Skip to content

Island Culture

Yes, Hawai╩╗i is a US state, but it is the most isolated land mass in the world. In the center of the Pacific, it has influences from all its neighbors, including Japan, Korea, China, the Philippines and Pacific Islands you may have never heard of.

In addition, if you spend the time to research the history of Hawai╩╗i you will find strong roots of a kingdom which, like Kilauea volcano, lives just under the surface and has a strong influence on life here. As such it is best to treat the culture with as much respect as any foreign country.

Here is rundown of island culture.


A land and people rich in legends and respect for the islands they steward (not own, steward). According to legend, the land itself is the stillborn older brother of the Hawaiians; they treat it like family, caring for it as it cares for them. It is precious, thus permission is asked whenever a plant is used, and preferably returned to where it was harvested when done.


Slightly different from the college...

According to 2000 census data .

Pie chart showing Hilo demographics
Notice the large number of categories in the demographics chart. Native Hawaiians are represented at 10% of the population. Which percentages are larger? To know more, research Hawaiian history.


Slippers lined up

  • Take your shoes off before entering a home and line them up with the others.
  • Say "Auntie" or "Uncle" rather than Mr. or Mrs. when addressing an elder.
  • When visiting someone for the first time, bring a small gift for the host. Food is ideal.
  • A hug or kiss on the cheek is a form of greeting.
  • Don't touch the honu (sea turtles) - they are an endangered species.

Business Hours

Hilo is a sleepy little town whose vendors work to live, rather than live to work.

Don't be surprised if you come up to your favorite bakery and there's a sign that says "Traveling- be back next month" (though you're probably friends with the owner and you guys have talked story about their upcoming trip). Use the internet to check hours if you want a late night snack, because there are very few places that are open 24 hours. In addition, weekends have limited hours compared to the continental US, and shops tend to shut down around dinner time.


When you play around the island, remember: you don't know if you're running into tourists, locals, or multi-millionaires. They are all dressed the same--casual--and maybe a little ruffled by the elements. Treat everyone with kindness. And being a prime vacation spot, one of your friends may have a cousin who has a vacation home nearby and works for Tesla, Disney or some other big company.

It truly is "a small world" on these islands.

Everyone is related to some degree or is tightly networked. This extends across the islands, and people rely heavily on reference checking. So the good news is, if you build a strong network there's a good chance you can find a basic job or place to live.

Lesson: Treat everyone with respect.