Hawaii can proudly claim more scientific observatories and and pineapples than any other state in the union. Somewhat less proudly, it claims more Japanese gangsters, too. Also known as the Yakuza, these mobsters have made the island state a major way station for Asian drugs and American guns being smuggled across borders. But why Hawaii? Besides being relatively close to Japan, the state's diverse ethnic makeup and regular influx of Japanese tourists make it easy for the Yakuza to blend in-at least on the surface. Many Yakuza hide full body tattoos under their high-collar long-sleeve shirts. Some are even missing a finger, which are sometimes cut off and offered as penance to mob bosses. Image credit: Flickr user localjapantimes.
Island of the Lepers
One of Hawaii's most famous historical figures wasn't Hawaiian at all. Flemish missionary Father Damien was one of many European settlers who descended on the sunny island chain in the 19th century and brought with them new technologies, new ways of life, and, of course, new germs. The resulting public health crisis necessitated the creation of a fortress-like leper colony on the island of Molokai, also known as "the colony of death". Damien was the only priest to volunteer for what many considered a suicide mission. He spent 16 years making the colonists as comfortable (and Christian) as possible before he succumbed to the disease himself in 1889. Since then, he's gained quite a reputation. Mahatma Gandhi considered him a personal hero; Pope John Paul II beatified him in 1995; and the Flemish media voted him "Greatest Belgian of All Time" in 2005.
Enjoy quiet walks on the beach? Don't go to the island of Kauai. There, on Barking Sands Beach, dry sand grains emit an eerie sound when rubbed together or poked with bare feet. Various accounts claim the sand sings, whistles, roars, booms, squeaks, or-as the beach's name suggests-barks like a dog.
Having Your Cook (and Eating Him, Too)
After circumnavigating the globe and logging three epic expeditions to the Pacific, the famously intrepid explorer James Cook seemed to be running out of new things to discover. Perhaps as a result, he also seemed to be losing his mind. According to his crew, Cook's bouts of irrational behavior came to a head when a Hawaiian native stole a pair of blacksmith's tongs. He insisted on chasing the thief ashore, whereupon he picked a fight with local villagers. The Hawaiians quickly gained the upper hand, however, and Cook was killed in the skirmish. When the crew of the H.M.B. Endeavour finally got Cook's body back, his flesh had been roasted from his bones. Had he been eaten? No one knows for sure, but it would seem a fitting end for a man who helped cannibalize (er, colonize) much of the South Pacific.
__________________________The article above is reprinted from Scatterbrained section of the May- June 2007 issue of mental_floss magazine.
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