Note: Tales From Pasifika is a website dedicated to reviewing stories that explore Polynesian and Oceanic cultures and themes. If you’re looking for a good book that fits into the Pacific-Lit category, this is the place. Tales From Pasifika is reviewing the Niuhi Shark Saga. The following is an excerpt from their review of One Shark, No Swim, book 2 in the trilogy. To see the whole review, click here.
Tales From Pasifika Review
Writing sequels is a very challenging task. You have to not only expand the story, but also – or rather more importantly – keep it interesting for the readers. And children, as well as young adults, can be a particularly demanding audience. But for Lehua Parker this seems to be no problem. The second book in the Niuhi Shark Saga is just as good as the first one.
Quite honestly, this volume doesn’t really feel like a sequel. It is simply a continuation of the tale; only this time you go deeper into the world the author has created. Now you are almost like a resident of Lauele Town, who dines at Hari’s and goes surfing at Piko Point every other day. You know the people, you know the place. And you are well aware that there is something going on with one of your neighbours, so you’re dying to finally uncover the truth.
‘One Shark, No Swim’ answers a lot of questions the reader might have had after finishing the previous volume. Zader’s past becomes clearer as new, and interesting, facts come to light. However, if you think that all the pieces in the puzzle will fall neatly into place before you reach the end, you are very much mistaken. Because with every single answer, more questions arise. Who? What? Why? When? Where? You may try to guess, you may try to predict what happens next, but you can’t bank on it. And that is the true beauty of this series.
Now, as the plot unfolds, you become more acquainted with the characters. In this book, Zader leads the way. He is a true protagonists, a central figure of the narrative. And although the story isn’t told in the first person, you see the world through Zader’s eyes. You start to understand what he feels being a ‘different’ kid. You sympathize for him and cheer all the louder when he’s one step closer to discovering his true nature.
Of course, when mentioning the characters, you can’t forget about Zader’s family, especially uncle Kahana. This no-nonsense, wise, and funny old guy, sometimes treated like a big baby by his relatives, is a real star. Himself a man of many secrets, he is a mentor, a teacher, a protector, and a guardian of ancient Hawaiian culture. His complex persona makes him a little unknowable and therefore very intriguing. I wouldn’t mind having an uncle like Kahana, and I think you wouldn’t either.
The engaging plot and great characters are wrapped in beautiful words. Lehua Parker’s writing style is so fine that you can’t help but marvel at what she has created. It is not easy to write a novel that would suit children and adults alike. And yet she managed. The informal language (with an added bonus in the form of Hawaiian and Pidgin), vivid but not overwhelming descriptions, and a perfect dose of humour make this book an ideal read for any age group. No one will get bored, no one will be disappointed. It’s a title for the whole family. But be careful! It is possible that you will fight for the copy, so better buy two; or maybe even three… Just in case.
If you have read the first volume in the Niuhi Shark Saga, you literally have no choice but to read this one too. If you haven’t, you should catch up as soon as possible. Because the books are fantastic. Period.
Mahalo nui nui, Tales From Pasifika! You can find the entire Niuhi Shark Saga on Amazon: One Boy, No Water, book 1; One Shark, No Swim, book 2; One Truth, No Lie, book 3; and a companion story Birth: Zader’s Story. More books related to the series coming soon.
Note: Tales From Pasifika is a website dedicated to reviewing stories that explore Polynesian and Oceanic cultures and themes. If you’re looking for a good book that fits into the Pacific-Lit category, this is the place. Tales From Pasifika is reviewing the Niuhi Shark Saga. The following is an excerpt from their review of One Boy, No Water. To see the whole review, click here.
Tales From Pasifika Review
I’ll tell you something about myself: I don’t like children’s or Middle Grade/Young Adult books almost as much as I don’t like fantasy/magic realism genre. I decided to give the Niuhi Shark Saga a chance exclusively because it is Pacific Lit. I bought the three titles, but I was still quite (or rather very) sceptical. But then I read a few pages. And a few more. And suddenly I was officially hooked.
So yes, I admit, this is a fantastic book. Lehua Parker wrote a beautiful tale full of magic and authentic Hawaiian vibe. She managed to bring the local legends back to life, giving readers – young and adult alike – a chance to get to know the Aloha State and its fascinating culture. Actually, the references to Hawaiian lore are what makes this novel stand out! It doesn’t deal with werewolves, vampires, or wizards – so omnipresent in today’s popular literature – but draws from the ancient beliefs. So we have sharks, and ti leaves, and the mysterious Hawaiian martial art of Kapu Kuialua (which is considered sacred and taught underground since the mid-1800s). All this definitely makes the story feel fresh, unique, original. And isn’t that exactly what we expect from a good book?
