Feb. 28th: Creative Career Talk
—Salt Lake Center for Science Education, Rose Park
Mar. 31: PEAU Book Club: Pua’s Kiss discussion
—PEAU Art Access Office, 7 pm
Apr. 10: National Pacific Islander Violence Prevention Conference
—Why Pacific Voices Matter
May 7-9th: Storymakers, Provo, UT
—Publishing with Ingram Spark
May 11 – June 9: Oahu Events
May 12-14th: Fantastic Literature of the Pacific Conference, UH Manoa, HI
June 4-7th: Children’s Literature Hawai’i Conference, Oahu
—Keynote speaker, book signings, workshops
—Original play produced by Honolulu Theater for Youth
Sept. 17-19th: FanX, Salt Lake City
—book signing, panels
Nov. 8-13th: 20Books Vegas
As I write this, I am sitting on a lanai in Kaanapali, Maui, sipping a watery Coke and trying to hide behind a plumeria tree, some torch ginger, and a couple of ti plants so I can see my computer screen. Tonight is the last night I will be in Hawaii; tomorrow it’s airplanes, luggage, and a rush to get the kids ready for the new school year.
I’ve had a lot of time to think on this trip. It’s been five years since I was last on Oahu and Maui. Every time I come home–and it is home, even after so many years–I see the islands with new eyes, and I remember lessons I learned as a child and better understand how they apply in my life.
A big one this week is about how we are all brave in our own way. My daughter loves horses and the faster the better. I think I like horses, but every time I get close to something a flashy like a Ferrari or even a reliable Honda I quickly jump back to my old faithful tricycle with training wheels. After a few bad falls, I figure a couple of sedate family rides a year in the mountains is good enough for me. I’m not going to run barrels or do reining horse patterns. Just getting on and staying on is enough of an e-ticket ride for me.
But the ocean’s a different story. I could spend all day every day in or on the water, SCUBA diving, boogie boarding, on a boat, on a reef, or just floating in the shallows. I know the ocean, at least the waters around Maui and Oahu, and know when there’s a problem and when there’s not.
Not so much my daughter. She swims well, but the ocean’s not a pool or a lake. There are critters in it and all of them want to take a bite out of her, she’s certain. The first day we were off Waimanalo, one of the best beaches to take kids who want to learn to boogie board or learn to be comfortable in the ocean. The water is usually very clear, it’s got a soft, sandy bottom, the waves are rolling and gentle, and it’s shallow for a long, long time. The only thing you have to watch out for are the occasional, very occasional Portuguese-Man-O-War jellyfish. I’ve been wrapped in their tentacles too many times to count. It does sting and it can leave a line of welts, but a little wet sand, some meat tenderizer, and you get back in the water. No big deal.
My daughter, of course, is looking for sharks.
“Cheryl, knock it off. There are no sharks here.”
“How do you know?”
“I know. You’re in more danger from a jellyfish than a shark any day of the week.”
“Relax. Breathe. You’re fine.”
“What do jellyfish look like?”
“They look like a bubble, floating.” I looked around and spotted what I knew was really just a bubble. “See that over there?” I splashed at it and it popped. By the time I turned back around she was halfway up the beach, screaming bloody murder. “Wait! That wasn’t a jellyfish! It popped when I splashed it. That’s how you know!”
“Cheryl! You’re more likely to get stung running up the beach through the foam than hanging out here past the shore break with me!”
“I got it,” said my husband. He went ashore with her and they walked up and down the beach until they found a jellyfish, long blue streamers broken off, just a sad little bubble sitting above the tide line. A few minutes later, she was swimming next to me, all smiles, but still keeping an eye out for sharks.
“Good news, Mom! We don’t have to worry about jellyfish anymore!”
“No! Dad says they’re territorial and that one way over there had all this beach as his territory!”
“Huh.” I cut my eyes at her father and he shrugged. It was starting to sound a lot like some of the things he’s told me about horses, cougars, and mountain trails.
