Monday, June 7, 2010

The Waikiki Jungle

Kalakaua Avenue near Kuhio Beach, 1957.

From the late 1950s through the 70s there was a small bohemian enclave at the Diamond Head end of Waikiki known as the “jungle.” In marked contrast to the manicured shops and hotels further to the west, it was a low-rent area of one- and two-story studio cottages, small hotels, and old homes converted into rooming houses and apartments. Its denizens were a constantly shifting group of mostly young men and women from the mainland, here temporarily — as though on hiatus from another life — who adopted a carefree lifestyle and lived together in relative harmony.

They have been characterized as part of the “now” generation, influenced by the Viet Nam war, among other things, who were suspicious of government and opted for experiential knowledge over received, establishment-disseminated truths. There was sex and dope, of course, and booze to fuel their lifestyle. They suffered the inconveniences of improvised living — inconstant alliances with changing casts of roommates and lovers in tiny, ramshakle digs and unwholesome diets of velveeta and bread or saimin and beer — while avidly pursuing the next beach, the next party, or the next bar. Still, they managed to maintain a genuine feeling of shared adventure until, in the 70s, came the inevitable push by city officials and developers to renovate the area and replace their homes with high-rises.

Most of the expatriate jungle dwellers returned to the mainland after their island interludes to lead normal, conventional lives, though on-line posts from middle-aged “now”-ers suggest their days in the jungle still exert a strong emotional pull and evoke fond memories of a carefree, golden time.

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Blogger C and G Taylor said...

Stumbled into your blog while looking for images of packaging for Hawaii foods in the 40's...I'm really enjoying this. Thanks!
Born in Hawaii, also...

November 24, 2011 at 8:45 AM  
Blogger Roxie said...

I lived in the Jungle, while attending the Univ of Hawaii as an art major, from about 1966 to 1971, with a few trips back to the mainland for periods of time. Rented a "room" in an alley - cheap wooden structures thrown up probably in the 30s...had a bathroom and mattress on the floor. No kitchen of course. I was so poor I ate only oatmeal cooked in a tea pot for a few weeks, and went without shoes for 6 weeks once. But there you can do that, even in college classes. One time a bullet smashed into my bathroom mirror. My friends were a mixture of students, low-level dope dealers, AWOL soldiers, and locals - it was great fun and very lively. I felt safe there though. It was sad, and touching, to see the Viet Nam servicemen on their brief R&R, looking for some fun before they returned to the horrors of war. Went to some great flower-child events, like a "Love in" in Diamond Head crater, which was mainly smoking dope, dancing, and listening to music...Great times, and did me no harm. Coming from conservative Maryland, I felt like Hawaii, with its mix of races and cultures, was the future. Now I live in NYC, which also has a great mix. But we still have a long way to go in this country, sadly.

July 15, 2017 at 9:10 AM  

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