Now, although the novel is somewhat focused on Hawaiian culture, it has several underlying themes that teach valuable lessons, as befits children’s and Young Adult literature. Together with Zader and Jay, readers learn how important it is to have family you can always count on, to do what is right, to overcome your fears, to respect the nature, and to never forget where you come from. You can’t run and hide from your problems; be bold and brave; whatever happens in your life – face it! This is such an inspiring message for young people, who often struggle to find their place. Zader’s and Jay’s experiences will surely give them courage, and uncle Kahana’s wise words the needed moral guidance.
Speaking of uncle Kahana, I have to praise the characters. They are unbelievably well created and defined. From Zader and Jay to Char Siu and the Blalahs to uncle Kahana (who is my favourite), every one of them is a distinct person with a distinct voice and personality. They are complex, plausible, and easy to identify with. They are like us: they make choices and decisions – sometimes good, sometimes bad; they have their dilemmas; they learn from their mistakes. They are ordinary people; ordinary in their extraordinariness.
Of course, it’s one thing to build strong characters, but it’s another to show the relationships between them. Lehua Parker succeeded in doing both. The interactions between Zader and his brother or uncle Kahana, the interactions between the teenagers, and finally the interactions between the adults are incredibly well thought over. They influence the story, making it much more convincing and compelling.
Do you know what else makes this novel so believable? The language – Hawaiian Pidgin, to be precise. You’ll find it in every single chapter and, quite possibly, on every single page. To people who don’t speak Pidgin (or Hawaiian), it may cause some problems, but there is a dictionary at the end of the book, so you can always use it. I think the addition of local creole was a genius idea. Well, you can’t really write a story set in Hawaii and have your characters say ‘Thank you’ instead of ‘Mahalo’, can you?
‘One Boy, No Water’ is a must read. If you have a youngster at home or are looking for a great gift, this should be your number one choice. Because this colorful island tale is engaging and appealing, thought-provoking and amusing, uplifting and wonderfully hopeful. It is like a breath of fresh Hawaiian air taken on a sunny day. Unforgettable and not to be missed. But, let me give you a piece of advice here, buy all three books at once – after the first volume you’ll be hooked; just like me.
Mahalo nui nui, Tales From Pasifika! You can find One Boy, No Water and the rest of the Niuhi Shark Saga One Shark, No Swim and One Truth, No Lie and its companion story Birth: Zader’s Story on Amazon. More books related to the series coming soon.
Kino and the King by Jen Angeli is a middle grade adventure quest set in Hawaii. Cutting to the chase, we need more stories like this one where island kids see themselves as the heroes and Hawaiian culture as something both amazing and ordinary, rather than sensationally exotic.
In the story, 12 year old Kino and her mother move to Hawaii to live with her maternal grandparents in Kalihi, Oahu. With her grandfather ill and her family facing eviction from their home, Kino discovers that she has an ancient destiny to save both Hawaii and her grandfather by going back in time to 1825. There she meets the young Kamehameha III just prior to his ascension to the throne. After meeting with a kahuna at a heiau, it becomes clear that in order to return to her own time, Kino must go on a quest for four objects gathered from various parts of Oahu—and of course the young prince is going to come along.
As the adventure quest plot unfolds, Jen deftly weaves in aspects of Hawaiian culture and history. Islanders will recognize kapu customs, protocol, and Hawaiian legends such as night marchers, Pele, Kamapua‘a, sacred waterfalls, ‘aumakua, choking ghosts, and magic gourds and calabashes.
1825 is a significant time in Hawaiian history, after the fall of the kapu system and during the first years of the Protestant missionaries’ influence. Hawaii is experiencing the growing pangs of contact with the wider world. In the story there’s a glimpse of the monumental civic and cultural challenges, but Jen is always conscious of her 4th – 8th grade audience and keeps the action moving. Topics are lightly touched upon in a way that can start discussions about these important topics. Kino and the King is respectful of Hawaiian history and culture. Teachers, parents, and librarians will find it provides a springboard for further reflection, study, and inquiry.
