You Speak Pidgin? Bettah Learn!


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.

For more about pidgin, check out Wikipedia and these books on Amazon: Pidgin To Da Max and Da Kine Dictionary.

Moloka`i Is A Big Hana

West End Molokai From the Air © lynette sheppard

West End Molokai From the Air © lynette sheppard

My husband, Dewitt, and I were frequent visitors to Maui a couple of decades ago. We were addicted to windsurfing, particularly in the glorious waters of the Hawai`ian islands. Though we had also visited Oahu, Kaua`i and Hawai`i island, we never seriously thought about living in the 50th state.

As luck would have it, our friends Rik and Bronwyn Cooke, invited us to their home on Moloka`i. After a week of sailing and sunburn, we made our way to the tiny commuter terminal at Maui’s Kahului airport. A big, smiling Hawai`ian man tagged our bags and weighed us preparatory for boarding the little Twin Otter prop plane.

“You ever been to Moloka`i?” he asked.

“No,” I answered. “This is my first time.”

He thought for a moment, then asked “Have you ever been to Hana?”

“Oh yes. I LOVE Hana!” I exclaimed, remembering the slow pace of the tiny rural village at the literal end of the road in Maui.

“Then you’re going to the right place. Moloka`i is a big Hana.” he beamed.