My grandparents lived in a beautiful historic home in Kaimuki. In their front yard stood the most magnificent mango tree, and this tree faithfully produced sweet, beautiful mangos every year.
The tree was particularly tall; as such, only a few mangos could be reached from the ground. More often than not, we would have to stand out on the staircase to the house and use the mango-picker to reach them.
There were always mangos to spare, so my grandma would put the extra mangos, a few at a time, into paper bags from the store and leave them on their front wall. It was these bags that neighbors or passersby could take for free.
My grandparents passed away a number of years ago, but the tree still stands and the house remains in our family. The tree still produces sweet, tasty mangos each year.
Traditionally, people honored a protocol for picking fruit from mango trees, such as this one in a Kapahulu back yard.
Yet, some things have changed. No longer do people in the neighborhood wait for mangos to be left out on the front wall. Instead, they come into the yard, climbing over the wall, often bringing their own mango-pickers, and just take mangos without asking.
Never once did my grandparents turn away anyone who asked to pick from their tree. I can’t imagine any member of our family would do anything different today, but no one asks anymore. They just take.
It’s a small change, but one that means a lot. For the protocol that existed for years, where people waited to be given mangos or asked before taking represented more than that. It stood for courtesy and respect, which seem to be quickly diminishing on our islands.
Being the idiosyncratic island people we are, this mango picking debate is not new. Some will be quick to point out that legalities of the situation, claiming that if the fruit is hanging over the sidewalk onto public property – it’s fair game.
But I believe those who focus on arguing what they believe they have the “right” to do miss the bigger picture: It’s about understanding what you should do.
It’s not about mangos, or lychee, or ulu or puakenikeni – it’s about respect and the culture that has been built in these islands for decades.
We do not take without permission that which we have not personally cared for.
All resources have value, whether they are part of a family’s personal subsistence, or part of a barter economy or if they sell them to help make ends meet. If it exists on someone’s property, it means someone has taken the time and energy to care for it. That, if nothing else, deserves respect.
I’ve seen this new behavior increasing these days. People will quickly pull up on the sidewalk or dart into a yard to pick fruit or flowers. No one bothers to just walk up to the door, knock, and if someone answers, ask, “Would you mind if I picked a couple mangos?” Or “My child has a May Day pageant coming up, would you mind if I picked some flowers for a lei?”
We cannot allow connections on social media to replace chatting with our neighbors over fences or at our mailboxes.
It may seem silly to some, but I still do it. One day I needed a coconut for propagating plants. While driving a couple days later, I saw a yard with a few coconuts on the ground. I walked right up to the door, knocked, and when the occupant answered, I simply said, “Would you mind if I took one of your coconuts that have fallen to the ground?” He didn’t mind. I got my coconut.
It’s not hard, but it means a lot.
It is a reflection of respect. It is a demonstration of regard for local culture. These are not things we can afford to watch erode around us. These details make Hawaii special. They keep us connected to one another as members of a greater whole.
It feels like we are losing the ability to connect to one another. We cannot allow connections on social media to replace chatting with our neighbors over fences or at our mailboxes. While there is certainly a value to communicating virtually, it must not displace real human interaction.
We have seen time and time again that when given the opportunity, people are kind and more than willing to share whatever they have with people in need. Given the opportunity, people are good. And while goodness is surely not unique to Hawaii, our particular brand of respect and kindness certainly makes Hawaii a wonderful place to live.
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Trisha Kehaulani Watson is a Kaimuki resident, small business owner, and bibliophile. She holds a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Hawaii and J.D. from the William S. Richardson School of Law. She writes about environmental issues, cultural resource management, and the intersection between culture and politics. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can follow or contact her on Twitter at @hehawaiiau.