Talking Story

Pidgin

I’m five years old, laying on the carpet in our living room in Kahului, Maui. Evening trade winds tiptoe through the lanai door, bathing the house with the scent of Mom’s gardenia and naupaka bushes. On top the tv, an animated Santa Claus dances with a big red sack, singing about ashes and soot. My eyes dart to the flimsy cardboard cutout of a fireplace and chimney taped to the wall next to the Christmas tree. Panic bubbles. I can’t breathe.

Aiyah!

“Dad!”

He doesn’t even look up from the Honolulu Star Bulletin. “What?”

“How does Santa Claus come into the house?”

“Down da chimney, lolo. You deaf or wot? Jes’ listen to da song.” He turns a page.

I bite my lip. I have to know. “But Dad, Mom bought our chimney at Long’s. It doesn’t connect to the roof. Plus we no more snow! How da reindeer gonna land da sleigh on top da roof if no get snow?”

He flicks the edge of the newspaper down and peers at me. He shakes his head. “Moemoe time, Lehua. You need your rest.”

Tears well. No Santa. No presents. So unfair. Mainland kids get all the good stuffs. I try again. “Dad, fo’reals. Is Santa going skip us?”

Dad presses his lips tight and gives me small kine stink eye. He clears his throat and looks around the room. When he spocks the lanai door, his eyes light up. “You ever seen a house in Hawaii with no more sliding door?”

“No.”

He nods. “Maika‘i. Every house get sliding doors. Das because in Hawai‘i, Santa comes through the lani door instead of down the chimney. In Hawai‘i we invite our guests into our homes like civilized people. We no make dem sneak in like one thief.”

I tip my head to the side, thinking. “But what about da reindeer?”

Dad clicks his tongue. “Da buggahs magic, yeah? They no need land. They just hover in the backyard and wait for Santa fo’ come back. Mebbe snack on da banana trees. Now go to bed!”

It’s not the first time I have to perform mental gymnastics to bridge what I see in movies, tv, and books with my oh, so different reality, but it’s one of the most memorable. At school the teachers try to prep us for mandatory standardized testing, tests we island kids consistently score lower on than our mainland peers.

“Class, what does it mean if the trees have no leaves?” Ms. Yamaguchi asks. “Lehua?”

“Uh, da trees stay make die dead?” I say. “Dey nevah get enough water?”

“No! It means it’s winter! The correct answer is winter! Coodesh! Pay attention. You kids trying fo’ fail?”

Sigh.

It would be many years later, when I am in college in Utah and walking through a virgin snowfall along a wooded path that I finally understand the imagery and symbolism in Conrad Aiken’s “Silent Snow, Secret Snow” in ways more profound than no leaves equals cold equals winter.

Which brings me, finally, to my point.

We need diversity in literature. Kids need access to stories that resonate with their experiences, that are full of people they know and love, that show themselves—their fully authentic selves—as powerful, valued, and real. We need Pacific voices raised in song, dance, print, film, tv—all forms of media, some not even invented yet.

I remember the profound impact of hearing Andy Bumatai, Frank Delima, and Rap Reiplinger on the radio. Hawaiian music, for sure, all the time, but spoken words, Pidgin words, so fast and funny, just like Steve Martin and Bill Cosby! To this day, my old fut classmates and I can still recite all the words to “Room Service” and “Fate Yanagi.”

That’s powerful.

And finally, I find them. Words on paper, in libraries, in books. Stories by Graham Salisbury, Lois-Ann Yamanaka, Darrell H. Y. Lum, Kiana Davenport, and Lee Tonouchi open my eyes to the possibility of using my history and experiences, my voice, to tell stories to an audience that didn’t need long explanations about why whistling in the dark is not a good thing, that a honi from Tutu was a given, or that wearing shoes in the house is the ultimate outsider insult.

I could write stories where the burden to bridge is on the mainland, not the islands. I could write stories for kids in Waimanalo, Kona, Hana, Lihue.

But there’s a catch. The reality is that there are many more readers outside of Hawai‘i nei than in it. Books for niche audiences are a tough sell for traditional publishers who are driven by the bottom line. And while self-publishing or small press publishing is viable for genres like romance, thrillers, and sci-fi, it’s next to impossible for middle grade and young adult books who need the vast marketing channels of a traditional publisher to reach schools and libraries.

I try not to let that matter.

On the mainland, I tell people my books are not for everyone. If you don’t know the difference between mauka and makai, you’re probably going to struggle a bit with the language. You’ll miss a lot of the in-jokes and clues as to what’s really going on with the characters and plot. You’ll have to work a lot harder.

But it will be worth it.

Promise.

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.

crack_seed_5_smallcrack seed

(KRAK-seed)

(n) Pickled, preserved, or dehydrated fruit snacks; can also refer to other local island snacks typically sold at a crack seed store.

Example

Jay’s favorite crack seed was rock salt plum. Char Siu loved lemon peel, but my favorite was candied ginger. ~ Zader, Niuhi Shark Saga

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

ponpb_cover

Being a kid is complicated. There are rules, most of them unwritten, unspoken even, and heaven help you if you can’t unlock the secret code. Darrell H.Y. Lum not only has the key to the boy’s room in his collection of short stories in Pass On, No Pass Back!, he also has the contraband cigarettes.

And maybe a little something else.

The title refers to a kids’ game I remember well: somebody punches you in the arm, yells, “Pass on, no pass back!” and you have to find someone else to slam and pass it on. The playground politics in who you hit and how hard would make the UN weep. And Lum gets it.

Better yet, he helps us get it.

To anyone who grew up in Hawai‘i, Lum’s characters feel real. There’s tales of da Bag Man, karate class, scouts, toads, and mongooses from hell that still give me chicken skin. The stories are written in Hawaiian Pidgin English, a welcome sound of home for native speakers that adds another layer of authenticity to his words. Non-Pidgin speakers will have a tougher time, but it’s worth the work.

As a bonus there are also the comic strip adventures of Booly, Bullette, and Burrito by Art Kodani.

If you’re looking for authentic island writing, Pass On, No Pass Back! is fantastic.

Pass On, No Pass Back! by Darrell H.Y. Lum is published by Bamboo Ridge Press and available as a trade paperback from the publisher, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

girls_sunset

Holoholo

(HOH-loh-HOH-loh) (v) Pidgin for going out and finding some fun.

Example

English: “Lilinoe, let us get in your car and drive up and down main street and see what others are doing. Perhaps we can meet young men with whom we can converse.”

Pidgin: “Lili! We go holoholo!”

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

 

junkalunka_smjunkalunka

(juhn-KAH-luhn-KAH) (adj) Pidgin description of something that is old, broken down, used up.

Example

English: Perhaps we should borrow your mother’s car since the road is steep and winding and your car tires are bald and the brakes are soft.

Pidgin: Pali road? In that junkalunka thing? No way!

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

 

daikon legs

(DYE-kon leh-eggs) (n) Pidgin description of legs that a short, fat, and white.

Example

English: “Interesting choice, Michi-san. Have you seen these floor-length prom dresses?”

Pidgin: “Michi, you blind? That mini shows off your daikon legs!”

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

 

Calabash

(cal-lah-BASH) A bowl or container often made of wood or a hollowed gourd. When used to refer to people, it implies a close friend or relative, i.e. someone so familiar he would eat out of the same serving bowl.

Example

English: “James is my father’s best friend’s son who grew up like a member of our family.”

Pidgin: “Jimmy? Calabash cousin.”

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

 

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