Discussing the Hawaii pidgin phrase “da kine” reminds me of the many concepts of “Hawaii” that people hold, often without realizing it.

For some, Hawaii is the magical island of Bali Hai in South Pacific – a mystical place where time never changes. These people are dismayed when they find that much of Hawaii is like anywhere else on the mainland. There is the city, office buildings, hotels, crowds and insane traffic. They feel one of two things: that they were somehow misled or tricked into the Hawaii myth; or that the Hawaii of their dreams does exist, it just must be on a different island or at a different time of year.

On every island, locals go to work, take kids to school, deal with the traffic and complain about the cost of food and gasoline. Similarly, some visitors go to Hawaii resorts that replicate a sort of tropical existence with manicured grounds and hired performers. Both of these realities are true and they overlap. The dancers you see at luaus are proud of the heritage they share but they return to apartments or shared homes not to grass shacks on the beach. Yet, even the most manufactured of experiences is different from anything else on the mainland and makes an impression on guests.

If you look beyond the trappings and traffic, you’ll see that Hawaii invites you to be true to yourself. I have two favorite expressions, one is “no matter where you go, there you are.” You bring your own experiences and expectations with you to Hawaii. If you never move beyond what you expected to see, you will be disappointed. And you will miss the wonders that actually are here in the islands.

The other favorite expression is “da kine” – which defies easy definition. In our Twitter conversation today, the item was defined as “whatchamacalit.” That drew an immediate protest from @tenbears who had called “da kine” the ultimate expression of local pidgin zen. “It fails to capture the feeling. Like calling sushi “cold dead fish.” Continuing, “You have to factor in facial expression and intonation too. It’s even recursive. You know, da kine is like… da kine.”

I have been in Hawaii just long enough to appreciate the many ways the da kine is used. I’ve heard the phrase used in a variety of contexts and agree must be relationally defined. The closest I can come is the old George Carlin routine on the various meanings of a four letter word that begins with “s.” The meaning varies widely and yet no one is confused when the term is used.

I’ve come to believe that “Hawaii” is relationally defined as well. It can be an imaginary place of myth, a movie locale, a dream destination, a treasured vacation, an annual escape, or home. Every experience is partially true but no one is definitive. The meaning of Hawaii is created in the exchange between island and inpidual. What is Hawaii to you?


  1. I have only lived here for a year and I have found this place to be both gritty and real and also magical and amazing. I live in Kapolei and every single time I cross the island to Honolulu I am awestruck by the beauty of this place, even with all the buildings and traffic. The air has a feeling of healing and harmony and the people are warm and inviting. Of course, there are always exceptions. A woman I met recently had it right when she said you can find in Hawaii and it's people what you bring to it. Love this place and it will love you back.

  2. Hawaii is my home and has been all my life.  I truly love living here.  I travel quite a bit, with family visits that stretch from Puerto Rico, Florida and Utah, and race competitions that have taken me to Australia, NY, Fiji and Thailand.  But whenever that plane lands in Hawaii, me heart races with the most excitement, as I am always so happy to be back home.  Hawaii no ka oi!

  3. Nice comment, Jana – I agree that you find in Hawaii what you bring to it. It has been wonderful every day of the three years I've been here so far!

  4. Cindy as usual you expressed it perfectly.
    I know coming to Hawaii for me was life changing. I hate to sound cliche but it was.
    Sure the hotel and it’s workers were great, we had great meals, saw interesting and beautiful sights.
    What was life changing for me was sitting alone on the beach on the North Shore, it was quiet, beautiful and for the first time in my life I felt at peace.
    I grew up in a fairly rural area, and so the north shore for me was home. I understood what they mean when they say “keep the country country”.
    I will be back to stay soon, I know this in my heart.
    Mahalo Cindy for a wonderful post.

  5. Sometimes I catch myself envying people who can call Hawaii home so I don’t want to give that impression now. Right now we have a hurricane moving inland toward my hometown and the same can occur there! For me the pressure is less here than there! So I appreciate Hawai’i enough to stay put!

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