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Ko‘olau Loa is only a short drive from urban Honolulu—same island, oceans apart. Abraham Akau, paniolo, Kualoa Ranch
Vol. 10, No. 2
April / May 2007

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Island Highlander 

story by Paul Wood
photo by Chris McDonough

Captain Cook was part Scot. Princess Ka‘iulani was half. Kamehameha’s first haole advisors—two sailors he abducted—were both Scots. So were James Campbell, who first tapped Honolulu’s fresh water source, and James MacKee, who created Rose Ranch in ‘Ulupalakua, Maui. In short, although Scotland is half the globe distant from Hawai‘i, many Scots have made the trip—not en masse but one daredevil at a time.

John Crowe, born and raised in Arbroath, County of Angus, perpetuated this pattern by transplanting himself to Makawao, County of Maui, on April 10, 2001. He proclaims the precise date while exclaiming, “I thank God I have come to this island. She has aspects of Scotland in her.” He cites parallels between the Native Hawaiian and the native Celtic experiences—“for example, fighting to retain the language.” Also, a traditional obsession with family lineage, which in Scotland is expressed through the intricate symbolism of heraldic design. John Crowe has made it his life’s work to create the definitive study of his people’s clans and their tartans. Using Photoshop and painstaking research, he is producing a beautifully rendered page of information for each of Scotland’s 770 official clans. Each page shows the clan’s arms, crest and badge, and also the numerous tartans (plaid fabric designs) the clan members are entitled to wear. To get this right, he has to puzzle out the secrets behind Scottish family names. For example, if you are a Meldrum, you belong in one of three very distinct family lines. This is because “Meldrum” originally meant “bald hill,” a recurring topographical feature. His own name, Crowe, could be Irish (short for McEnroe) or derive from two different Scottish towns, both named Croy. When I observe that this is all very complex, his face acquires the sunshine of deep joy: “Oh, very very complex! It’s wonderfully complex!”

What brought him to Hawai‘i was not research but romance—marriage to an Island woman he first contacted online. Moving halfway ’round the globe, though, has not impeded his research, thanks to the competent staff at Makawao Library and “a number of wonderful heraldic tomes” in the state system. “It’s been a great boon being here.” And when the Maui Celts celebrate Robert Burns Night, he’s there to recite all nine verses of Ode to a Haggis.