Talking Story

Lehua Parker

1_obnw_hi_resNote: 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.

waikikiBeach Lessons From My Father

  1. As you’re packing the cooler, remember a little too much is the perfect amount. The coldest drinks are going to be at the bottom. The beer goes in first.
  2. Carry meat tenderizer in your beach bag for jelly fish stings. Pat stings with wet sand; don’t rub. Suck it up and get back in the water.
  3. If you’re caught in a rip current, don’t fight it. Relax. Slowly work your way across the current, usually parallel to the shore until you’re free. Once out, if you continue to swim a little farther parallel, there’s a good chance you’ll hit another current that will take you back to shore. Do not tire yourself out by fighting the current or waving your arms or shouting. I’m busy. You can handle this.
  4. Ice cold water from the beach showers isn’t cold. Suck it up and get back in that water. No way you’re coming near the car like that.
  5. mom_dad_meAfter washing all the sand off, if you walk correctly—high, flat, carefully placed steps, no flicking your slippahs or dragging your towel, you can make it to the car sand-free. Otherwise you have to start all over.
  6. At volleyball, old and treacherous beats young and enthusiastic every time.
  7. Spitting into a swim mask keeps it from fogging, but unless you’re a tourist or spear fishing you don’t need a mask. Just open your eyes. It’s good for you.
  8. If you don’t want someone to pee on your foot, watch out for wana when climbing around the tide pools.
  9. When the sun sets, get out of the water. Sharks come in and feed at dawn, dusk, and through the night, especially near harbors and the mouths of rivers. Better you don’t swim there. Everybody knows sharks prefer white meat, and you look way too haole to chance ‘em.
  10. Run to the big wave, not away.
  11. Nobody ever died from rolling up the beach no matter how much ocean and sand they coughed up. Told you to run to the big wave, not away. Now suck it up and get back in the water.

Ancient Hawaiians loved word play, riddles, and puns. Songs, stories, poems, and even ordinary conversations could be interpreted on many levels—the more, the merrier—resulting in the ultimate inside joke. Fortunately for us, eminent Hawaiiana scholars Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel Elbert wrote down many once common expressions and their kaona or hidden meanings. Called ‘ōlelo no‘eau, wise poetical sayings, reading through some of their collections is one of the best ways I’ve found to really see and understand the world as ancient Hawaiians did.

Here’s one I read the other day: A la‘a kō kū i ke a‘u literal meaning so, you got stabbed by a swordfish. Just ponder that for a moment. I mean, really, what do you have to do to get stabbed by a swordfish? And how common must this be for everybody to know about it?

Here’s the kaona: you got into trouble. Stabbed by a swordfish? Yeah, that’d spell trouble!

But I don’t think the whole picture develops until you consider this other ‘ōlelo no‘eau about the perils of  swordfish: ‘Olo ‘olo aku nō i hope, kū i ke a’u; literally lagging behind, struck by a swordfish. Working hard and not shirking was an cultural expectation; it was the pono or right thing to do. Lagging behind implies not doing what you’re supposed to with the result of getting yourself into the trouble you’re in, the Hawaiian equivalent of Shakespeare’s ‘hoist with his own petard.’

In my imagination I see a lanky kid in old Hawai‘i. He’s come home from the missionaries’ school, kicking dust and pulling at his too-tight, too-hot collar with a note in his pocket from his teacher. His parents discover he hasn’t been turning in his homework and anything even remotely fun like surfing or fishing is pau, over, no way, José. When little Iosepa’s lip starts to quiver, his parents exclaim, “So, you got stabbed by swordfish. Why are you the only one surprised?”

Which begs the question, “Where did that swordfish stab?”

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.”

“WHAT?!!”

“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!”

“EEeeeeeeeeeee!”

“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!”

“EEeeeeeeeeeee!”

“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!”

“We don’t?”

“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?”

I would.

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.

Customizing a Surfboard

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?

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.

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.

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!

Click here to go to
The Niuhi Shark Website.
Get the Books
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.