Our first trip into the town of Kaunakakai was like going back in time. The wooden storefronts along the single main street looked like a throwback to the 1940’s. Relaxed and charming. After a brief tour (moments really), we headed on to a local auto repair shop to check on Rik’s old Toyota Land Cruiser.
We pulled up to Oshiro’s garage, where cars in various states of repair were strewn across pavement.
“Mr. Oshiro!” Rik called to a worker bent over a radiator. “I’d like you to meet my friends, Dewitt and Lynette.”
A diminutive Japanese man, who looked to be ninety if he was a day, stomped up to me, a frown creasing his already furrowed brow.
“You speak pidgin?” he demanded.
“Uh, no.” I replied, nonplussed.
“Bettah learn!” he spat and stomped back to his work.
Right! Bettah learn. I was visiting a new culture and it was going to be my job to observe and learn. Mr. Oshiro was determined that I understand that from the get go.
Pidgin is a language in its own right, distinct from Hawai`ian. It developed when so many cultures mixed during the plantation days and everyone needed a common language. Hence, pidgin has English, Hawai`ian, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, and more combined in a sort of hybrid tongue.
These days, there are books and stories published in pidgin. There are plays written and performed in this composite language. And likely, if you spend any time in Hawai`i, you will hear it spoken informally as well.
So do I speak pidgin? Not like a native, but I try. Thanks to Mr. Oshiro, I listened and I learned.