Talking Story

Hawaiian Culture

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Matthew Kaopio’s Written in the Sky is one of those rare books told from a kid’s perspective that’s not for kids. It’s raw and real, and certainly true to the experiences of many homeless kids in Hawaii, but it’s not one I’d give to a kid the age of ‘Ikauikalani, the abandoned Hawaiian kid at the center of the story. The language is coarse, the action violent, and the circumstances bleak. But for anyone high school or older, it’s a must read in the cannon of Pacific Literature.

Fo’real.

Written in the Sky tells the story of ‘Ikauikalani, a middle grader who is adrift after the death of his grandmother. Through ‘Ikaui’s daily experiences, we see firsthand the effects of mental illness, drug abuse, bullying, and dispossession faced by the homeless living in Ala Moana Park. We see how ‘Ikaui struggles to eat, keep clean, and fill his days. There’s real physical danger of death as well as a fear of spiritual death if ‘Ikaui’s swept up by social services. But in the middle of a survive or die situation, there are remarkable moments of grace that allow ‘Ikaui to thrive, to choose to be someone who helps instead of hordes, and to ultimately create a family—an ‘ohana in the truest sense—where there were once only strangers in Ala Moana Park. The kindness of college students, fast food workers, guardian angels, and others allow ‘Ikaui to discover who he is, connect his amazing gifts with his ancestral past, and heal generational wounds.

It’s a book that can be read on many levels. To say it’s about kindness triumphing over evil dilutes what I think is the real message at the heart of the story. I loved the way traditional Hawaiian culture and values were woven into the narrative.

For me, the one jarring element was the Indian guest lecturer who gives ‘Ikaui insight into his gifts. While I appreciate the pan-world, indigenous peoples, we-are-all-one perspective, I would’ve have liked to have seen this insight come from a kupuna. It’s a small rub in a beautifully paced novel and doesn’t really distract from the overall story. However, it’s an odd choice that rings true, and I wonder if the author based some of this novel on his own experiences or on people he knows.

Written in the Sky by Matthew Kaopio is available in paperback and eBook from Amazon. If you love Hawaii and Hawaiian literature, this is an exceptional book.

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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.

 

 

 

Mele Kalikimaka

(mel-lee kah-lee-kee-mah-kah)

(Phrase) Hawaiian for Merry Christmas.

Example

Aunty Lehua wishes you and yours Mele Kalikimaka this holiday season!

Note: ‘Ōlelo is a Hawaiian word meaning language, speech, word, etc.  To see the current list of Hawaiian and Pidgin words, definitions, and usage please click on

Pidgin Dictionary

 

lanai_smalllānai

(LAH-naheye)

(n) Hawaiian for porch, patio.

Example

English: They like to set those kinds of glass balls on their coffee tables, but I’m only going to sell the small ones. The big ones are for us. They’ll ;ook nice on the patio.

Pidgin: They like those popo aniani for put on the coffee table. But I only going sell the small kine. The big kine’s for us. Look nice on the lānai.

Note: ‘Ōlelo is a Hawaiian word meaning language, speech, word, etc.  To see the current list of Hawaiian and Pidgin words, definitions, and usage please click on

Pidgin Dictionary

 

sandboardingkolohe

(koh-LOH-heh)

(v) Hawaiian for mischievous, naughty, a rascal.

Example

English: Mitsy laughed. “Oh, Kahana! How I delight in your rascally nature! You haven’t changed a bit!”

Pidgin: Mitsy laughed. “Oh, Kahana, you still kolohe, ah you!”

Note: ‘Ōlelo is a Hawaiian word meaning language, speech, word, etc.  To see the current list of Hawaiian and Pidgin words, definitions, and usage please click on

Pidgin Dictionary

 

ukulele

kaona

(kah-OH-nah)

(n)The hidden meaning of a song, poem, chant, dance, etc. When you see old folks laughing about innocent songs about fishing or mist, you’re missing the kaona.

Example

English: The hidden metaphors in that song are so powerful!

Pidgin: Kaona, yeah?

Note: ‘Ōlelo is a Hawaiian word meaning language, speech, word, etc.  To see the current list of Hawaiian and Pidgin words, definitions, and usage please click on

Pidgin Dictionary

Before Jay saw the Niuhi Shark in One Boy, No Water he used to think sharks were no big deal. Hard to believe, yeah?

spot_boardI watched Jay make his bed. “Going surfing?”

