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Sunshine Market Souvenirs

The Sunshine Market shows up in the backs of station wagons and temporary tents every Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. in a little park in the heart of Hanapepe, "The biggest little town on Kaua'i". Locally grown fruits and vegetables appear for an hour or so, sold by islanders for a fraction of grocery store prices. When fresh, exotic fruit calls, my wife pulls me out the door and we make the short drive from Poipu toward the windward side of the island. The Sunshine Market is not old Hawaii, but it does possess its spirit. In its laid-back approach and in the smiles of the natives who greet us, we can sense something not found in most parts of the isles.

sunshine market kauaiMinutes after a light shower, so common in the tropics, a sugar cane stalk, a bunch of apple bananas, and a bag of impossible-to-crack macadamia nuts have found their way into our bag and my pocketbook. My wife is in search of papayas but we are told we are minutes too late. The Hanapepe Sunshine Market is sold out. So now she tugs at my hand and says, "Collectibles. I want collectibles."

The drive to Hanapepe was littered with our usual front seat banter. The conversation could have dead-ended with Ni"ihau--the forbidden island--as we were both content to take in the beauty of the island as we drove. But as we passed an old defunct shopping area my wife spied a sign that read "Collectibles". Every couple of minutes for the past thirty she has reminded me of her ultimate objective for coming to the town of Hanapepe. She knows the game too well. Repetition and a hopeful tone of voice, she knows, are like a sharp blade. They surgically remove my resistance, which is already lowered because Madison is with her grandmother. In truth, I share her desire to explore the local culture, past and present, to see if there are any souvenirs worth toting back to Colorado. My feigned resistance is easily broken.

"Collectibles," I say, unlocking the car door.

She smiles and kisses me.

"You're a good sport."

There is a shop on the north side of the road in Hanapepe that sells antique maps, artwork, and other historical island artifacts. It intrigues both of us so we decide to have a look inside. One might call it a curse, others will appreciate it for obvious reasons, but my wife is not one of those women who search for dime store collectibles. Regardless of the weight of our wallet her tastes (and mine, as well) are not cheap or trivial. We are in search of something made on the island, representative of life on Kaua'i. We will not be toting home in our luggage anything stamped MADE IN CHINA on the bottom. Trinkets, thankfully, are not allowed in our front door. This little shop we have stepped into does not peddle in trinkets and I can tell from her attitude that we will be here for some time.

Along the back wall of the shop are several framed maps of the islands. Most of them originated with the first European explorers to make it this far west. One of them dates to the voyage of Captain James Cook, the island’s "discoverer". Captain Cook, in charge of the sailing ships Resolution and Discovery, reached the western shores of Kaua'i in 1778, having been blown past the rest of the Hawaiian Islands. Cook, unlike many who would come later, was an honorable sailor. He did not wish to disturb the island's culture or take from its beauty by introducing western ways and vices. But supplies were needed as he was commissioned to search for a passage across the northern most part of America. And, too, the people of Kaua'i were very hospitable. So the good captain anchored off the coast of Waimea and allowed some of his sea-weary men to disembark and barter for supplies. Some of the Hawaiians boarded the Resolution and the Discovery. They were in awe of the ships and the power of the man who commanded them. Cook, in fact, was viewed as a god. They were also fascinated with the iron objects they saw and collected as much as they could. This fascination with western culture and the power it could wield would eventually change the Hawaiian culture.

From Western man the inhabitants of Kaua'i also collected venereal diseases previously unknown to the Polynesians. Cook attempted to avoid this disaster by ordering all men known to be infected to remain on board, amounting to nearly half the crew. He had seen the effect when, months earlier, they had landed at Tahiti. More than a decade earlier, the Tahitians had been introduced to the diseases by another group of Western explorers. The consequences were grave. But Cook had no way of knowing just how many men were actually infected. A year later, when he and his crew returned to the Sandwich Isles, it was obvious that he had not averted this tragedy.

While on the island of Kaua'i Captain Cook and his crew collected as many supplies as they were able and then sailed to the smaller neighboring island of Ni'ihau. On Ni'ihau they obtained salt and yams and departed to chart the northern coast of America. Though he surely would have objected, Cook's first visit to the islands began a process that would eventually turn them into an extension of the western world. The Sandwich Isles were at the beginning of a major transformation.

A year later, the Resolution and Discovery returned to Kaua'i. In a small and unfortunate skirmish Captain Cook and four of his men were killed. The genesis of the argument was a missing cutter, apparently stolen from the Discovery the previous evening. The dispute, over who had stolen the cutter, could not be resolved peacefully. In February of 1779, Kealakekua Bay became the final resting place for the body of Captain James Cook, an extraordinary maritime navigator, and one-time Hawaiian God.

The bones of Captain Cook have been witness to countless other landings over the last century, witness to the evolutions of a Polynesian culture toward a more western way of life, and, finally, the onslaught of tourism. Before the arrival of Cook, the Hawaiians had never seen a gun. Wars were waged hand to hand and with the aid of relatively primitive weapons. Battles were won more on emotion and belief--in their chief or their land--than they were on the precision of fired and smelted iron.

In time, the men from the west used their weaponry as trade for supplies and allegiances, securing yams, salt, and fruit in exchange for guns and the promise to support a local chief in his fight against a rival. These changes, this downward spiral of the native culture, (what else could you call it?) saw their numbers dwindle. When Captain Cook first visited the Sandwich Isles he noted in his log book that there were somewhere near 300,000 to 400,000 Hawaiians living in the islands. A little more than a century later only ten percent of that number remained. Overworked under slave-like conditions, food shortages due to improper management of resources, and wars and disease all contributed to diminish the native population to a ghost of its former self.

The Hawaiian people were diminished in numbers but they have been able to avoid extinction. Unfortunately, many of the islands' indigenous species have not fared so well. The Hawaiian Islands have lost more bird species to extinction than any other place on earth. Man, more than any other factor, has turned the tables against them. Extinction is our twentieth century tax upon the world, and we are a very demanding landlord.

Cook would have been appalled by the changes the last century has brought. I stand in the middle of the shop and wonder how we are like him. What can we, tourists by definition, do to leave the island as we found it? Like Cook, I don’t want to be an agent of change, not the type of change brought here, anyway. Some things, however, are unavoidable. Time does not slow down or stop, and man moves on, exerting his influence upon the world. All things change. However, we owe it to the Polynesians, to Captain James Cook and men like him, and to ourselves to remember what this place was like, and, also, to respect what still remains. Perhaps that is the best way to honor the past.

Kauai'i is a land that reminds any visitor he is walking between two worlds. The land itself will not allow the culture to be destroyed. The slivers of Polynesian culture that have survived the onslaught of the western world cannot be beat down. They ride on the trade winds and they are hidden under the shroud of moisture that constantly encompasses Mount Waialealea--the wettest place on earth. Each drop of water that runs to one of Kauai'i's seven freshwater rivers carries its spirit. And that spirit shows up in places like the Sunshine Market, where the simplest of the island's treasures can be experienced, where commercial Hawaii takes a break and time dissolves into a bag of fruit and nuts.

Chunk
Copyright © Jack McDaniel