Thoughts on Hawaii

The use of dialect in Cloud Atlas is really cool, and in general I like it, but during the Sloosha’s Crossing section, it hit a little too close to home to be comfortable for me. Though I can’t speak Pidgin, the local dialect that really is used back home (it dates back to the plantation days, when all the workers from different parts of the world–Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, etc needed to figure out how to talk to each other), I do understand it quite well. It’s strange to explain Pidgin, but as seeing it affected me a lot in the novel I thought I’d talk a little bit about it here.

Pidgin nowadays isn’t used by humble plantation workers who are trying to cross language barriers; now it IS a barrier, albeit a cultural versus a language one. Speaking pidgin is a marker of what I would call ‘local-ness’ (for lack of a better term). It shows that you’re local–you not only grew up on the islands, you’re fully integrated into local culture, from wearing slippers (you mainlanders call them flip-flops; you’re wrong) to eating lots of rice with your loco moco and chicken katsu and taking Zippy’s chili to the beach. It’s hard to explain….I guess I would say all these things, from wardrobe choices to food *do* count as cultural markers, but pidgin is a far stronger marker than any other. But to explain why we have these markers I need to explain the breakdown of culture on Oahu.

Hawaii is a melting pot, I won’t deny that, but I will say that race and ethnicity is still used to stereotype you. White people, the minority back home, are referred to as Haoles. Haole is a Hawaiian term, pronounced Ha-oh-lee, that basically means foreigner. Haole could also refer to the huge Asian population on the islands but is never used that way. Asians are just Asians, and the more tan they get the more local they’re considered, as darker skin (but not African-American, just very tanned) skin is a definite sign of local-ness–it implies you go to the beach a lot and probably surf and whatnot. The way to tell a Haole from a white tourist is usually sunburn–tourists almost always have weird or very, very bad sunburns, while Haoles like me have successfully learned to use sunscreen over the years.

Still, I am local, right? I love rice, I wear slippers, I go to the beach–and more than that, I’ve lived in Hawaii for all but about 3 weeks of my life. That more than anything should make me local, right? Wrong. I speak proper English, not pidgin, and that means I’m not really local. Speaking pidgin means you’re always going to live in Hawaii (I mean, seriously, if your accent is thick enough, no one but islanders will be able to understand you anyway). It shows a class difference too–my mother can speak both pidgin and proper English, and if she’ll switch in and out depending on who she’s talking to).

Hopefully I’ve made pidgin, or at least my own experience with it, a little clearer. This post could basically go on forever, so I’ll stop here and leave you with this. It even has subtitles! Seriously though, when Zach’ry speaks, this would be his accent. :)




~ by liadangreylady on March 2, 2012.

One Response to “Thoughts on Hawaii”

  1. It’s really cool to hear about Hawaii’s unique culture, especially from the perspective of a (near) local. The video made me laugh; I wish I could go to Hawaii to hear more. It’s unlikely I’ll get to make the trip, but hey, I’d probably get a terrible sunburn anyways.


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