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The State of Aloha

I’ve heard it from a few mainlanders that we in Hawai’i don’t really have seasons here. They’re wrong. True, we don’t have White Christmases and ice coating our cars as they do in places like Wisconsin. And yes, spring doesn’t suddenly explode in March like a bomb of humidity, flowers and heat the way it does in Kansas.

But we still have our seasons. Right now, you could call this summer, but that doesn’t really describe what’s happening in Hawai’i. If you want to be accurate, we are finishing up obon season and passing through hurricane season. We are smack dab in the middle of mango season.

Look around. You can see it too. Beautiful little fruits in shades of light green, gold and even some red pile up rotting on the roadsides. Folks are cruising around with buckets full of them in trucks to hand out gems to friends, neighbors and even strangers.

That’s the thing about mangoes. Try not to buy them in a store. I mean, if you have no recourse and must resort to purchasing the slimy, sweet golden fruit, do what you must. But perhaps one of the best expressions of aloha is when somebody gives you a red, ripe one just because they want to, or when a bowl of green and yellow ones is there in the office kitchen for a few to take home.

Mangoes come from South Asia. They’ve been cultivated, harvested and enjoyed by people for nearly 4,000 years. They have a prominent role in Hindu mythology. Love, they say, arrives with the blossoming of the mango tree and Kama, the god of love, has a tiny mango blossom on the tip of one of his arrows. In the northeastern corner of India near Nepal, the mango was a wish-giving tree. Folk art from the region shows brides and grooms assembled under the spreading branches of the mango tree full of little golden fruit. They marry the tree before marrying each other.

Mangoes spread eastward to other tropical regions throughout Southeast Asia and the Philippines. From there, the Spanish and Portuguese while colonizing these places fell in love with the fruit and took it with them to South and Central America.

So when did our love affair start with mangoes? Pinpointing the first mangoes in Hawai’i is something of a mystery, but the consensus of sources and accounts take us to the early 18th century — nearly 200 years ago.

Some attribute the famous Spanish horticulturalist Don Francisco de Paul Marin, who lived in the islands from 1791 to 1837 and whom Hawaiians nicknamed “Manini.” Near what is now the Honolulu waterfront by Nuuanu Stream, on a stretch of property gifted to him by Kamehameha the Great for his services and counsel, Marin is believed to have planted the first mangoes in the islands around the 1820s. His trees and the variety known as “manini” were still growing in the area as late as the 1920s.

Other sources have a slightly different take on this origin story. The first clearly documented account of the mango’s introduction comes from Capt. John Meek, who brought several trees from Manila, in 1824. Capt. Meek’s plants were split up between Don Marin and the Rev. Joseph Goodrich, a missionary assigned to Wailuku. Apparently, Rev. Goodrich spread the plant to the Valley Isle after that. More mangoes came a year later, this time from Valparaiso, Chile.

And then there is another account identifying Kalihi as the home of Hawai’i’s first mango. A different captain by the name of Alexander Adams who got seeds from a South China trading ship anchored in Honolulu Harbor.

Despite its murky origins, mangoes clearly caught on quickly in Hawai’i. By the end of the 19th century, several varieties were grafted and found on all major islands. There are around nine major types of mangoes grown in Hawai’i.

The most common is the Haden mango, which was first brought in from Florida. With its deep red skin, large seeds and deep yellow fruit, this is the most common and popular type here. Others were attributed to local growers like the Gouveia mango, named after Palolo Valley’s Ruth Gouveia in 1964 or the Ah Ping attributed to Chun Ah Ping of Mapulehu on Molokai.

No matter how you slice it, mangoes have become part of life here in Hawai’i. Perhaps you can enjoy chilled golden fruit with ice cream after dinner or perhaps you prefer the salty, sour and kind of sweet flavors of pickled mango. And while we’re on the subject, we can’t forget green mango with shoyu. That’s how you know we’re in the height of mango season.

* Ben Lowenthal is a trial and appellate lawyer, currently with the Office of the Public Defender, who grew up on Maui. His email is 808stateofaloha@gmail.com.

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