It’s not the thing that makes us afraid, it’s our reaction to it. Watching my kids tackle all things ocean and foreign this past week, I’ve been amazed at the courage they’ve shown and understand a little more about how much of my adult life has been spent facing what’s foreign to me. No matter how long we’ve lived elsewhere, we’re formed by our childhood experiences which shape the way we view the world. When everyone around you takes horses or jellyfish as a matter of course, you forget that feeling uncomfortable around them is natural and not something weird or subpar about you or your character.
Cheryl summed it up best at the Maui Ocean Center when we were looking at some of my favorite sea creatures, moon jellies. She said, “If seahorses were big enough to ride, you’d ride them all day long, wouldn’t you, Mom?”
One Boy, No Water, Book 1 in the Niuhi Shark Saga, will be available in stores and online September 29, 2012. The series is set in Hawaii and tells the story of Zader, an 11 year old boy, and his adventures as he discovers who—and what—he really is. Most of the descriptions of island life in the series are true. However, in some areas Aunty Lehua may have stretched the truth just a little bit. Here’s the real scoop about private schools.
Private Schools in Hawaii
In One Boy, No Water…
6th grade is a big year for applying to private schools in Hawaii and the pressure to get in can be intense.
The real scoop…
Many private Hawaiian schools only accept new students certain grades, 7th grade the most common, putting the pressure on the 6th graders. Some schools are privately endowed and most offer scholarships, so top students can get an amazing education at a fraction of the real cost. Ridgemont Preparatory Academy and the HISA exams? Pure shibai!
One Boy, No Water, Book 1 in the Niuhi Shark Saga, will be available in stores and online September 29, 2012. The series is set in Hawaii and tells the story of Zader, an 11 year old boy, and his adventures as he discovers who—and what—he really is. Most of the descriptions of island life in the series are true. However, in some areas Aunty Lehua may have stretched the truth just a little bit. Here’s the real scoop about customizing a surfboard using paint pens.
In One Boy, No Water…
You can customize a surfboard with paint pens, a few basic supplies, and a little imagination.
The real scoop…
It really is that easy to create your own works of art on a surfboard! There are many sites on the internet that give step by step instructions on how to repair and customize surfboards using paint pens and spray guns. Check ‘em out.
Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island, is famous for its moai statues that line the shore. Over the centuries, many western anthropologists and archeologists have tried to explain how a people without beasts of burden or the wheel managed to move massive stone carvings ten or more miles from the quarry to the seashore. If They Could Only Talk, in the July 2012 edition of National Geographic Magazine, explores a new theory proposed by Terry Hunt of the University of Hawaii and Carl Lipo of California State University Long Beach. Oddly enough, it’s based on what native Rapa Nui islanders have been saying all along.
The moai walked.
The solution is elegant, practical, and based on physics. The statues are designed with pot bellies and rounded bottoms which allowed a few people using three ropes to “walk” the moai down the mountainside to the beach. It’s not perfect—and there are many broken moai strewn along the way to prove it—but it makes far more sense than any other “expert” opinion and fits into the native oral tradition.
My favorite line in the whole article is a quote from an islander who was observing an experiment by the Norwegian social scientist Thor Heyerdahl and his team in 1955 when 180 people strapped a real 13-foot 20,000 pound moai to a tree trunk and tried to drag it. “You are totally wrong, sir,” he said.
And he was right.
Which brings me to the real purpose of this post. Over the years as an amateur enthusiast of human migration and origin stories I’ve noticed a distinct lack of respect, credibility, and propensity to discount what indigenous cultures have to say about their past on the part of non-native social scientists and other academics. It’s the mistaken belief that outsiders with fancy degrees must know more than the people who have lived the history they are studying. The Phd-ers forget that human ingenuity, genius, and intelligence isn’t found in letters after one’s name, but in all human cultures across all centuries and environments.
Fortunately, as new DNA studies and other forensic disciplines are applied in anthropology, more credence is being given to oral histories and traditions as they are proving to be in line with the new data, often to the surprise of the experts who are taking a new look at some very old traditions.
In this more receptive environment, a few Hawaiian families are starting to come forward to share the knowledge they have kept private for centuries, some of which is very different from the accepted and established views. I can’t wait to learn more.
What about you? Do you have family stories and traditions that add new light to the “official” accounts?
