Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Sun - Is There a Dark Side to Sunshine in Hawaii?

The sun in Hawaii was so dazzling, so misleading, yet we regarded sunlight as our fortune. We quietly believed, "We are blessed because the sun shines every day. This is a good place for its sunlight. These islands are pure because of the sun. The sun has made us virtuous." – Paul Theroux, Hotel Honolulu

Intense sunset over Kahoolawe Island, viewed from Maui's South Shore.

When I read this passage, it really struck a chord. Theroux is like the devil's advocate, talking about the darker side of sunlight. It’s like Dorothy pulling the mask off the Wizard of Oz.

"Stranger, be grateful to me for this sunny day" was our attitude toward visitors. The sun had been bestowed on us and we were sharing it with these alien refugees from dark cloudy places... The Hawaiian heresy, which we thought but never said, was "We are good because of the sun. We are better than our visitors. We are sunnier."

Theroux writes provocatively in his novel about Hawaii:
"This Hawaiian heresy was dangerous, for it made us complacent about the damage we did to these little crumbly islands. We were so smug about our sunshine, we were blind to everything else, as if we had been staring at the sun too long."


For me, these passages hit a nerve. Hawaii is blessed to have a lot of sunshine, even if I live on the rainier side of the island. 

I wouldn’t say that I feel superior to someone visiting Hawaii, but there is definitely a smugness about living in Hawaii, especially when it’s snowing and wintry on the mainland. Or a belief that the way of life here is somehow better, without the focus on work and “getting ahead” and status and “climbing up the ladder.” If there is enough sun, who needs all that? Is material success as important as sunlight?

Theroux is also right when he talks about the damage we do these islands. The pace of life may be slower here, but people can still do careless things, from bringing foreign species to Hawaii to overusing or damaging the natural resources. Are we too complacent in Hawaii? Or are we humans too complacent in general, no matter where we live on earth?

Is there a dark side to sunshine? Besides being smug and complacent about sunlight on a cultural level, as individuals, it's also very easy to get sunburned or increase one's risk of skin cancer. When there's so much sun, we can get careless and take our bodies for granted, the same way we can take our islands for granted. It's not intentional, but we forget to take care.

Intense sunburn. This tourist from Germany was kind enough to let me take his photo for my blog to illustrate the danger of too much sun. Tourists on their first day or two on Maui don't realize how intense the sun is here, closer to the equator.

P.S. If you are blog hopping from the A to Z challenge, please include your link if you comment! I try to reciprocate comments as quickly as I can, though I did lag behind last year, especially towards the end.

P.P.S. I am running two mini-contests during the A-Z Challenge (and into part of May). Here's how to enter


  1. Ouch! That sunburn picture reminds me of experiences when I was younger. I have an ambition to visit as many American states as possible - Hawaii is still on the list.

    Anabel at Anabel's Travel

  2. Southern Californian, with plenty of sunburns and skin cancers to go with it. We are sunnier too and I think we take it for granted so when friends are posting about snow, we are a bit smug, wandering around barefoot in shorts and tank tops. Still, I think it might be sunnier in Hawaii and someday I will go there to compare.

  3. I used to burn like that a lot when I lived in Australia. Thankfully the sun's rays aren't as harsh in VA but I still need to be careful.

    Sean at His and Her Hobbies

  4. Yes, by all means, be aware of how much sun you're getting.

  5. It might be, but keep in mind there is a rainy side and a drier side, which maybe you found out if you read the previous post on Rain.

  6. Sounds like a wonderful ambition. If you want tips, let me know.


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