Talking Story

Island Style

In One Boy, No Water each chapter begins with a word or phrase in Hawaiian or Pidgin followed by its definition. This structure uses ‘ōlelo no‘eau, wise or entertaining sayings that reveal a hidden truth. Hawaiian relies heavily on poetic imagery, riddles, and puns to communicate significant truths veiled under casual conversation. Words and phrases can hold hidden layers of meaning called kaona, which is why songs about mist or fish or flowers or wind can leave old folks laughing and young ones wondering what’s so funny. Examples of ‘ōlelo no‘eau can be found on the Internet or in this book of collected wisdom:

 ‘Ōlelo No‘eau: Hawaiian Proverbs and Poetical Sayings

by Mary Kawena Pukui

Bishop Museum Press, 1983

Here are some of the newest ones I’ve come across:

 ·         ‘A‘a i ka hula, waiho ka hilahila i ka hale.

 When one wants to dance the hula, bashfulness should be left at home.

 ·         Hōhohua no ke kawa.

 A deep diving place indeed. Said of a topic that requires deep thinking.

I kani no ka pahu i ka ‘olohaka o loko.

It is the space inside that gives the drum it’s sound. The empty-headed person is the one who does the most talking.

        He manō holo ‘āina ke ali‘i.

 The chief is a shark that travels on land. Like a shark, the chief is not to be tampered with.

 

My Uncle Dave Hopkins was a master of the green flash, that split-second when the sun dips below the horizon and a brilliant green flash lights the sky at sunset. It’s thanks to him that I saw it as often as I did growing up in Kalama Valley. We’d all be piled into his car coming around Hanauma Bay on our way to volleyball or back from the beach and he say, “Today’s the day!” and whip the car into the overlook turnout above Koko Marina. From there you can watch the sun set into the ocean, and we’d sprawl over the rock walls, relaxing in the tradewinds, waiting sometimes half an hour or more, and end up late to wherever we were supposed to be. Time was a flexible concept in Uncle Dave’s world. But it was worth it. Most times he was right. Long before anyone scientifically analyzed this phenomenon, Uncle Dave knew it was a matter of location, horizon, and atmospheric clarity. He’d watched a lot of sunsets.

Uncle Dave always had time to smell the roses, sample the kim chee, or teach kids how to catch crabs, boogie board, or the best way to set the volleyball just off the net for the perfect spike. Our families used to go beach camping and that’s where he taught me how to cook fried rice for breakfast using leftover rice we’d made with ocean water the night before. Uncle Dave loved to eat and knew all the best places around the island to eat anything—crackseed, shave ice, guri guri, teri chicken—he was better than a restaurant guide.

Like many people with big hearts and even bigger opus, Uncle Dave died young, too young,  when I was a sophomore in college. I miss him. I’m sure he’s up in heaven yelling down at us to slow down, relax, and enjoy the journey. A hui hou, Uncle Dave!

Tips to Spot A Green Flash at Sunset

Hawaii is one of the best places in the world to see a green flash at sunset. But be careful; there’s a true green flash and a false green flash. The false green flash isn’t as spectacular; it’s more of a green haze over everything and lasts too long; it comes from staring directly at the sun as it sets and damaging your retinas.

  1. You need a clear, distinct, and distant horizon. A sun setting into the ocean’s the best bet.
  2. The sky has to be perfectly clear; no clouds, vog, or haze on the horizon.
  3. Position yourself so you’re looking right into the setting sun, but keep your eyes off the sun itself until just the barest hint is above the horizon.
  4. Don’t blink! A true green flash only lasts a fraction of a second. Watch for a green flash, flicker, or glow about the setting sun. If you look away and everything has a green cast to it, it’s a false flash.
  5. Have patience. Like my Uncle Dave and Uncle Kahana in One Boy, No Water say, you many see a green flash only a handful of times in a lifetime, but once you’ve seen it, you’ll never doubt again!

My part-Hawaiian grandmother makes wonderful rice pilaf. It’s a recipe she learned from her Portuguese mother and she made it often when we came to dinner, usually with a ham. Buttery and full of mushrooms, light brown with beef stock and slightly sticky, to my sister Heidi and me the rice was something special we looked forward to whenever we made the rare trip from Maui to Oahu.

But six or more months can feel like a lifetime to a kid, and with so many new words in so many languages rattling around in a head, it’s easy to get confused.

Once when I was about six and Heidi three, our grandparents met our family at the airport. Heidi and I were jumping around like two puppies newly freed from a kennel: sitting on the baggage carousel, running around and around Grandpa’s legs, climbing up the short rock wall and walking along it—I’m sure we were driving the adults nuts. That’s when Grammie said the magic word: dinner.

“Grammie! Grammie! You going make rice?” I danced.

“Yeah, Grammie! Rice!” Heidi sang.

“Rice? What’re you talking about, rice?” Grammie said.

“You know, the kind you make,” I said.

“What are you kids talking about?”

Heidi and I looked at each other. It starts with a p… “You know, that pilau rice!”

“Pilau rice!” Heidi crowed. “Pilau rice!”

My non-Pidgin speaking mother looked confused. The blood drained from my father’s face. My grandfather looked nonplussed. And Grammie went nuclear.

“PILAU rice! Pilau RICE! I do NOT cook PILAU RICE!”

Heidi and I were puzzled. We knew we were in trouble, but didn’t know why. “But we love your pilau rice, Grammie!”

“Yeah,” said Heidi, “We love it! We love pilau rice.”

The penny dropped. “Pilaf,” Grandpa said. “It’s rice pilaf.”

“Yeah, that’s what we said! Pilau rice!”

“No,” he corrected. “Not pilau, pilaf! Rice pilaf! Say it.”

“Pilau, I mean pilaf, rice pilaf,” we repeated.

But to this day, in my head, I still think of it as pilau rice!

Pilau: (nvs) Hawaiian for rot, stench, rottenness; to stink; putrid, spoiled, rotten, foul, decomposed. We couldn’t have come up with a worse insult if we tried.

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!

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?

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!

“Hello?”

“EhsistahBarrystay?”

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.”

“Oh.”

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!

“Hello?”

“Um, can talk to Barry?”

“Eh, cuz, I tink you get da wrong numbah. You like talk Barry, yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“Barry stay Hawaii, yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“You calling Utah, brah. Dis one Utah numbah.”

“Utah? Fo’real?”

“Yeah, sorry.”

“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.”

“Who?”

“Never mind. Wrong number.”

“Mom that was so funny! I never knew you could talk like that! So fast!”

“It’s Pidgin.”

“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?”

I laughed.

“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?

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

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When you’re allergic to water,
growing up in Hawaii
isn’t always paradise.

With Niuhi sharks,
even out of the water,
you’re not safe.

Everything you thought you knew
about Zader is a  lie.