HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND
By Kelly Moran
More Local Talk
Here are some more words that you’ll hear on the Big Island. You may or may not want to use them, but you’ll certainly hear them enough, here, to warrant your understanding them. As I said in my earlier blog, what’s known as “pidgin” here is not a true pidgin, linguistically, but it’s what many local folks grew up speaking.
Do you remember the 1970s craze for necklaces, bracelets and charms made from “puka shells?” They were round shells and shell fragments, ranging in size from a shirt-button up to a five-cent piece, with a hole in the center – natural or man-made – through which they were strung. In Hawaiian, a “puka” is a hole that goes all the way through something, like a doughnut hole.
Knowing that, it’s easy to grasp the meaning of “kipuka.” New lava flowing downhill from a vent behaves like water: if it encounters an obstacle, like a hill or a mound that’s higher than the liquid’s surface, it flows around that obstacle. If there are trees or shrubs or ferns or houses on that mound, they will survive, while everything around them gets burned and covered with fresh lava. So, that isolated patch of old growth, surrounded by bare rock, is known as a “kipuka.” You can see several kipukas at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and along Highway 11 from Volcano, through Ka’u and South Kona.
There is another kind of hole, though: a “lua,” which is a hole that doesn’t go all the way through, like a hole in the ground. “Kalua” pig is so called because it’s roasted in a just such a hole (the specific word for that underground oven, though, is “imu”). And because an ordinary hole in the ground might serve as a latrine, “lua” is the local slang for toilet.
Many cultures have myths about tricksters: some are animals, some are people, but they are generally beloved, or at least tolerated, for the good they occasionally do, and/or for the delight people take in watching them be rascals. The Hawaiian word for rascal is “kolohe.” It is occasionally used to mean “mischief,” or – rarely – as an adjective meaning “naughty.” But more often it’s a synonym for a sneaky politician or an unscrupulous businessman.
Generically, a “plate lunch” is a take-out meal. But most often it means something served in a three-section paper plate, with a meat course, a scoop of either potato salad or macaroni salad, and “two scoops rice.” The meat in a plate lunch is typically chicken or short ribs cooked or seasoned with teriyaki sauce.
The most intensely caloric of plate lunches doesn’t come in three sections, but on a single plate. It’s the “loco moko” – a hamburger patty or a slice of spam, set atop a lot of rice, with a whole fried egg on top, and beef-stock gravy poured all over it. The origin of the name is obscure:
the first part comes either from the Spanish “loco” (crazy) or simply from “local.” In Hawaiian, “moko” means water in the context of a puddle or a flood; and so – possibly – refers to the gravy inundation. But “moko” also may be a euphemism for “moke” (rhymes with Coke), which is the derogatory term for a Polynesian fellow, and which you should never utter around here.