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Paradise Lost?

Posted June 12, 2017, 02:19 PM HST

Mango tree with the two posts from the old mill… Big Island Now stock photo.

“Aloha! I am a visitor here to your Big Island. Could you tell me how to get to the Laulau Cafe?”

Ok, sure. Go toward Hilo Town until you cross the turn bridge.

Then go mauka when you see two, big avocado trees.

Follow that road until you come to the white fence with the bus’-up truck in the front.

Keep going past the fence and take a left where the old Suda Store used to be.

Then turn left on the dirt road that goes to the big mango tree with the two old mill posts in front.

When you see the tree, go past it, then makai on the second gravel road.

Right there, you goin’ see Laulau Cafe. It’s so ono!

This might be the typical type of reply you’d receive when asking a local person directions—not exactly what you’d expect from your Siri navigation app.

While this type of directions is viewed as a hysterical joke in island locals and long-time kama‘āina, visitors and new residents who are used to street names and addresses might be at a loss—as well as lost—trying to follow Hawaiian-style directions.

But here in the islands, landmark directions are still the most popular method used.

Visitors and new residents might also find it strange that most locals are not even familiar with the street names in the very towns where they grew up and still reside.


So, where did this practice come from? And why mauka and makai instead of simply using N, S, E and W?

In ancient times, the ruling ali‘i (kings) divided the islands into ahupua‘a—pie-shaped pieces of land that ran from the mountains (mauka) to the ocean (makai).

This allowed all communities to have access to all the natural resources needed to sustain their individual communities.

Most roads in Hawai‘i run along the coastline on the islands, so the terms mauka and makai seem to work better than left or right because no matter which way you came from, mauka will always be towards the mountain and makai will always be towards the ocean.

This makes perfect sense for an island community.

And this is likely how landmark directions evolved…

Sugar plantation owners used landmark directions when they began building housing for their immigrant workers. Housing was built in what was known as camps. Each camp started out in the middle of a cane field somewhere and was built for specific groups of immigrants—Japanese camp, Puerto Rican camp, Filipino camp, etc.

As time went by and there were marriages between different ethnic groups, the camps simply blended and became known mostly by the area in which they were located—Haina Camp, Waipunalei Camp, Halaula Camp, etc.

There were never street names within the camps.

But now, with the help of modern GPS technology, Google Maps or other map apps readily available, it is more common to hear locals use street names in directions.

Navigation apps may or may not be more accurate… but Siri will never be more colorful and descriptive than local-style directions that incorporate the history and culture of Hawai‘i.

Darde Gamayo
Darde Gamayo wen graduate from Honoka'a High & Intermediate in 1986. Her also known as “Tita Nui,” cause her one tita en her is nui. Her is da winna of da 2009 Ms. Aloha Nui Contess. Which is wat wen help her get her da job on da numba 1 rayjo station on dis island, KAPA Rayjo! Her is da weeken mid day DJ. You can catch her on KAPA from 6 p.m. to midnight Mondayz true Fridayz. Her is one blhog writah fo da BigIslandNow.com. Her write bout all kine stuffez, like how da mongoose wen come hea, wat collah da sand on da beach, pineapple in yo food and wat eva kine stuff her tink of. Her get choken udda stuff her like fo do like, write, read, go fishin' and her love to cook too... And wen you look at her you no she like fo eat, too! Her stay livin in Waipi‘o Valley with her honey, Darren, and the rest of their ‘ohana.

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Tyrone Jergenson Just like the direction's we give in Minnesota except we use the old oak tree and the red barn.June 12, 2017 03:04pm
Bonnie McCoy Since my siri/iphone map wouldn't work right we just kept zen-ing for the coast whenever we got lost and we would evently hit a main road/highway!June 12, 2017 03:13pm
Joyce Louden What I want to know, when and why did the local kids start putting an s or 's at the end of a beach name. Hapuna's 69's Waipio's ????June 12, 2017 04:25pm
Tracey Salmo This is how people catch fish in Oregon, interesting, wish we knew this 20 years ago when we moved here......https://www.facebook.com/skylane182/videos/703127806556430/June 12, 2017 05:05pm
Don Barnett John Kerry White-BarnettJune 12, 2017 06:54pm
Gloria OConnor ...only in Hawaii!June 12, 2017 09:13pm
Thomas Hallifax the first time i was told, "go Mauka at the mango tree" i thought, "what are they talking about"? then, i saw the mango tree, i turned toward the mountain, badda boom, badda bang, i was there LOLJune 12, 2017 11:00pm
Sophie Giddings All roads lead to water!June 13, 2017 04:12am
Janet A Vehemente That's the way us locos give direction...l miss dat! 😢😢😢👣👣👣🇬🇧🇬🇧🇬🇧June 13, 2017 05:43am
Kaye Hagedorn We rural Iowan's do the same to thing but do use NSEW too. Generally the state is laid out in a grid with a road every mile. As a Minneapolis city slicker who measured distance in blocks or minutes town downtown and road buses this was a problem!June 13, 2017 06:53am

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