History is usually written from facts, but it often ignores vital details of individual life. Jill Engledow's new novel, "The Island Decides," offers a look into an unheralded segment of Maui's social history - the "hippie invasion" in the late 1960s.
Young, rootless malihini came, following the promise of a pastoral, live-off-the-land paradise pictured by a series of surf films. Nonsurfer members of the so-called counterculture took note. For the most part, The Maui News and city papers ignored all but the most sensational events surrounding the young who distinguished themselves with long hair, weird clothing, weirder lifestyles and a devotion to rock 'n' roll and freewheeling sex, both amplified by the use of drugs.
There were two major encampments. One was in the kiawe scrub behind Oneloa Beach at Makena. The other was "Banana Patch" in Haiku, where a kindhearted landowner allowed the construction of a shanty town. Both were closed down by a series of legal actions.
Some of the surfers and hippies were intent on inventing a new culture. Others were simply escaping from Mainland restrictions during and after "the summer of love." Engledow, a longtime journalist and writer of two notable nonfiction books about Maui, explores the counterculture from the viewpoint of a woman.
As did many of the young women of her time, Carrie Ann follows a man from Oklahoma to San Francisco. He's a rock 'n' roller. She's a product of a society that casts women in the role of helpmeet, someone who nurtures whatever life is picked by "her man." The irresponsible man - really a boy - abandons her and his unwanted daughter.
Through a series of believable, if bizarre, events, the daughter ends up with strangers on Maui. The novel revolves around Carrie Ann's search for the child. She finds her daughter is a foster child in a local family ready to hanai the little girl. Getting and keeping her in the face of official skepticism is the backbone of the story.
With no money and the help of a public attorney, Carrie Ann ends up with one of the more stable hippie families. But . . . Carrie Ann is smitten with another man who is a motorcycle-riding Adonis. Is it love or lust? There are torrid, but tasteful, scenes between her and a man who is obviously not good for her and her daughter.
Any reader of modern fiction will recognize the sexual escapades, but will be surprised and educated by the fact they are told strictly from Carrie Ann's viewpoint. She's an enthusiastic participant, all the while hoping his attraction to her goes beyond the physical.
The conflict between carnal desire and love of her daughter is a central theme of the novel. The female viewpoint might make this a "woman's book," but it is light-years away from what is known as "romances."
Maui readers will be fascinated by what was happening on the island during that time now 40 years in the past. There is also interaction with Hawaiians, including one lovable, unassuming kane who typifies island compassion and love of children.
In the end, the more sensational aspects of the book play a background role to one of the eternal dilemmas faced by modern women, particularly those fighting the fight before feminism was established as a cultural fact. At first blush, the main character seems doomed. It takes careful reading of the ending to imagine a brighter future for Carrie Ann and her daughter.
The 295-page novel is an easy read. There's a page-turner quality to the structure and writing. The characters - both those the reader likes and those the reader despises - become enduringly real in the movie created by the prose. It's one of those books which stick in the mind with all the vivid color of a Kodachrome snapshot.
"The Island Decides" is available at the Maui Friends of the Library bookstores, Collections in Makawao, Kula Marketplace, Hui No'eau and Ulupalakua Ranch Store. Amazon.com has both paperback and e-book versions.
Art has been defined as the distortion of fact to arrive at truth. That's always been the strength of fiction. Jill Engledow's book is fiction set in fact. The hippie invasion of Maui did happen. Jill, a longtime friend, colleague and honest woman, knew the invaders well. Ask any of the survivors who are around today.
* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is email@example.com.