Memories of chickens and beware of ‘shokas’

My first close encounter with Kauai chickens was a rude awakening, literally.

It happened long before roosters and hens took over parking lots all over Kauai; long before they became the most popular photo opp at scenic lookouts; long before people began calling them Kauai’s official” bird.

A few days after my husband Wayne and I were married in a small church on Oahu, we flew home to Kauai to begin our new life together.

He had already started building a small house for us next door to his parents, who had kindly invited us to stay with them until it was done.

We got in late that first night, I remember. I had been living on Oahu for the past six months or so and had not spent any time at his parents’ house in Kapahi. We stayed up talking with his family for a while but it had been a busy week and we were tired so we all went to sleep.

At a ridiculously early hour the next morning, I was startled awake by what sounded like a boatload of banshees (or what I imagine a boatload might sound like.)

“What is that?” I asked Wayne, frantically, shaking him awake. (He had slept through it all.)

He opened his eyes, listened, and said, “Go back to sleep. It’s just my father’s roosters.”

That was the beginning of my life with the chickens.

I found out that day that Gramps (which eventually became my pet name for my father-in-law) had more than 200 roosters and at least as many hens living in coops, pens, cages and trees around the yard.

(I wasn’t there when he got them so if you don’t try to ask, I won’t try to tell you why he had so many. I will say, however, that in all the years I lived with the roosters, I never personally saw any of them used for illegal or inhumane purposes.)

Wayne and his brother have countless stories they can and will tell you about the chickens and how they felt about them. They were the ones who had to take care of the many daily chores chickens create (like filling each cage’s makeshift food dishes (made out of pre-used Vienna sausage cans) with scratch feed.

They were also the ones who got mercilessly pecked constantly for no other reason than that they were within beak range when they were doing what they were expected to do.

Living with so many chickens was quite an experience. For a while, I didn’t think I’d ever get used to their incessant crowing at all hours of the morning or evening. Eventually, I did, but it took a very, very long time.

I wasn’t the only who felt that way, either. Whenever relatives who had moved to the mainland visited, the roosters were always the main topic of conversation. Many of our guests actually taped the noise to play for disbelieving friends and family back home.

After a while, I got to know what behavior to expect from the flock, both while I lived at his parents’ home and even after our house was finished and we moved in. The “shokas” (phonetic spelling because I’m not sure exactly how to spell this apparently Portuguese word) were the most memorable. Shokas (which is what I was told Mama chickens were called) were lessons in terror.

I read a blog once that said the term “mother hen” is actually a myth, that chickens are not a bit maternal or nurturing and even gave a disgusting example of how quickly they will dive into and devour a plate of scrambled eggs without regard to where they came from or whose children they were.

I strongly disagree with the myth part. “Shokas” were fierce and fearful. If baby chicks were in the area when I was hanging clothes on the line in the backyard, the shoka would make a beeline for my ankles and peck viciously until I went away. This happened more than once. Fortunately for me, people rarely die from pecked ankles.

I also remember years later when a shoka went after one grandson (whose identify I won’t disclose to preserve his dignity). Terrified, he ran straight to Papa Wayne, jumped up on him and held on for dear life). We still tease him about that one and he still isn’t amused when we do.

Chickens, particularly hens, also had no regard for property rights. They climbed up on anything, your front porch, an open car, an outside washhouse, anything, anywhere. I can’t even recall how many times I had to shoo them off my front porch with a broom for my own protection.

Chickens no longer live here. Most went away on Sept. 12, 1992, when Hurricane Iniki came to call. Do I miss them? Not really, They are alive and well and living all over Kauai. Experts estimate there are thousands living on Kauai. I seriously suggest they do a chicken census. They might be surprised at the actual numbers they tally.

When it comes to chickens, most people have a love/hate relationship with them. They either think they are a nuisance or the cutest things since baby bunnies were invented.

Opinion on CQ (Chicken quotient.) is also sharply divided. Some say they are smarter than a four-year-old; Others laugh and say, “Yeah, sure.”

All I know is this: If ever anyone should start suffering from chicken withdrawal, there are several things they can do.

They can cruise local parking lots until they find one populated with enough chickens. It shouldn’t take long.

If that fails, however, they can always stop for lunch under a shady tree near a beach, take out a large bag of French fries and wait. Within minutes, one or two will be staring longingly at you through your car window.

The last resort, if you can’t find any chickens, is to just drive down Kuhio Highway during peak pau hana traffic on a busy Friday afternoon and wait for a chicken to cross the road. After all, that’s what they do, isn’t it?

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Rita De Silva is a former editor of The Garden Island and a Kapaa resident.

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