SI Vault
Gilbert Rogin
August 20, 1962
Reflections on a wayward passage through Hawaii's neighbor islands, including encounters with benign and secret toads, beguiled antelopes, neurotic goats, a laughing girl, a peremptory Chinese, many 'pipipi' and a steamed mullet in a Japanese bakery
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August 20, 1962

The Outer Islands: Miracles And Prophecies

Reflections on a wayward passage through Hawaii's neighbor islands, including encounters with benign and secret toads, beguiled antelopes, neurotic goats, a laughing girl, a peremptory Chinese, many 'pipipi' and a steamed mullet in a Japanese bakery

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I went pig hunting on the island of Molokai. Brownie, Dobie, Shepherd, Roscoe and Snoopy—these were the dogs, all mongrels, all quite skinny, all middle-sized. Most of them probably have since been killed and replaced from the pound in Honolulu. Conrad Pa said don't be sentimental about pig dogs. Kick them, rather. Affection is intolerable, followed as it inevitably is by loss. Conrad Pa, the guide, came before dawn in his jeep, wearing a blue T shirt and football shoes. Conrad Pa is a marvelous name; better is Ernest Uu, who has the U-Drive concession at the Molokai airport.

I sat isolated in the back of the jeep as we rushed through the dark and cold wind, embracing Brownie. I gave him all my spendthrift love and abundant sorrow. He was later wounded, as was Shepherd, by the tusks. We passed Junior, Dickie, Norman, Conrad's companions, with their guns and barking dogs in another jeep. They roared out after us. It was as though we were going to a revolution. At one point the dogs burst from the jeeps, chasing a cow or a deer in a pasture in the dim light. High in the rain forest Conrad drove over the rutted track with one hand, leaning out of the jeep to look for signs of pig. Eventually he was satisfied and braked. The dogs slipped away and we followed them into a forest of ferns higher than one's head and thickly set. It began to rain. The dogs were running and the boys chased after them across the spongy brown bottom of the forest. We came at last to a gulch through which ran an iron-colored stream. The dogs were splashing about in it, unable to get up the steep stone bank on the other side. Junior hoisted himself halfway up by vines and footings and, grabbing the dogs first by the scruffs and then by their bottoms, boosted them up and over the top one by one. Then they all scrambled after and vanished, tumbling down clefts, fording secret streams to deliver—like Odysseus in the windy hollows of Parnassus—the pig. Celebrated by dogs, it crouched in the foul shade of its sanctuary—its breathing gross and ragged, its tusks bright.

Conrad and I went back to the jeep and, taking a different track, clinging to the pitching jeep, drove to a high rocky point. As we went we heard several shots far off. From the point we could see down to the heavily foliaged spines and gullies. Conrad fired a round from his carbine, was answered from somewhere in the wild, bounded off down a path in his cleats and disappeared. When he returned we piled into the jeep again and rode to another part of the forest, where we reentered. Conrad took a length of chain with him. He left me at a small clearing and plunged down. Shepherd appeared quietly with fresh wounds on his belly and legs and lay down in the green, flickering light, sedulously licking. Two hours later the boys were laughing and swearing as they dragged the great, hairy black pig up by the chain. It had been cleaned, its entrails left where it had taken its final seat, back to cover as is its custom; there the dogs had clamped onto its hind legs and jaws, each to its duty, until Dickie, running first, walked up and rested the carbine like a wand or scepter on the heavy, suffering head.

Another day I went after goat on the Napalicoast of Kauai. No roads go there, not even tracks. There are a few perilous trails. A primitive airstrip is laid out on one of the beaches—Milolii—but to all purposes most of the coastal valleys can only be reached by sea. Even then access is sometimes difficult. At Honopu Valley, for instance, you have to climb a rope fastened to a rock to get ashore.

We took the government launch, trolling three lines in a shower of flying fish. Kim, the mate, caught a five-pound pompano on 130-pound test, or palpably meat, line. The cliffs, or pali, are sheer, dark and forbidding, a Hadean landscape of old, pocked laval rock; goats regarded us along the skyline. Birds the color of the rock nest there. At places beneath the cliffs are narrow beaches of sand or shingle. Where there are no beaches the water is a luminous green, like certain jades or aquas, and you can look down and see the pale coral bottom. Here and there grass grows down the cliff face like waterfalls or there is a banana tree defiantly rooted high up. Between the ridges is a sequence of green valleys extending and broadening back to the mountains. There are many caves and grottoes at the base of the cliffs.

