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The Hawai’ian Okina


Today I learned that the “apostrophe” in Hawai’i is not actually an apostrophe, it is an ‘   , or an “okina.” It is a glottal stop, indicating a pause or break in the rush of air past the human vocal cords, similar to the pause you feel when you say “uh oh.” So it is not pronounced “huh-WHY-ee” but “huh-WA ‘ ee”.

I also learned that the state flag of Hawai’i has the British Union Jack on it. The Hawai’ian warlord Kamehameha united the independent islands of Hawai’i by force in the 1790s with help from British and American merchants and sea captains who supplied him with muskets, powder and bullets. During the War of 1812, pressure from both his British and American supporters led him to design a flag using elements from both Britain’s and America’s flags.

There are eight major islands in the chain of hundreds of islands. The eight are:

  • Hawaiʻi (the Big Island, population 185,000, including Hilo)
  • Maui (population 145,000)
  • Oʻahu (population 950,000, including Honolulu, densely populated)
  • Kauaʻi (population 58,000)
  • Molokaʻi (population 7,400)
  • Lānaʻi (population 3,200)
  • Niʻihau (population 130, a private island purchased by Elizabeth Sinclair, a Scottish farmer, in 1864, and largely off-limits to anyone but Sinclair descendants, Hawaiʻian native residents, and the Navy which operates a tracking station there)
  • Kahoʻolawe (population 0, once used as a bombing range and training ground for the Air Force and Navy, now forbidden except to native Hawai’ians for hunting/fishing/religious/education practices)

There are many indigent Hawaiʻian natives in Honolulu. They wander, weatherbeaten and emaciated, lost souls among the teeming tourists, wondering where their next drink will come from. But they are quiet, and they don’t hassle the visitors.

These things I learned today. Tomorrow I will visit the USS Arizona. I discovered (or remembered) that the USS Missouri is moored next to the Arizona. I’ve always wanted to see the Missouri. I doubt I’ll have time to tour it, but I’ve been on many ships, and one ship is very much like another. I just like the coke-bottle shape of the hull, and her swooping bow profile. And of course, those massive, massive guns.

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