In about a week I will be back on Hawaiian beaches, scrunching my toes in the sand, and yelling at my kids to watch out for portagee-man-o-war, not sharks, and to put on more sunscreen. Always with the sunscreen. I’ve got some research projects lined up and plan to take literally thousands of pictures so I can show you, Dear Reader, all of the delightful things I miss and love most about my island home.
And then there’s the food.
Yes, you can find Asian markets on the mainland. You can even order poi over the internet. But the real island flavors come alive when marinated in the humid, salty-sweet atmosphere of Hawaii. None of the recipes taste quite the same on the mainland. Believe me, I’ve tried.
When I talk to others who are living far from their native homes, there is always a dish that they long for, a little comfort food that they can taste with their eyes closed. Food means family and friends and a little bite of home can trigger all those complicated and wonderful feelings, transporting us back to time when we couldn’t see over the tabletop.
My husband teases me that we eat our way around the island, stopping at little hole in the wall places to sample everything from manaupua to shave ice to guri-guri to malasadas. My son just opens his mouth and swallows it all and often goes for seconds or thirds or fourths with the gluttony of a bottomless teenage male. My daughter is much more cautious. She sniffs at things, pokes at them, nibbles at the edges, often saying no thank you until I can get her to actually try a bite. But put some music on and she’s out there swaying and swinging her hula hips with the best of them.
Funny how that works.
What food that says home to you?
Jennifer Griffith’s newest novel, Big in Japan, tells the story of Buck Cooper, a Texas gentleman with a heart as large his home state and a body and self-esteem problem to match. What starts as a supporting role in a family business trip to Tokyo ends with Buck staying in Japan training to be a sumo wrestler as the kohai to the Kawaguchi Stable’s star ozeki, Torakiba. Torakiba is the senpai from hell, subjecting Buck as his kohai to humiliating tasks including foot washing and warm watermelon spit. There’s also a love interest, Cho-cho san, who like the butterfly she’s named for flits in and out of Buck’s life, motivating him to prove to himself and the sumo world that he’s got what it takes.
Buck may be big in Japan, but in Hawaii sumo is huge. The first foreign-born non-Japanese sumo champion was Jesse Kuhaulua, fighting name Takamiyama Daigoro. He was born on Maui and his career spanned twenty years from 1964-1984. Growing up in Kahului, we all knew Jesse and followed his career avidly. When he came home to visit family, the whole town came out to greet him. I can still see him in his traditional Japanese attire as he majestically strolled across our school’s parking lot, smiling and waving at us as we peeked out from behind the monkey pod tree. Other Hawaiian-born sekitori followed including Konishiki who earned the rank of ozeki, Akebono who earned the grand champion rank of yokozuna, and my cousin William Tyler Hopkins, fighting name Sunahama Shoji, who earned the rank of juryo 5 before retiring in 1997 at age 25 due to injury.
Since I knew a little about sumo and what it takes to succeed in Japan as a foreign-born wrestler, I was intrigued by Griffith’s premise. While Big in Japan does touch on some of the modern criticisms and controversies in sumo wrestling, at its heart it’s a love story with coming of age themes told with a humorous, light touch. It’s Buck’s story of leaving home in order to find his true self. Westerners will get a taste of some of the cultural differences and an idea of what it takes to be a sumo wrestler, but it’s Buck’s inner and outer transformation combined with his hilarious inner monologue that’s the draw here. Griffith sometimes compares her books to cotton candy—something sweet, light, frothy, enjoyed, and gone, but I think this novel has more weight behind it, more like a makizushi meal than a simple sweet treat.
Big in Japan, written by Jennifer Griffith and published by Jolly Fish Press is available in hardback, trade paperback, and eBook from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other purveyors of fine literature.
Griffith’s blog can be found at: http://www.authorjennifergriffith.com/
For more information about Jolly Fish Press and its titles, please visit: http://www.jollyfishpress.com/
Last week I slipped into the Twilight Zone. It was an ordinary day at my computer when my cell phone rang. I glanced at the screen and saw an 808 number—Hawaii! Don’t know the number, but maybe it’s somebody calling about the book!
Double-blink. The words were slurred and so fast and unexpected it took a minute for my brain to switch gears and recognize Pidgin.
“Barry? You want to talk to Barry?” Said way too haole.
