Charles Djou has done it all–Hawaii state legislature, U.S. Congressman, and most importantly, Honolulu city councilman. He got me up to speed on some city council traditions and local island lingo, plus the time a native chief put a curse on the council! Definitely listen to the podcast because there is so much more stuff in there than you’ll read below.
Q: Something I’m curious about is the dress code for the city council meetings. Is it suits and ties or Hawaiian shirts and leis?
A: Yes, so some of the things that are different about the Honolulu city council: the FULL council is in coat and tie. But our committee hearings are done in aloha shirts–
Q: They’re called “aloha” shirts, there? Not Hawaiian shirts?
A: Yes. The other thing that is perhaps a little different is the first city council meeting of the year after an election, everybody wears leis. And everybody gets leis.
Q: What is the lei protocol in Hawaii? Is there any occasion where it’s inappropriate to wear a lei?
A: You know…I wouldn’t say there’s any time where it’s not appropriate. It is relatively common to see people wear a lei if it’s your birthday, if it’s something significant, if you–
Q: Are you wearing a lei now?
A: I am not.
Q: OH, THIS ISN’T SIGNIFICANT FOR YOU?!
Q: Any interesting moments you can remember from the Honolulu city council meetings?
A: By tradition, usually the very first city council meeting, we’ll open it with an oli, which is a native Hawaiian chant and prayer. I imagine maybe some of the city councils in, like, South Dakota or Oklahoma with large Native American populations maybe have some similar tradition.
Q: You’re probably right about tribal involvement. But prayer, especially in the South, is common for kicking off council meetings. When you say “chant,” I think of something rhythmic, like BUM-bum-bum-bum BUM-bum-bum-bum.
A: Yes. It’s in the native Hawaiian language. And then frequently accompanied with hula.
Q: Hula! Does that mean you have bikini-clad women in the council chamber?
A: Uhhhhhh, no. The whole bikini-clad women thing is sort of a 1950s/1960s image people have.
A: I’ll share with you one interesting story. This occurred right before I became a member of the city council. The city council had a relatively controversial issue about condemnation of some native Hawaiian land. I remember a native Hawaiian kapuna (tribal elder) came in and put a curse on the city council members who voted against it.
Q: Wow, a curse! Did you feel worse voting no when there were eight other people you were working with on the council, compared to the state house with 50 other people?
A: No–if anything, on the city council I felt I had a greater voice in being able to dissent.
Q: Now, the listeners will revolt if I don’t ask this: between the Hawaii state house, the U.S. House, and the Honolulu city council, which had the nicest chairs?
A: Oh, the U.S. Congress! [Laughs] They have the nice comfy leather chairs over in Congress.
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