“Yeah.”

“Early, yeah?”

“That’s when the waves best.”

“Meeting Frankie?”

Jay grabbed a t-shirt off the floor. Through the shirt he mumbled, “Later. He no like surf before dawn, the panty. He comes an hour or two after sunrise. He says his mother makes him do chores, but I know the truth. He’s scared of sharks.”

I thought about what I knew about sharks and decided Frankie had a point. “They come in at night to feed, yeah? In close to shore.” I said.

“So they say.” Jay picked up the sunscreen from under the dresser.

I cocked my head at him. “You not afraid?”

“No.”

“No?”

“No. Terrified,” Jay confessed.

“You ever seen a shark? I mean, out there, surfing?” I asked.

“Couple times.” He paused, sunscreen white on his nose. “Plenny times. I seen them along the reef bottom, cruising out by first breaks at Nalupūkī.”

“Fo’real?” I asked.

“Yeah, fo’real.”

“How big?”

“Small. Baby kine. An occasional bigger one, two to three feet. Once, I seen one about nine feet, longer than me on my board. Mostly black tip reef.” Jay shrugged. “Not too big.”

“Big enough.”

He nodded. “One time when I dove under a wave I seen one out in the distance, a hammerhead. Had to be twelve, maybe fourteen feet.” He shook his head. “That time I got out.”

I watched him take an old beach towel from the back of our door and toss it over his shoulder. “Why?” I asked. “If you know they’re there, why surf at all?”

Jay turned to me, chewing on his bottom lip, choosing his words carefully. “Don’t tell Mom, yeah? But one time, I was hanging out with some seagulls, just floating out past first breaks when I saw a shark go after a bird that was floating right by me. The bugger was so fast! He hit the bird and swallowed it before the bird even knew it was coming. I was sitting on my board not fifteen feet away and the shark went after the bird. He’d rather have a mouthful of feathers than a chunk out of me. That’s when I knew.” His eyes held mine. “I knew then that it didn’t matter if I was surfing in the early dawn or high noon, in shallow water or deep, by myself or with choke guys. If a shark wanted me, it would have me. There’s nothing I can do, except stay out of the water. And I can’t do that.” He looked down. “If no can do nothing, waste time being scared, yeah? And I no like waste time when the waves are pumping. Besides, everybody knows sharks only like white meat. Good thing I’m tan.” He grinned and opened our bedroom door.

“Jay,” I said.

“Yeah?”

“Be careful, yeah?”

“Always, brah, always.”

All excerpts and short stories copyright © 2012 by Lehua Parker. Excerpts from the Niuhi Shark Saga by permission of Jolly Fish Press, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of these excerpts may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. No part of these short stories may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.

jetts

My cousins, sister, and  I were supposed to be doing the dishes, so of course we were fighting.

“Bruce! Don’t dump silverware in the rubbish can!” I shrieked.

“What? What did I do?” Eyes wide and fake innocent.

“You threw away the fork when you scraped the plate,” my sister Heidi said. “I saw.”

“Not!” Bruce snapped.

“Yes!” Heidi said, tipping the rubbish can forward. “You can just see the edge of it right there!”

“Where?” Bruce said.

“Right there! Under the napkin!” Heidi said.

“Busted!” Carly chortled, putting leftovers in the fridge.

“Get it out,” I said.

“No way,” Bruce whined; “It’s ugi! I’m not putting my hand in there!”

I turned from the sink where I was washing the chopping knife. “Do it!”

“Make me,” he said.

I waved the knife at him. “Eyes or alas, your choice!”

“You gonna get it now, Bruce,” Taylor said, dumping a stack of plates on the counter.

“Better choose alas, Bruce,” said Glen with a sly eye. “It’s not like you going need them.”

“Ooooooooh!” everybody inhaled.

“Good one, Glen!” said Taylor the troublemaker.

“I mean it, Bruce!” I snarled and waved the knife some more.

“That’s not how you hold a knife, Lehua.” Uncle Dave stood in the doorway, amused.

We all jumped back. Although if we were going to get caught fighting, we’d rather it was by Uncle Dave than anyone else. Anyone else usually involved more chores and sometimes lickings. With Uncle Dave the odds were better he’d just say knock it off. On a really good day, he’d just laugh and take us to the beach to cool off.

