THE ACTIVIST: REAL HAWAII
Filmmaker Meleanna Aluli Meyer journeys into the heart of her homeland
"It's a shy city in many ways and not showy," says Meleanna Aluli Meyer of her Honolulu. "There's a deep, enduring quiet and an understated quality that makes it a place for anyone who has the curiosity to dig a little, ask a lot of questions, and be open to the answers. Coming here, you're not at a destination but at the start of a journey."
For anyone caught up in the crowded commercialism of Waikiki's Kalakaua Avenue, Meyer's characterization of Honolulu may come as a surprise. But Meyer ― artist, documentary filmmaker, activist, and educator ― believes Honolulu has retained its Hawaiian essence. She speaks of an ethos that's palpable because the culture is still very much alive. Of late afternoon rains that conjure fleeting rainbows against the green hills beyond the city's high-rises. Of poetic street names and a bouquet of the tropics.
"Every time I get off a plane and smell that fragrance, I know that I'm home," she says.
A native Hawaiian, Meyer comes from ancestors dedicated to Hawaiian causes. While most people know Honolulu as Hawaii's state capital, they may not be aware that it was once the seat of an independent Hawaiian nation.
The 'Iolani Palace in Honolulu's Capitol District is the only onetime royal residence within the United States ― and for Meyer, it's a powerful symbol of Hawaiian sovereignty. "When you go to the palace, you realize that you're not in Disneyland. Or Belleville, Illinois," she says. "You're in a different country."
Meyer herself has traveled extensively and lived abroad but made a conscious choice to return to Honolulu. "I spent a good part of my life wanting to move away and to feel at home in my own skin," she says. "For me to be here is a chance to rediscover, recover, and revitalize the spirit. To reconnect."
'Iolani Palace "A place to understand a moment of truth for Hawaii," says Meyer. INFO: Closed Sun-Mon; $6; 364 S. King St.; 808/522-0822.
Harold L. Lyon Arboretum Meyer recommends it as an easy escape from the urban and into the tropical rain forests above Honolulu. INFO: Closed Sat-Sun; donation suggested; 3860 Manoa Rd.; 808/988-0456.
Honolulu Academy of Arts "It's an incredible little jewel," says Meyer. INFO: Closed Mon; $10; 900 S. Beretania St.; 808/532-8700.
The Brothers Cazimero Meyer marvels that you can see this leading Hawaiian music duo on a regular basis at weekly shows at Chai's Island Bistro. INFO: Call for dates; free with dinner ($25 minimum per person); at Chai's Island Bistro ( $$$$), Aloha Tower Marketplace; 808/585-0011.
Native Books/Na Mea Hawai'I Meyer's sister Maile's store offers Honolulu's best selection of island-themed arts, music, and books. INFO: In Ward Warehouse, 1050 Ala Moana Blvd.; 808/596-8885.