But as good as 1825 was, I gotta say I liked the modern conflicts best. Mean girls, romantic interests, class wars, private school snobbery, leasehold vs. fee simple landownership, high cost of living in paradise, afterschool enrichment classes in Hawaiian—it’s all here. Anyone growing up in Hawaii will instantly relate to Kino’s modern world—and those far from home will probably crave spam musubi reading about it.
Readers of The Niuhi Shark Saga books are certain to enjoy Kino and the King. Can’t wait for Jen Angeli’s next adventure.
Kino and the King by Jen Angeli is available in eBook and paperback from Amazon.
The signs lie.
Standing at the trailhead to Balcony House at Mesa Verde in Colorado, I thought I knew what I was getting into. When I bought tour tickets for family and friends the day before, the signs at the visitor’s center warned me about the 100 plus stairs I’d have to climb down and the rickety 32’ wooden ladder I’d have to scale—not to mention the assorted smaller ladders and uneven steps carved into the rock that I’d have to ascend.
It’s no secret that I’m not comfortable on ladders. Heights I can handle as long as I’m not somehow suspended in mid-air. Tall buildings? No problem. Ski lifts? No way. Zip lines? See ya.
Truth be told, I’m not fond of stairs either. I figure if modern people are supposed to climb more than a single flight of stairs at a time, God would not have allowed the invention of escalators and elevators.
Unfortunately, over the years I’ve also evolved into more of a sedentary cool, can I see it on Netflix? person than the gung ho let’s shoot our own documentary on site and live off rehydrated mac and cheese for a week person I used to be.
Some might say I’m lazy. I think of it as growing old enough to afford air conditioning and appreciate room service.
I knew going into it that this trip was supposed to be a throwback to the good old days when our two families camped and hiked together and made s’mores around the campfire with the kids—although this year we were staying in a hotel with indoor plumbing, hot water, and real beds and the only kids with us were our two seventeen year old caboose babies.
Everyone was jazzed. We’d traveled a long way to see the ruins of the Pueblo cliff dwellings on Memorial Day weekend, the first weekend of the year that the tours opened. None of us had ever been here. And while the thought of hanging off a cliff and swinging in the breeze made my stomach queasy, there are some things you just have to suck up and do.
Like a good sport, I bought the tickets, swapped out my rubbah slippahs for tennis shoes and socks, and slathered on sunscreen.
The whole night before I psyched myself for the climb up the 32’ ladder. I had a plan—look straight ahead and keep climbing like a machine. Don’t stop. Don’t look down. Don’t look up. Just do it.
I got this.
But then during the topside orientation the perky ranger holds up her hat. “And then near the end of the tour, you’ll crawl through the tunnel.”
What the what? Tunnel? Nobody said anything about a tunnel. There were no signs at the visitor’s center about crawling through a freaking tunnel.
“The tunnel is as wide as my hat. It’s 12 feet long and gets wider in the middle, then narrows back down to 18 inches. I want you to understand that once you put your foot on the tall ladder and start to ascend, there’s no going back. We all go up and out through the tunnel.”
Oh, baloney. No way the ADA would let that fly in a national park. There’s got to be a handicap by-pass or something.
A tall dude raises his hand. “Why not?”
Ranger Perky chirps, “It’s not safe to go backward. You have to go forward. There really is no going back.” She waves her hat around. “Don’t worry. Everyone here can fit. Trust me. Things squish—you just have to make them.”
Oh, no. Obviously, as an anorexic park ranger she’s never wrestled her lumps and bumps into spanx shapewear. Trust me. Things definitely do NOT compress or squish as much as everyone hopes. Doesn’t she know that in the olden days women wore corsets to get an 18 inch waist?
My corset days were looong in the rearview.
“Let’s go!” she says.
“I’m out,” says Tall Guy. “I’ll wait here.”
I open my mouth and turn to my husband.
He just looks at me and shrugs his shoulders.
I close my mouth and look around.
Seriously, who’s wider than me? I can’t be the only chunky monkey on this tour. That guy? Am I bigger than that guy? I mean around the middle. He looks one can shy of a keg. Anybody else? Not her. She’s smaller than me. Her, too. Him, him, her—all shopping the plus section, but smaller than me. Oh, no. Am I really the biggest person here? Did the ranger see me when she said everyone could fit through her hat? There’re a lot of people here, and I was standing way in the back. What happened to all the geriatric people I saw at the visitor’s center? Where are the folks with the walkers and canes? Why does everyone here look like a triathlete?
I bite my lip.