“What?” I asked, soap suds dripping off my wrist and running down my elbow.

“Nobody’s going to be afraid if you wave a knife like that at them.” We all looked at the knife in my hand, nonplussed. “Give it,” he said. “When you’re in a knife fight, you gotta hold the blade like this.” He whipped it around, sharp edge up. “Stand like this. Put your weight like this. See?”

We nodded.

It didn’t matter that Uncle Dave was almost as wide as he was tall. We watched him weave the knife through the air, shifting and swaying like a palm tree in the breeze. I kept thinking about West Side Story. I didn’t think the Jetts knew what Uncle Dave knew.

“That’s how you hold a knife,” he said and handed it back.

“Thanks, Uncle,” I said. “Now everybody back to work!” Being bossy comes naturally when you’re the oldest cousin and expected to keep everyone else in line. “Bruce, get the fork out of the rubbish can.”

“No,” he pouted.

I waved the knife at him the way Uncle Dave taught me. “Do it!”

“Okay, okay,” Bruce grumbled, “no need get huffy about it.”

“Not bad, Lehua,” Uncle Dave laughed, “not bad.”

More than 30 years later when I was writing the first draft of One Shark, No Swim it suddenly occurred to me that Zader was fascinated with knives—that’s one of the reasons he carves. When I wrote that lua training scene it was really Uncle Dave I saw in my mind dancing and fighting off imaginary dragons with a kitchen knife. A hui hou, Uncle Dave. Rest in peace.

hula_male_sm2

hana hou

(HAH-nah ho)

(phrase) Hawaiian for again, do it again. It’s often called out when a performance is especially pleasing or powerful.

Example

English: Wow! George, I wish I could see that again!

Pidgin: Hana hou! Hana hou!

Note: ‘Ōlelo is a Hawaiian word meaning language, speech, word, etc.  To see the current list of Hawaiian and Pidgin words, definitions, and usage please click on

Pidgin Dictionary

airplaneWhen I was nine I flew all the way to Salt Lake City, Utah from Honolulu, Oahu all by myself. I had to change planes in San Francisco, but I wasn’t worried. I had my snacks, a couple of good books, and I looked forward to the movie—any movie—on the plane. The stewardesses matter of factly handed me off to each other, and sitting in their airport lounge waiting for my last flight was eye-opening and educational, although I still don’t understand why bras that make points are better than bras that curve.

It’s amazing what people will say if you’re quiet and holding a book.

Everything was 5 by 5. I was flying under the stewardesses’ radar and hearing all about Brad and Belinda and something about a layover and cockpit that didn’t involve airplanes when I decided that what this live-action play needed was a couple of snacks. I pulled out a sandwich bag, untwisted the tie, and started to munch.

“Oh, #*^&*@#$^%$! What the hell is that?” screeched a southern bleached blonde with pointy tips.

“Cuttle fish,” I said, using my best company manners to shake the bag open wider and holding it out toward her. “You like?”

“@#$^&*@#&%$%^!!!”

Wow, I never know that was possible, I thought, filing the phrase away for future reference. Does that mean yes or no? “It’s ‘ono. I mean, it’s good. Packed fresh this morning.”

“Relax,” laughed a perky brunette, “I’ve tried it before. It’s dried and shredded squid. They eat it in Asia.”

“Fish jerky?!” The southern belle’s painted on eyebrows couldn’t go higher.

“No,” I said earnestly, thinking of beef jerky. “Jerky’s hard and tough. This is soft and kinda salty-sweet. A little chewy. You like?”

She shuddered and closed her eyes, the cat eyeliner and turquoise lids reminding me of King Tut. “I need a drink,” she said.

The brunette laughed again and reached under a counter for a mini bottle. “Hair of the dog?”

“A whole poodle, if you’ve got it.”

I thought about my other snack bags filled with kakimochi, iso peanuts, and crack seed. Should I bring those out to be polite? I wondered. Nah, I decided, anybody who eats dog hair but turns up her nose at cuttle fish doesn’t deserve them.

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One Boy, No Water
Zader's living like a fish out of water.
One Shark, No Swim
Because even out of the water Zader's not safe.
One Truth, No Lie
Zader's greatest fear walks the shore.