by Lovena Harwood
What’s the first thing you think of when you think of Hawaii? For some folks, its tikis, hula girl dashboard dolls and pineapples. But there is more to Hawaii than souvenirs.
The heritages of the many diverse communities throughout Hawaii enrich the lives of Hawaii citizens. It is this diverseness that helps attract and keep Hawaiian culture alive, even throughout the world.
Finding Hawaiiana outside of Hawaii has always been a challenge but with more Hawaii-born citizens moving away from Hawaii, keeping in touch with one another and sharing their love for the Hawaiian culture has been made easy thanks to the Internet. Local Hawaiian and island flavor recipes are easily exchanged and coming together for kanikapila, pa’inas and luaus are just a couple clicks away.
This months’ feature is AlohaWorld.com (provided by AlohaWorld LCC), the internet home for Hawaiians and former Hawai’i locals living on the mainland as well as, Hawaiians-at-heart worldwide. I came across AlohaWorld.com about 5 years ago when I did a search on “Aloha”. Co-owned by Koni Kwak and Izzie Ramos, AlohaWorld.com, was started 11 years ago.
Curiosity of the World Wide Web is what sparked Koni’s interest to begin with. Koni grew up in Kalihi and moved to Southern California in 1973. Says Koni, “Back in the late '70s, the big new thing was the World Wide Web and I wanted to learn more about how to create web pages and web sites. I learned from a friend about a free service for hosting websites, Geocities.com. That was my ‘in’ to get ‘published’ and I settled on creating a Hawaiian-related website!”
Koni found that there were very few Hawaiian web sites. And so in 1976 he started with a very basic site that would help other people on the mainland connect with these other Hawaii-related sites. He called that site No Ka Oi Hawaiian Connections. It’s main focus was to connect people living away from the islands to resources that helped keep the island-style life and culture alive within their lives. Adds Koni, “It was all about providing a place on the internet where people could call “home”. I thought that it would be a perfect place on the internet.”
No Ka Oi Hawaiian Connections took shape after a slow start. Features and resources included a California/Las Vegas Calendar Of Events. A Hawaiian directory listed Hawaiian-related businesses, organizations, halaus etc. in the Southern California area. And Koni was asked several times about designing Hawaii-related websites.
Says Koni, “After several months of watching the website function, I developed a plan to convert No Ka Oi Hawaiian Connections into a ‘real’ website, offering web hosting and design services.” In December 1997 Koni registered the AlohaWorld.com domain. And on January 1, 1998, AlohaWorld.com was officially launched with the slogan, "Bringing Aloha To The Internet". No Ka Oi Hawaiian Connections on Geocities was officially retired.
Since its beginnings, AlohaWorld.com has tried its best to remain true to its original mission, staying away from becoming a tourist-oriented website aimed at Hawaii travel. The site has evolved over the years, with more features and services added. It’s business services include web design and hosting, which are focused on Hawaiian/Polynesian/Asian communities in both Hawaii and on the mainland.
One of the most popular visitor sections of AlohaWorld.com is the Ono Recipes section. There are over 850 Hawaii local style recipes that have been submitted by visitors over the years. The top 5 recipes that receive the most hits are all ‘Macaroni salad’ recipes. “Any surprise?” chuckles Koni, “It’s hard not to tell that locals living away from the islands really miss the grinds the most!”
AlohaWorld.com provides many other free resources and services. The online directory is an extensive list of many mainland Hawaiian and Polynesian clubs, associations, businesses, restaurants, entertainers and hula dance groups. The Ohana Lanai message board was designed as a forum and meeting place for all to come and ‘talk story’. People are invited to send Shaka eCards from the wide selection of local style eCards. Hanabuddah Days contains a collection of ‘small keed time’ stories. And visitors are encouraged to submit event information for the Events Calendar.
Joining Koni in his vision of AlohaWorld.com is Izzie Ramos. Izzie, who was born in Honolulu, grew up in Kaneohe and now resides in Georgia. They first met in 1998 when AlohaWorld.com started a message forum hosting live weekly chat sessions. Koni discovered Izzie’s talent as a graphic artist so he shared his vision of AlohaWorld.com with her. Izzie was eager to help out with the design of AlohaWorld.com as well as designing websites for its clients. Says Koni, “Graphic design was my weakest skill and talent that I struggled with the most. It made perfect sense to formalize the team, so not long after that, Izzie became a formal partner of AlohaWorld LCC.” Rounding out the team are Kamaka, editor Hanabuddah Days; Miulang, Ono Recipes Aunty Aloha; Lurkah, Ohana Lanai Administrator and Mokihana, Ohana Lanai Super Moderator.
AlohaWorld.com is a means of providing a virtual home for Hawaiians living on the mainland. With many sections for their online visitors, it’s a great place to connect ‘online’. But Koni and Izzie also thought that a ‘real world’ way for people to connect and share an evening of Aloha would be a great idea as well. Thus, in 2000 the first Aloha Gathering Luau was held. Since Las Vegas is a popular place that islanders love to visit, the time of the luau was chosen to coincide with the Las Vegas Ho’olaule’a. “This way when people traveled to our event,” says Koni, “they could experience a Hawaiian Weekend. Lots of ono grinds, Hawaiian music, crafts fair, and lots of other locals from the islands.”
Volunteers run each Gathering. Entertainers donate their performances and volunteers, mostly people from the Ohana Lanai, help to staff the event. “The Gatherings were never intended to be a moneymaking event. Just our attempt to provide people with another avenue to keep the culture and Aloha spirit alive.” Says Koni of the Vegas event.
Koni’s vision of AlohaWorld.com is evident in all its efforts and "Bringing Aloha to the Internet" is more than just a slogan. It’s a strong dedication that is motivated by a love for the Hawaiian people and a desire to encourage others to give Aloha, share Aloha and experience Aloha in their daily lives no matter where we reside.
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If you know of a Halau or Hawaiian organization/club/business/association that you would like to see featured at Hawaiian Culture Throughout the World, please contact me at: eastcoasthawaiiangirlatgmaildotcom