Adios to Aloha?

One month before Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr.’s life was reportedly threatened, the daughter of the woman who helped define “Aloha Spirit” in Hawaii’s State Constitution visited Kauai.

Kumu Hula Charlani Kalama, of Oahu, was in Kokee in October celebrating the Emalani Festival.

But she took a moment after the festival to reflect on the importance of the spirit synonymous with local life.

“If we could all give and share that spirit, imagine how much more beautiful of a place Hawaii and the world would be?” she said.

In 1986, Kalama’s mother, Elizabeth K. Kalama, helped craft the constitutional amendment that defined the aloha spirit. It described the spirit as a working philosophy, a trait of character “that expresses the charms warmth and sincerity of Hawaii’s people.”

“Aloha spirit is the coordination of mind and heart within each person,” statute 5-7.5 reads. “It brings each person to the self. Each person must think and emote good feelings to others.”

It goes on.

“Aloha is a mutual regard and affection and extends warmth in caring with no obligation in return,” it reads.

Kalama’s reminder came when one of the most passionate, polarizing debates on Kauai had been well underway.

For the last six months, the island has been divided over the controversial Bill 2491, which would require large seed companies to disclose their use of restricted use pesticides, among other requirements.

The split over the bill led to reported physical threats on the mayor and other officials. The threats came shortly after the mayor stood outside of his office, in the atrium of the Moikeha Building, explaining his decision to veto the council-approved bill while an angry crowd jeered him.

“You’re not with us. You’re with the corporations,” one woman screamed at the mayor then.

On Thursday, security measures in light of the increased tensions were increased and people were screened with metal detectors heading into the latest public meeting on the bill.

Officials said Friday they didn’t have to confiscate any weapons, and nobody had to be turned away.

But some people on Kauai say the division has already ruined the island’s aloha spirit. Others say if it hasn’t dampened it yet, it’s heading that way.

Yet, other believe it’s impossible to destroy something deep inside you. They said the spirit is alive and well.

But what is the aloha spirit, and is it possible to maintain during a heated disagreement? Is it real, or has it become a cliché?

Depends on whom you ask.

“Sometimes people say that there is no aloha spirit anymore,” said Walter “Kamika” Smith III, general manager of Smith Family Garden Luau in Wailua. “This usually happens when someone doesn’t have things go their way or if something happens that is not what they wanted. The aloha spirit is there, just not in the way that they want to receive it.”

In fact, Smith III said, aloha has to be a two-way street to work at all. Aloha is an expression of love, understanding, peace and welcome and if one doesn’t feel that, it can’t be reciprocated.

“It is OK that the word aloha is overused in that it is a good word,” he said. “Where it gets overused is when the feeling doesn’t go with the word. When you say the word aloha, you need to mean it. It is a greeting, but it is a greeting from the heart, soul and spirit.”

If it’s a feeling, it’s a feeling that has been lacking in more and more people of late, other said

Steven Kila of Kalaheo, a cook at Brick Oven Pizza, said aloha is about caring for others, but caring in general seems to be waning most everywhere.

“I think its gotten worse nowadays,” he said. “I am guessing it is because of the economy and people are stressing out and whatnot— a lot of stuff going wrong with housing and jobs especially with the military. Everybody is just frustrated and don’t take the time to say aloha anymore.”

Unfortunately, what would make it better is what makes a lot of things better: A better economy and financial outlook. Aloha is just like the rest of the market in that it stabilizes when things are going well.

“Money makes the world go around,” he said.

Letters to the editor in The Garden Island have gone back and forth on the topic.

A guest opinion by Alan Kennett in October said the spirit was being destroyed by the bill, co-introduced by County Councilman Gary Hooser, which is “pandering to the anti-GMO movement.” Hooser and bill proponents dispute that.

Kennett, who now lives in Washington state, lived on Kauai for 20 years and retired as president of Gay & Robinson in 2010.

The spirit is fractured on Kauai, he wrote, especially compared to the feeling that was alive following Hurricane Iniki in 1992, when people went out of their way to help one another.

“Where is his aloha in all of this, that same spirit that used to thrive on Kauai?” he wrote.

It’s the same question Arnold Leong, a resident of Hanapepe, has been asking himself.

“What has happened here, lately?” he said. “You see friends arguing with friends, family members pitted against other family members. I was asked if I had any thoughts about the genetically modified organisms bill and ‘aloha spirit.’ It wasn’t a fluke to have been asked — it is something I think about a lot lately.”

Aloha exists when people feel “warm, comfortable, friendly, and maybe even charitable,” Leong said.

“It is not selective, or group-oriented,” he said.

He said he plans on spreading aloha — that warm feeling — regardless of the bill’s outcome.

“Which side of the fence are you on?” he said, repeating a question he’s heard a lot lately. “Last time I spread my legs, there were no signs of abrasions or chafing, so I must be on one side, or the other … I am not on either side. And I don’t have to be. I am an ‘old Joe.’”

Aloha is still alive and well, others said.

Kenny Ishii, owner of Ono Family Restaurant in Kapaa, said he has had too many experiences to count where outer island and Mainland visitors comment on the aloha spirit.

He said that aloha isn’t unique to Hawaii. He said each person has their own type of aloha, regardless if the feeling goes by a different name in some other place, and that will never change. Nevertheless, he added, guests are still surprised by the aloha they feel when they visit.

“I’ve been through so many experiences where people cannot believe the aloha we have here,” said Ishii, who was born in Honolulu. “Even tourists who come here will say, ‘Kenny, thank you for giving us aloha.’ I’ll say, ‘No, I didn’t give you aloha. You feel it? Yeah? You already had it. It just took something to wake it up inside of you.’ I don’t care what country, state or town you’re from, because it doesn’t matter — everyone has it.”

Rafael Villagomez, of Kalaheo, agreed.

He moved to Kauai from Mexico in 1990, and said aloha means to “welcome, be nice and give a little bit.”

That’s still here, he said.

“There is less local people and Hawaiians like before and it is more mixed now,” he said. According to the 2010 Census, Kauai’s population jumped by roughly 10,000 people to 67,000. “But, the aloha is still around and it is still very nice and pretty.”

• Staff writers Chris D’Angelo, Darin Moriki, Dennis Fujimoto and Tom LaVenture contributed to this report

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