of Aloha” is an actual law on the books in the State of Hawaii?  Revised statute 5-7.5 describes it as the working philosophy of native Hawaiians.

(a) The Aloha Spirit is the coordination of mind and heart within each person. It brings each person to the Self. Each person must think and emote good feelings to others. In the contemplation and presence of the life force, Aloha, the following unuhi laulâ loa (free translation) may be used:

A – Ahahai, meaning kindness to be expressed with tenderness;

L – Lokahi, meaning unity to be expressed with harmony;

O – Olu’olu, meaning agreeable, to be expressed with pleasantness;

H – Ha’ah’a, meaning humility, to be expressed with modesty;

A – Ahonui, meaning patience, to be expressed with perseverance.


I’ve seen the “Aloha Spirit” in action on Kauai even before the recent storm preparations.  A paddle-out for a 23-year old man, killed in a car accident in 2012, demonstrated a unity of love and affection when hundreds of surfers joined Bruce Perdue’s family at Kalihiwai Bay to scatter his ashes and celebrate his life.

My personal favorite is the “Aloha Spirit” I experienced at the Kauai County Office of Motor Vehicle Registration.  I won’t give too many details because I’m sure the employee who helped me out “bent” the official rules on my behalf, but here’s the gist of what happened:

I was driving a car registered to my now ex-husband, who left Kauai 90-days after our arrival on the Garden Isle.  I drove to Lihue the day before the registration expired and explained to the clerk I didn’t have the required signature on the application form.  She asked when my husband was expected to return to Kauai and I told her the truth:  “Maybe never,” I said.

The clerk had a sympathetic and knowing look in her eyes, like she’d heard this sad story before.She hesitated momentarily, then turned to her computer and began typing.  “I’m not supposed to do this,” she quietly said, as she processed the registration without my husband’s signature. Then, she handed me the necessary tools to replace the Scion’s old California license plate with a brand new Hawaii plate.

I mailed the registration application to my ex that same day, got his signature, and  returned it to the attention of this helpful clerk who embraced me with the “Aloha Spirit” by showing compassion for a stranger.

Even now, I say, “Many thanks!” or mahalo nui loa for this exceptional kindness.


12 thoughts on “Kauai’s Aloha Spirit

  1. Great Blog! My husband and I just got back from our anniversary trip to Kauai. Such a beautiful place to live. Thanks for all this info, I wish I knew about those food hot spots! Next time I will try them out. So what kind of work did you find?

    1. Aloha Laura,
      I’m so glad you enjoyed your anniversary on Kauai. Definitely a great place to visit, but I must be honest, it’s a tough place to make
      a living. I’ve seen statistics showing about half the residents receive some kind of subsidy to cope with the high cost of living.
      When I first arrived on Kauai, I scooped ice cream in Hanalei on weekends for $10/hour + tips…Fun, but didn’t pay the rent. I eventually
      launched my own business, doing property management and “green cleaning” with natural products.

  2. Thanks Jennifer for sharing your story… yes, I can see the challenge in finding work– it would seem competitive, for lack of opportunity. We stayed at the Grand Hyatt, & I was surprised most of the welcoming staff, concierge and even restaurant waiters were mainland transplants. Only the groundkeepers and housecleaning were ethnic Hawaiians. However on a few adventure tours we meet several young people born/raised in Kauai (hosting activity).

    Congrats on launching a niche “green cleaning” business. Great to see Kauai talking action to be eco-conscious. We heard that island will start transitioning into solar energy by 2020. Please update us with another blog about this aspect of Kauai.

    1. Laura,
      Kauai just flipped the switch on the largest solar farm in the entire state of Hawaii on a former sugar cane farm in Koloa. So looks like it’s a work in progress.

  3. I just got back from 12 days on Kauai and it brought back all the great feelings I had living there for 8 years in the 80’s. My husband and I are now focusing on a move back in 2 years when I retire here, happily knowing I will have to keep working to support myself living there. Do you rent? Can’t see our affording to buy a home, which is my biggest concern.

    1. Susan,

      Housing is a major expense, so the majority of residents rent, or share rental housing. Low-cost rentals are hard to come by, especially during the peak travel months when some
      property owners convert their homes/apartments into nightly vacation rentals. I wish I could have afforded to buy a condo four years ago when prices fell, but banks require a 30%
      versus 20% down payment so I didn’t have enough cash up front to qualify.

      Food is another major expense and gasoline is about $1.00/gallon more than the mainland. To make full-time living even tougher, most jobs pay minimum wage.
      Not sure how this compares with the 80’s, but just be aware you’ll need to come with a descent pension, substantial savings or continue working to live on Kauai

  4. Thank you so much for sharing. Me, my Pilialo, my Kaikamahine and my Keikikane are looking forward to coming to Kauai -)

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