A hermit lives in one long, low cavern. Kim said he was once a celebrated pediatrician from the Virgin Islands or Philadelphia. We passed while he was having lunch, sitting naked at a table in his cave. When he saw us he got up and put on a T shirt and Bermuda shorts. He has been there for several years. They say he had a bad time of it the first winter. No one had a very good word for him. He was, it seems, not an entirely successful hermit; he bored the occasional fisherman with long recitations and wasn't beyond a bit of filching from hunters' camps.

We anchored off Milolii and waded to the beach, which was littered with cowrie shells. Gerry Swedberg, a game biologist, and I tramped up off the beach through chest-high brush into the sunny valley. Beneath the lantana were lizards, blue-tailed skinks, a mouse and stone ruins that, Gerry said, were the remains of a Hawaiian temple. Cabbage moths fluttered about our knees. We heard goats baaing and then saw them moving high along the cliff, a herd of 17, black, brown, white, brown-and-black, white-and-black, turning their heads to look at us, jostling, butting each other; billies, nannies and kids, bounding and stumbling along a narrow trail. Gerry raised his .30-30 Winchester, Model 94, and sighted in on a fine black billy. I took the rifle from him and drew a bead, too; then handed it back. I told him not to shoot on my account. We had, I felt unalterably, already killed him; the range was only 100 yards. It would have been absurd to have pulled the trigger. Gerry had gotten permission to take a goat on a weekday (in this area goats could be shot only on weekends) but according to the regulations we couldn't keep the meat (dried goat meat isn't at all bad) but would have had to throw the carcass in the ocean. We weren't allowed to keep a trophy head, either. It was just as profitable to goat-watch. Under our observation the goats became disturbed, perhaps even a little neurotic, because of the presence of the gun but the absence of noise, death and confusion. Perplexed and agitated, they finally filed up the cliff and out of sight.

It was very hot, and Gerry and I went down to a narrow fresh-water stream which runs through the valley and, lying on our stomachs, drank the cold, sweet water. A creamy young billy with luxuriant bangs and a stiff, bushy mane, like an Athenian horse, came along a trail to within 10 yards of us. He bounded up on a boulder, turned to look again, shook his head up and down and wandered off. We left, too, crossing and re-crossing the stream to the bank that gave the best footing. It was tricky going; Gerry fell in the stream once but kept his gun dry, holding it above his head like Excalibur. We followed the stream to the rocky coast where it flows deviously into the Pacific.

Kaunakakai, Molokai's main town, is a pale, dusty place, not unlike a frontier western village. Occasionally a stripteaser from Honolulu is advertised. When she doesn't show they put up a sign: Saturday Night For Sure. Pub-crawling in Kaunakakai is a gas: there are three places. First, the Seaside Inn, a commercial hotel by the stinking mud flats, palms growing in Wesson Oil tins on a terrace with iron chairs and tables. The bar is connected to the front desk and the same man apparently works both. When I was there the bartender-desk clerk was a guest pressed into service until he worked out his bills. Next you go to the Midnight Inn, which closes at 11 p.m. If you want a Martini you have to get up and make it yourself. Lastly, Kanemitsu's Bakery. This comprehensive establishment includes a bar, bowling alley, bakery, general store and rooms for let. At Kanemitsu's I was presented with a whole steamed mullet, garnished with Greek olives, to eat with my Scotch.

Kaunakakai is, to most purposes, rural Hawaii. What is presented to the tourist as Hawaii is a stage set for an operetta. The Coco Palms Hotel, on Kauai, is an example. "Coco Palms is fashioned largely from materials that are Island," one of its brochures reads. "Beauty, Warm Friendliness, Music, Native Dignity mixed with soft laughter, Love." Some of the Coco Palms' rooms are furnished with materials that are Island; sinks made of killer clam shells (any island, evidently; they are imported from the South Pacific), beds built like outrigger canoes, goatskin drums for night tables and toilet paper in three colors. Like several Hawaiian hotels, the Coco Palms has a torch-lighting ceremony. Summoned by a blast on a conch shell, beach boys in red shirts whiz about firing kerosene torches while, in sepulchral tones, an announcer recites Hawaiiana over the P.A. The Coco Palms' matchbook covers call it the Home of the Movies. Segments of five films were shot there, among them Pagan Love Song and Naked Paradise.

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