I say to my teen daughter, “I don’t think I can fit through an 18 inch hole.”
She pats my shoulder. “Mom, she said everyone could fit. Besides, that guy over there is bigger than you. Just go after him.”
I eye Keg Dude. Maybe he’s fatter, maybe not.
He’s oddly unconcerned.
Of course. He’s a dude.
He pulls a granola bar out of his pocket and starts munching.
He sees me watching him and waves. “The ranger said no food on the trail, so I’m eating this now. Don’t want to attract scavengers to the archeological site.”
Perhaps this info should make me feel better, but all it really does is make me afraid that he and I are both in denial. The whole tour is supposed to be an hour. Who carries snacks for an hour hike?
As we head down the trail, I whisper to my friend, “I’m not sure I can do this.” She’s known me from college, from before the kids and late night ice cream runs, when my skinny jeans were truly skinny and my waist was the same circumference as my current thigh.
She pats my arm. “We can do hard things.”
She’s thinking I’m afraid of the ladder and heights. Yes, we can do hard things, but not impossible things. Camels and eyes of needles come to mind.
We start down the 100 stairs. Desert heat radiates off the metal bolted into the side of the cliff. The stair edges are slick with wear, and I hold the rail in a sweaty death grip, certain that I’ll slip and bounce down the cliff.
On second thought, that would solve a lot of things. I consider loosening my grip, but then I imagine myself in a broken heap of blood and bones at the bottom and realize I’d probably chip my teeth on the way down and would have to go to the dentist.
I hate the dentist.
I hold a little tighter and creep down a little slower.
After lulling me with a gentle walk, eventually we turn a corner and come face to face with the 32’ ladder, the point of no return.
I glance at my friend. “We can do hard things,” she says again.
Yes, we can. We can bear children. We can sit through hours of piano recitals, soccer games, and debate tournaments and finish science fair projects at 3 am. We can cook Thanksgiving for 60 people and figure out what to get our MILs for Mother’s Day.
We tell our daughters to face their fears. I glance at mine with her long limbs and athlete’s grace. Will she ever listen to me again if I chicken out?
A small part of my brain recognizes the brilliance of this strategy. I’m so freaked out about the tunnel that climbing a ladder is no big deal.
At the top, there are a few more turns, and then a narrow passageway I squeeze through to get to the first big room. It’s dark. I can’t see with my sunglasses. I suck it in to get around the last bit.
I made it through the tunnel!
Except it’s not the tunnel. Apparently, the tunnel is much smaller and farther along the trail.
The Ranger is nattering on about kivas and rain water, but all I’m thinking about is the evening news where the lead story tonight will be about the daring rescue attempt to pull a wide load out of a narrow shaft.
Rescuers knock down a 1200 year old wall. Pueblo people weep at another westerner’s desecration of their ancestral homeland.
Helicopters and cranes are involved.
Conservationists cry that the cost to historic antiquities is too high, so they advocate simply cementing me in place.
Environmentalists claim that leaving my body to rot will pollute the natural eco-system and cause an explosion in the rat and insect population. They advocate removing me in pieces.
Exercise gurus stand at the entrance and shout at me to do isometrics until the bacon grease and butter finally melts off my derriere and they slid me out like birthing the world’s biggest baby.
Stuck in the tunnel there is nowhere to pee. For days.
I’m encased in a tight tunnel, underground, buried in a grave.
In the dark with the spiders, worms, and rats.
This is much, much worse than hauling myself up a freakishly tall and rickety wooden ladder.
Don’t ask me what Ranger Perky says about the ruins or history or culture. I don’t hear anything except the sighs of everyone about to be inconvenienced by my chocolate-loving body. Small children are about to be traumatized. Their therapy bills alone are going to break the bank.
I’m puffing hard before we even get there.
At the tunnel, I realize it’s a bunny-sized hole in a man-made wall. My friend who weighs what she did in high school, nonchalantly stops, drops, and slithers in.
I feel my daughter press against my back.
I can’t see Keg Dude. Did he climb the ladder? Is he even here or did he wisely chicken out?
I don’t know.
Prescription sunglasses—on or off? Too dark to see with them, too blind without them. Screw it. I leave them on. No place to put them that won’t get squished. On my face is the safest bet.
I bend down and firmly banish a nightmare memory of the last time I tried on spanx.
