Native Intelligence: Moloka‘i

Books, Music and Aloha

Story by Shannon Wianecki. Photos by by PF Bentley.

Nine years ago Teri Waros opened a bookstore on Ala Malama Avenue, Moloka‘i’s main drag. People warned that she wouldn’t survive on books alone, so she stocked the shelves with coveted collectibles: Ni‘ihau shell lei, local artwork and quality kids’ toys—in addition to a collection of Polynesian novels, history books, field guides and poetry. But really, the store’s biggest draw is Waros herself. Kaunakakai’s unofficial ambassador, she’s

a one-woman welcome committee and auntie to all who pass through her shop. She dispenses advice along with free coffee and helps visitors acclimate to Moloka‘i’s unhurried atmosphere.

Moloka‘i’s gathering place: Kalele Bookstore & Divine Expressions is a labor of love for Kaunakakai’s “unofficial ambassador,” Teri Waros. In addition to the books, Hawaiiana and free coffee, Waros offers visitors to advice and a warm welcome.

Kalele Bookstore & Divine Expressions is also a stage for impromptu hula performances, poetry readings and meditation sessions. Waros’ dogs nap beneath the counter, and friends drop by to talk story for hours. “Moloka‘i is real aloha. I don’t take it for granted,” says Waros. “The best compliment I ever got was an auntie who said, ‘You don’t sell our island; you share it.’” Waros grew up on O‘ahu and moved to the Friendly Isle after twenty-five years of vacationing there. “When I needed time off from the world, to fill up on the inside, I’d go to Moloka‘i. I could feel this island pull at my heart.”

Kalele, the store’s name, refers to something supportive such as a railing or the arms of a chair. It also means to depend upon or have faith in. Waros consulted trusted kūpuna (elders) before settling on this name. “I asked Charles Ka‘upu—one of those larger-than-life Hawaiian men—what it meant,” says Waros. “He looked up at the sky and said, ‘To fly.’ ‘Oh,’ I said, ‘I heard it meant to have faith.’ ‘Same thing,’ he said.”

Waros recently experienced this double meaning firsthand in a mishap both terrifying and miraculous. While walking her dogs at the Kalaupapa overlook, she tumbled over the edge of the two-thousand-foot-tall sea cliff. She clung to tree roots midair for hours before a friend by chance discovered her and the local fire department rescued her. It seems that Moloka‘i wasn’t willing to lose its ambassador.