The Culture of Pineapples and Octopus

Lanai Cultural Center

The only pineapple plants we can find on Lanai are the new little slips that line the walkway leading up to the Lanai Cultural Center, and they are struggling. The Axis deer, a species introduced to the island years ago for sport, come down from the hills in search of food and water. They relish the new little plants, nibble their leaves, pull them up by the roots. I feel for the deer but…these pineapple plants speak volumes about the history of the island. It connects the children of Lanai to the past, and it reminds us tourists about how difficult life was on the island, and how good we have it now.

The Lanai  Cultural Center holds a surprisingly rich collection of artifacts from Lanai’s history. Small football-shaped throwing stones on one wall, tofu-making equipment in a corner, a field worker’s outfit in a display case are all fascinating.  Along the top wall and spanning several rooms, a time-line tells the story of Lanai.

I stumble across two thick books that read “Oral History Project” Volumes 1 and 2. Inside are the life stories of the island’s oldest residents, their recollections of the past, of coming to Lanai to work, to raise their families, and of their struggles. I am tempted to sit and to read these books all day, but there is still so much to see and, apparently, to do.  A volunteer at the center tells us of an interpretive trail that they have put together.  The trail runs through an archeological site at Manele, just off the Fisherman’s trail that starts at Hulupo’e Beach.  She runs to get us a map, and then explains how to find it.  We put it on our to-do list.

Octopus lure

On the way out of the musuem, I stop to admire a recreation of an octopus lure.  According to the description, Hawaiians crafted these lures using a cowry, a rock, and some type of fiber (Hau?) all attached to a hook.  The cowry was the bait, the rock was the weight, and the fiber moved in the water to create an irresistible interest to the octopus. Once the octopus was on the lure, the fisherman pulled the hooked  octopus up to his boat. It’s hard to imagine that this worked, I mean, what if the fisherman hooked a huge octopus?  Wouldn’t it be really upset and thrash about, upsetting the boat until it overturned? Or, couldn’t the octopus wrap an arm around the fisherman’s neck and choke him?  I  ask a volunteer about the octopus lure, and my theories about octopus-overtaking-fisherman.  “Oh,” she said. “The fisherman also carried a big stick. You know, to whack the octopus over the head.”  Ohhhh…of course.

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