With my friend in front, I figure I can grab her ankle and use pressure to communicate through Morse code that things are not right. I’m pretty sure three long squeezes, three short squeezes, and three long squeezes are S.O.S. Like Lassie, she’ll go for help—after all her family is still behind me, trapped on the other side of the tunnel from hell. She’ll be motivated to work hard to see them again.
Maybe they’ll get a helicopter ride. They’d like that.
I’m grateful my daughter’s behind me. She won’t be afraid to shove, pinch, or push whatever gets stuck. She won’t be dainty. She’s an uber fit jockette with a teenager’s natural abhorrence of both public humiliation and her parents.
If I were Catholic, I’d cross myself and say a final Hail Mary. Instead I console myself with the famous Hawaiian chant, no make A, no make A. No matter what. No. Make. A.
I wiggle through the first part and almost weep with joy to discover how open the middle section is.
Behind me my daughter shrieks. “Oh, gross! Somebody spit in the tunnel! Mom! Watch where you’re going!”
“I don’t care,” I say. “I’m wearing my sunglasses. I can’t see in the dark.”
“Did you crawl right through it? I bet you did!”
The only thought I have is to wonder how much spit reduces friction.
I see the light ahead. The opening at the end is narrower than what I’ve already slithered through. I try not to think of corks and bottles. I fight the urge to try to swing my legs around so I can go out feet first—there’s no way I can do that. I have a quick flash of being stuck and folded like a taco. It’s not pretty.
My knee grinds on a stone. I feel skin tear and blood wells. I twist my shoulders and finally go for the least graceful but quickest exit I can do.
As I plop out onto the ground, my friend looks at me with the oddest expression on her face. I stumble to my feet.
My daughter pops out behind me. “See, Mom, told you you’d fit.”
I’m breathing hard, much harder than I should for such a little thing.
Later, safely in the parking lot, my husband of thirty years hugs me. “That was rough. I didn’t want to say anything, but I know that hike hit all of your buttons.”
Oh, yeah. Heights. Climbing. Underground. Small spaces. Tight spaces. Darkness. Fear of public humiliation. Shame for a once athlete’s now lack of physical fitness.
We can do hard things.
This is the part of a story where the heroine sees the error of her ways, knows she can accomplish great things, and decides to change her life by going on an exercise and diet program. The story ends with her successfully running a marathon in the fall and dedicating her life to rehabilitating adult couch potatoes and enforcing ADA rules at national parks.
But sadly, this isn’t fiction, at least not today.
Pass me the remote.
And the chips.
Turn up the AC. Mama needs a nap.
A Polynesians in Space Novella for
eBook Boxed Set 99 Cents until June 1, 2017
Click on the Book Nerd graphic to enter a drawing for a free $25 Amazon gift card as our mahalo nui loa for supporting our series.
He opens his mouth, but doesn’t say what’s on the tip of his tongue. He pauses, then asks, “I know you think of me as a fishing hook. What’s your nattoo for Lolo?”
I hang my head. “Pua‘a,” I mutter.
He stops mid-rub. “No way. Your symbol for our sister is a pig? Where is it?”
I don’t want to answer, but Imi’s relentless.
“Tell me, Nani, or I’ll strip search you myself. You know I can.”
“Are you on my side or not?” I scowl.
“Where’s our sister’s nattoo, Nani?”
I sigh. “On my okole. Left cheek.”
~Nani’s Kiss, Fractured Beauty
Kakau is the Hawaiian tradition of tattoo. I’ve always been fascinated by the history of kakau throughout Polynesia and love to hear personal stories about the images people choose to wear on their skin. Challenged to write a series of stories about Polynesians in the future, I knew kakau had to be a part of it.
Long before Disney’s Moana and Maui’s dancing tattoo version of himself that functions in the story as his Jimmy Cricket conscience, I had the what if idea of nanobots as tattoo ink. What if tattoos weren’t permanent? What if nanobot technology could change tattoos? What if you had to learn how to control them? What if there was an app that controlled them and it was in the hands of a villain?
What if, what if, what if?
In Nani’s Kiss, a Fairy Tale Five novella in the boxed set Fractured Beauty, Nani’s secret thoughts are displayed on her body by her nattoos, nanobots that form images.
I gotta tell you, I’m loving this story device. It’s set to appear in other stories, including the second boxed set of novellas from the Fairy Tale Five, Fractured Slipper, available September 2017.
Nani’s Kiss in Fractured Beauty is available in eBook. On June 1, 2017, the price jumps to $4.99, so don’t miss out!