Longer pause, then slower, “Get Barry dere?”
“I’m sorry. You have the wrong number.”
We hung up.
I sat staring at my phone for a minute wondering what the odds where that such a misconnection would happen, thinking of the long ago commercial where somebody trying to call across town ends up talking to someone on the beach in Fiji.
I bet he dialed 801 instead of 808. Or a joke? One of my old friends playing a joke? But they’d have said something, surely.
I’d made it to the living room holding my cell phone before it rang again. 808! Same number. Here we go!
“Um, can talk to Barry?”
“Eh, cuz, I tink you get da wrong numbah. You like talk Barry, yeah?”
“Barry stay Hawaii, yeah?”
“You calling Utah, brah. Dis one Utah numbah.”
“Oh. Okay. T’anks.”
I hung up the phone and looked up the stairs to see my daughter standing there, mouth open and catching flies. “Who was that?”
“Barry’s friend. He like talk story.”
“Never mind. Wrong number.”
“Mom that was so funny! I never knew you could talk like that! So fast!”
“Why were you speaking Pidgin?”
“Because he was.”
“Say some more!”
My son came around the corner. “You mean you got a wrong number from Hawaii and the guy spoke Pidgin? What’s up with that?”
“Da-na-na-na, da-na-na-na,” he sang, the theme from The Twilight Zone.
Tell me about it. Wonder what Barry’s friend thought when he heard Kahului tita coming via Utah?
So, you have a story you are writing, and it is set in an exotic setting with foreign cultures, and you’re scratching your head, asking yourself: How do I go about telling my readers about this place or culture that they may not understand or know? The answer is simple: Show, don’t tell.
One of the biggest mistakes that writers do when they write a story based on a foreign setting is telling the reader everything–much of this mistake comes from a legitimate concern: I’m afraid my readers will be lost if I don’t tell them what’s going on. Well, not quite. As writers, we cannot underestimate our readers’ ability to comprehend. Now, that’s if we write clearly, and well enough to not confuse them. Ultimately, it is up to us.
Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club dwells heavily in the traditions and cultures of China, old and new. But not once in the entire book does she tell us any textbook-facts regarding her setting and the traditional practices of her characters. But yet we, as readers, understand every single aspect of the book. At the end of the book, her readers will have lived and experienced life as Chinese in China and America. How does Tan masterfully explain a foreign culture without explaining? Well, she doesn’t. Her characters do what they need to do to move the plot along. They say what they are supposed to say. They wear what they should be appropriately wearing.
By painting her setting with words, Tan’s narrative takes off beautifully without effort. There is no need to explain. Tan merely shows you how Chinese eat, how they talk, what they think, and how they react to things. And before long, we, as readers, will have learned a culture without being explained to.
The same can be said of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings volumes. He does not need to explain a culture to us, he merely shows us how things are done, from Gollum’s speech patterns to the Hobbits’s eating habits. He does not need to explain what elevenses are or the fact that the Hobbits’s calendar starts on a Saturday and ends on a Friday. But readers know this culture as much as they know their own. Why? Because Tolkien describes everything through dialogues and idiosyncrasies.
Perhaps the biggest example of the perfect explaining of cultures without explaining is J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Believe it or not, this series is heavy on British culture and traditions, from school regulations to casual conversations. For example, Rowling throws out the word prefects without having to explain what they are. She doesn’t tell you, she shows you.
As writers we should let our readers discover and explore everything themselves. The correct way is to show our readers the world and culture in our books and let them find out for themselves. Give them the opportunity to ask important questions, and let them answer those questions themselves. Don’t worry about explaining everything; focus on telling your story instead, and trust me, your story will be 110% much stronger and powerful if you do.
Christopher Loke, Executive Editor for Jolly Fish Press, has made a splash in the writing world with his powerful and touching novel, The Housekeeper’s Son. This novel explores how far a mother can go for love. The answer? Murder. The Housekeeper’s Son is available as a hardcover and e-book through all major online retailers near you. Follow Chris on Twitter and Facebook for updates on his signings and events.
