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Miss Hawaii 1964 Leina'ala Teruya and Hawaiian Airlines' Pualani Photo: Hawaiian Airlines Archives
Vol. 7, No. 5
October/November 2004


Hawaiian At Heart 

story by Paul Devlin Wood
art by Alex Preiss

You find the word "Hawaiian" used all over the world, and sometimes in the weirdest ways. I remember one wintertime street in Geneva, Switzerland—dark and cold as a walk-in freezer with two feet of gray snow on the medieval cobblestones—where I saw a stencil sign in the window: "Hawaiian Tiki Lounge." The place was closed and forlorn, but it was "Hawaiian."

Here in the Islands, we use the word more carefully. When we apply it to a person, we mean someone who is native, original, rooted, someone who expresses traditional island values, someone who belongs to and cares for an ‘ohana—an extended but close-knit family. If a business adopts the term, we expect all of this from it. We expect a company that could occur nowhere else in the world.

Hawaiian Airlines is a perfect example. Now seventy-five years old, the company simply cannot be separated from the people and culture of the Islands. Its 3,200 employees come from every neighborhood and every ethnic background; they drive the company. When calamity strikes, they respond. When economic opportunity arises, they boost it. When it’s time to celebrate, they join the parade. Like good members of the ‘ohana, they care for the whole. How could it be otherwise? They’re Hawaiian!

To find such community rootedness in a large corporation is not so strange when you consider Hawaii’s unique situation and the real weight of a seventy-five-year history. Back in 1929, when a company then called "Inter-Island Airways" started providing regular service to all six major islands—using a fleet consisting mostly of two pontoon-equipped amphibian planes that carried eight passengers each—modern Hawaii was very young. The overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy was still a recent memory. Talking movies had just started flickering on the screen of the Hawaii Theatre, and flying machines were new—newer than cell phones are to us. The John Rodgers Airport (now called "Honolulu International") had just been dedicated the year before.

Hawaii and Hawaiian Airlines grew up together. No wonder they think alike.