Four authors accepted a challenge from Tork Media Publishing: reimagine the classic western fairy tale Beauty and the Beast.
Angela Brimhall’s beast is a terrifying sea monster cursed by a scorned gypsy. He must risk all to save the strong-willed princess before losing his last chance at love and redemption, becoming forever damned to the briny deep.
Lehua Parker’s Nani is trapped by Indian and Hawaiian traditions and a fiancé locked in stasis in a medi-mod. Cultures and expectations collide in this sci-fi futuristic world where nano-bot tattoos and dreams reveal the secret of Nani’s heart.
Angela Corbett’s Ledger is determined to find out more about the mysterious woman who saved him from certain death and uncover the secrets of Withering Woods, but some beasts are better left caged.
Adrienne Monson’s Arabella rushes to an enchanted castle to pay her father’s debt, but is met with a burly beast with a mysterious past. It’s a howling paranormal regency romp that will keep you turning pages well past your bedtime.
Ever wonder how Zader became part of the Westin family? Birth is a novella about the day Uncle Kahana found Zader abandoned on the reef at Piko Point. There are two versions in the eBook–one told with Pidgin and one told with standard American English.
Elsie Park is soft-spoken, unassuming, warm, and generous. She’s the kind of person who goes out of her way to make sure everyone is welcomed and comfortable, the kind of person who drops off a meal or an encouraging note simply because she recognizes a need. She makes honest human connections and is one of those rare souls who truly cheers and delights in others’ successes.
What many don’t know is she’s a complete badass in disguise.
Seriously. This petite, nurturing, and loving wife, mother, and musician used to be a wildfire hotshot, a security guard, and a police officer. You underestimate her talent, drive, and backbone of steel when you put her a June Cleaver box. She chooses to be soft and kind.
It’s no surprise to me that when Jolly Fish Press imploded last October, Elsie grabbed her bootstraps and hiked her way to a new publisher who appreciated her work and talent.
You can read my original review of Shadows of Valor here and her author interview here. It’s a great clean romance story, perfect for those afternoons when you need an escape into a world of knights, intrigue–and cinnamon.
Shadows of Valor by Elsie Park is available in eBook and paperback from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Connect with Elsie Park
A couple of months ago, Adrienne Monson, author of the vampire series The Blood Inheritance Trilogy, came to me with an intriguing idea. Would I be interested in joining four other authors in creating a series of reimagined fairy tales to be published as boxed sets? Each of us would tell the same fractured fairy tale in a different genre. The first challenge was Beauty and the Beast.
It sounded like fun, and a 20,000 word novella was something that fit into my writing schedule. The other authors had selected their genres, and someone was already writing an under the ocean-based tale. Off the top of my head, I offered to tackle something sci-fi based.
But now I had a problem: over the next two years, I’d be investing a significant amount of writing time to creating five novellas based on traditional Western fairy tales, something that might not interest the main audience I’m trying to connect with — people with a passion for Hawaiian history and island culture. Fragmenting my audience didn’t seem like a good idea.
And that’s when it hit me.
So often, when it comes to Polynesian culture, our focus is on preserving and interpreting the past in ways that enrich the present. What about the future? What would some of the world’s greatest explorers and ocean voyageurs do with the universe as their ocean and planets as their islands? How do traditional Hawaiian values and ways of communal living translate to all the practical challenges of living on a space station?
Why not Hawaiians in space? Beauty as Nani, from the planet of Hawaiki. But the Beast will blow your mind.
Futuristic Polynesian twists on Western fairy tales. It’s going to be a thing.
The Fairy Tale Five present: Fractured Beauty, available June 1, 2017, and published by Tork Media. Stay tuned.
ONE BOY, NO WATER is FREE on Kindle through Dec. 25th.
It’s a 2017 Nene Award Nominee.
Set in Hawaii, it tells the story of 13 year old Zader and his brother Jay. Lua, kite flying, surfing, and shave ice. The easiest way to take a trip to Hawaii without leaving your couch. It’s book one in The Niuhi Shark Saga.
Download it from Amazon.
It’s Disney’s Moana. That’s really what it comes down to.
A couple of years ago, when Disney announced that in the tradition of Aladdin, Mulan, Pocahontas, and Frozen, they were bringing to the screen Moana, a Polynesian princess tale, I was excited. When I learned that the story involved the demi-god Maui and ocean voyaging, I thought here was a movie I could take my kids to where we could talk about ancestral knowledge and what it means to be a literal descendant of the historical Maui and his sons.