One Boy, No Water, Book 1 in the Niuhi Shark Saga, will be available in stores and online September 29, 2012. The series is set in Hawaii and tells the story of Zader, an 11 year old boy, and his adventures as he discovers who—and what—he really is. Most of the descriptions of island life in the series are true. However, in some areas Aunty Lehua stretched the truth just a little bit. Here’s the real scoop about Lua.
In One Boy, No Water…
Lua is ancient form of Hawaiian hand-to-hand combat. It was taught in schools by Lua masters who could perform amazing feats of strength and agility.
The real scoop…
Lua is real! Known anciently as Kapu Ku‘ialua, Lua was traditionally taught to young Hawaiian nobles and warriors, both male and female. Lua ‘ai forms focus on breaking and dislocating bones, locking joints, performing nerve strikes, and using various weapons such as shark tooth clubs, spears, and slings. Lua students were also taught to heal using massage and herbal remedies and to use spiritual forces against their enemies.
In ancient times Lua warriors plucked all their hair (girls, too!) and put a thin layer of coconut oil all over their bodies so they could slip out of holds during battle. The word for Lua master,‘ōlohe, literally means hairless.
Kept secret, sacred, and hidden in legends and taught underground since the mid-1800s, Lua is experiencing a cultural re-birth. Like many martial art forms, Lua also embodies a philosophy. It teaches traditional Hawaiian ideas such as remaining pono in all one’s thoughts, actions, and feelings.
Because so much of Lua is still considered sacred and secret and is not shared outside Lua schools, be wary of websites or people claiming to know all about it. For more information about authentic Hawaiian Lua practices, check out this book:
Lua, Art of the Hawaiian Warrior
By Richard Paglinawan, Mitchell Eli, Moses Kalauokalani, and Jerry Walker
Bishop Museum Press, 2005
One Boy, No Water, Book 1 in the Niuhi Shark Saga, will be available in stores and online September 29, 2012. The series is set in Hawaii and tells the story of Zader, an 11 year old boy, and his adventures as he discovers who—and what—he really is. Most of the descriptions of island life in the series are true. However, in some areas Aunty Lehua stretched the truth just a little bit. Here’s the real scoop about Niuhi Sharks.
In One Boy, No Water…
Niuhi sharks are sharks that are aware of themselves as predators and can choose whether or not to bite humans. Niuhi sharks can appear as human.
The real scoop…
The Hawaiian word niuhi simply means big man-eating shark and is often translated as large tiger shark.
There are hundreds of legends, stories, and myths throughout the Pacific about sharks that can turn into humans, humans that can turn into sharks, guardian spirits of ancestors who assume the shape of a shark, and demi-god children born to a human and shark parent. Many of these stories can be found on the Internet.
In ancient Hawaiian legends sharks masquerading as humans had a secret: on their backs was the large, gaping mouth of a real shark! When in human form, shark men would hide their shark mouths under capes made of leaves, feathers, or kapa cloth. Usually shark men were discovered when someone removed the cape.
Since big predatory sharks tend to hunt and travel alone, most Hawaiian shark shape-shifter stories are about a particular individual and not about whole societies of shape-shifting sharks. The Niuhi Shark People of Hohonukai only exist in the novels.
In the Niuhi Shark Saga, Uncle Kahana and Nili-boy recommend wearing ti leaf leis or special tattoos to ward off sharks. While Hawaiian tattoo traditions do include patterns used to honor shark ‘aumakua as well as to identify and protect the wearers in shark infested waters, there really isn’t an anti-shark bite tattoo, and while there are also many traditions about the healing and protective properties of ti leaves, ti leaves and ti leaf leis are not worn to ward off niuhi sharks.
In Hawaii, children are taught that the best way to avoid shark bites is to follow a few simple guidelines:
- Don’t swim with an open wound.
- Don’t swim in harbors or near the mouths of rivers.
- Don’t swim in murky water.
- Don’t swim at dusk, dawn, or at night
- When spearfishing, keep your catch away from your body. Use a long tethering line or get things back in the boat quickly.
- Be aware of your surroundings. If you feel uncomfortable, get out of the water.
- If you see a shark, remain calm. Watch the shark’s body language. Exit the water slowly.
Sometimes people with ravenous appetites, particularly for meat, are called niuhi, so the next time someone says you’re pigging out, say no, you’re really eating like a niuhi shark!