And then I saw the trailers. Maui didn’t look anything like what I imagined the real Maui looked like—frankly, he didn’t even look human. And he was kind of an egotistical jerk. And a buffoon. And what was up with the nonsensical bits of crap around his neck and the random leaves for a malo? None of the sets and costumes seemed to belong to any particular island culture. I saw elements of Maori, Samoan, Tongan, and Fijian cultures—and precious little that was clearly Hawaiian. It was like someone had taken Pasifika and mashed it into a blender and—
Moana is no more an authentic reflection of Polynesian culture than Mulan reflects China, Aladdin reflects Arabia, Pocahontas reflects Powhatans, or Frozen reflects Scandinavia. All of these stories are set in an alternate world—let’s call it Disneyland—that borrows heavily from real-world cultures to tell very classically western stories in the archetypical hero’s journey or mono-myth form. These stories follow specific patterns that start with a call to adventure, followed by an ordeal, a transformation, and an eventual return.
Harry Potter, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, The Lion King, and Disney Princess movies like Moana and Frozen all follow the same basic hero’s journey storyline. Like most mono-myth stories, they are set in a world that is similar to, but slightly askew from the real world. Sometimes this new world has magic or talking animals or objects that are cursed. Most of the time the audience simply goes along with the fantastical elements because they are part of this kind of story tradition. Do we really know how the Force works or if House Elves exist? No. And when the goal is entertainment, it doesn’t really matter.
That’s another key: entertainment. As much as we’d like to believe otherwise, children and adults go to these kinds of movies to be entertained, not educated. Disney knows this.
The unfortunate disconnect was that so many people with deep Oceania roots wanted something different, something that was an authentic reflection of indigenous island culture and storytelling. What we got instead was a western pop-culture mono-myth story set in Disneyland’s Polynesia. It’s like going to a luau and being served rice and teriyaki chicken instead of kalua pork and poi—really disappointing, I know.
I still took my kids to see Moana.
I thought the story was amazing, even through it’s not Polynesian in form or content. I liked that Moana’s gender wasn’t a limiting factor when it came to being a leader, solving problems, or persevering when it was easier to quit. I liked the ideas about the importance of self-sacrifice for a greater good, the love and influence of family that stretches beyond this mortal plane, and the conflict between following your heart and fulfilling what you think is your destiny.
Above all, I liked the way the ocean was animated. The colors, shadows, currents—all beautifully articulated. And while the voyaging canoes didn’t look very much like the great wa‘a I knew, my heart did leap to see them soar across the ocean. I loved the brief moments about wayfinding by stars, currents, water temperature, and marine life.
Moana did start conversations with my kids.
We talked about the elements in the architecture, traditions, clothing, etc., and which island’s cultures probably sparked the designs. We talked about the great trade routes, ocean currents, social and political factors, and migration patterns that settled Polynesia from Asia and the Americas and back again, and how new genetic evidence is proving that ancient people traveled farther and more frequently than we realized.
Well, than western scholars realized. In Pasifika we have our own stories, genealogies, and histories. More on this in another article.
But the most important things my kids and I discussed were the concept of stories. It’s very simple.
Our stories define us. Moana is not my story; it’s Disney’s. It doesn’t define my Hawaiian heritage any more than Frozen defined my Scandinavian ancestors. Nothing Disney does defines me or changes one iota of who I am.
Despite all the uproar over cultural appropriation, I think the average person knows Moana is set in Disneyland—not living, breathing Oceania. Cultural appropriation is not a western thing; it’s a human thing. I’ve experienced it all over the world. Every culture in contact with another borrows what appeals. Like Tamatoa the crab says in Moana, it’s glam, it’s shiny, so I’m going to stick it on my shell and make it a part of me.
The big take away is this: If we do not write our own stories, we cannot be surprised when outsiders attempt to write them. With no other voices in popular culture, these stories become the truth for the majority, and we soon find ourselves living in a world enamored with Bobby Brady’s tiki curse, hip-hop hula, and coconut bras.
If we want to change the popular cultural narrative about what it means to be Hawaiian, Samoan, Maori—we need to tell our own stories in our own voices. It means supporting our Pasifika artists, musicians, dancers, and writers with more than our applause and appreciation.
Otherwise only those with Disneyland resources will fill the void—and the narrative—with what appeals to the masses.