He Wahī Paʻakai: A Package of Salt

adding flavor and texture to your world through story


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My Red Star

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“Wherever I am at any given moment, there is comfort in the knowledge stored at the back of my mind that somewhere in Oceania is a piece of earth to which I belong. In the turbulence of my life, it is my anchor. No one can take it away from me.” – Epeli Hauʻofa[1]

The piece of earth to which I belong was actually named for a star, a red star: Hōkūʻula. It’s a hill adorned by rainbows, one that dances in the uakoko rain, a rain heavy enough to wash the hillside, turning the water a reddish-brown: Waimea.

But I write this sitting on the head of a great fish, in a land of long, white clouds, thousands of miles away from my piece of earth, one washed in red waters.

To say that I belong there is an understatement. Hōkūʻula is my place to stand. I belong in it as much as it belongs in me. And like the rain that washes over it, creating rivulets and streams, it’s carved its way into me: red runs in, over, and through my body. I need only think of my hillside to know that I am at once connected to the land, to my piece of earth, and to that fixed point in the night sky, burning in the wider universe.

That, to me, is belonging. And nothing and no one can take that away from me.

[1] This quote is from Epeli Hauʻofa’s essay, “Pasts to Remember,” featured in the book, We Are The Ocean: Selected Works, p. 76-77.


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ʻAnaehoʻomalu

For Grandma Case and for the beach that we always meet at in my dreams.

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I couldn’t sleep.

So I did what someone close told me to do: I pictured a calm place and I put myself there.

I heard the water first. It was dark, but I had sound. If persistence had a song, it would be of the waves lapping the edge of an ocean lined with rocks. No matter how relentless stone may be, pretending to be unmoved or unaffected, waves will continue to travel toward it forgetting how many times they’ve been sent away. They will slowly wear stone down until it gives in and finally learns to move with the tides, not against them. If I could memorize that song, I’d sing it each time I felt disheartened, each time I needed hope.

My breaths slowed. Sleep was near, but it hadn’t yet arrived.

So I did what someone close told me to do: I pictured a calm place and I put myself there.

I saw the water first. It was still dark, but I had memories. If I could collect all my memories of this place, I’d scatter them across the night sky like stars. No matter how small each would appear, I’d know them to be incandescent: full of heat, energy, life. Each one would be reflected onto the surface of the ocean, sparks of light rising and falling, moving with the water. They’d come back to greet me each time I returned to walk the every-changing shoreline as I witnessed the beach of my childhood transform against its will. I’d pick a memory from the surface of the sea whenever I’d feel myself forgetting this place, and I’d be taken back there, ready to sing its song.

My limbs relaxed. Sleep lay next to be. I could feel it. But it kept a small distance.

So I did what someone close told me to do: I pictured a calm place and I put myself there.

I felt my grandmother’s hand first. She grabbed mine and led me across the beach to her favorite spot. If my grandmother were a part of this place, she’d be the mākāhā, the entrance to the fishpond. She’d be that section of water lined with stone walls, that channel that everything flowed through before entering my world. She’d be the place that featured in so many of the stories that I collected as a child, stories that I’d heard so many times that I’d often forget I never witnessed them myself. She’d exist at the mixing point of past, present, and future, where memories lapped against each other, playing an old but familiar song.

My heart smiled. And as sleep climbed on to me, its arms folding across my back, its chest lying against my own, I found that calm place.

It was where it always had been: with that small and beautiful Hawaiian woman I have never met, but have always known: the one whose love for a particular stretch of shoreline I inherited, the one who listened to the same song of the waves, the one whose memories mix with my own on the surface of the ocean, the one whose channel of stone and sea continues to shape my dreams.

I met her there, as I had so many times before. And I fell asleep, embraced.


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Radical Hope

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Depressed.

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into the earth despite every insistence for light.

She witnessed the moment he stopped insisting. “I saw a light go out,” she said. A shout came off of the page, “The Thirty Meter Telescope cleared its last major hurdle Friday.”[1]

The “hurdle”—the problem, the obstacle, the barrier, the stumbling block, the hindrance, the complication, the difficulty—was US, those insisting that the true obstruction was what would be built on the summit of our existence, our mauna.

Depressed.

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into the earth despite every insistence for space.

A man once asked, “How are indigenous persons meant to understand themselves, and instruct their children, in a world no longer willing to make a place for them?”[2] 

That mountain is our place, we insist. It is our space, one we situate ourselves in and around. It is how we understand ourselves, our role, our right. The light may have gone out in his eyes, but we will insist for him, insist that the world continue to honor our spaces.

Depressed.

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into the earth despite every insistence for life.

Years ago, a Crow man mourned the loss of a way of life, “…when the buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground, and they could not lift them up again. After this nothing happened.”[3]

But is there truly a state of nothing-ness, one in which things simply cease to occur? Or did he move on and find new ways to persist and to insist that his very existence have meaning? Yes. 

He may have been depressed. Oh, he may have been

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into the earth despite his every insistence.

But those who pushed him down, who tried to burry his hope and to burry him with it, did not realize that it was from the earth that he was born.

Therefore, it is from that space—his hands clasping soil, his feet tangled with roots, his mouth feeding on stones—that he will rise again.

Radical? They can call us radical for having hope, even when it seems like we have lost the battle.

Because that, my friend, is us, insisting. No longer will we be depressed. Lights may go out. But the can always, always, always be reignited.

 

 

[1] From a newspaper article printed in the West Hawaiʻi Today. It can be accessed here.

[2] From a piece entitled “On Being Indigenous: An Essay on the Hermeneutics of ‘Cultural Identity’” by Michael Chandler, p. 85.

[3] From a book entitled Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation, by Jonathan Lear, p. 2.


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With Salt In My Hands

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As my gaze bent toward the earth, I stood with clenched fists, with white knuckles. I shook. Your eyes traced my nervousness, watched my short breaths make my chest heave, swell and slump, swell and slump like a rolling sea.

I had come all this way, traveled across the ocean to arrive at the beach of your memories. I wanted to collect your stories, to cast my line, and pull them up from the depths. I wanted to raise them, to make them visible, to watch them take shape in the sun. But my eagerness was quickly replaced by apprehension. What did I have to offer you in return?

I raised my head to look at you, your gaze hopeful, welcoming. The corners of your mouth curled upward: a slight, knowing smile. My grip slowly loosened, blood-flow returning to my knuckles. My breaths lengthened, my back straightened. My chest swelled calmly like the slight rise and fall, rise and fall, of a smooth sea.

With my eyes raised to you, my fists unclenched, I lifted my arm, turned my palm towards the sun and opened my hand to reveal a bundle, a small offering: he wahī paʻakai, a package of salt. I had come all this way carrying a piece of the ocean, of fluidity crystalized. I moved toward you, offering you the promise of the sea: the steadfast nature of all that is paʻa, secure; and the transformative nature of everything that shifts and sways, shifts and sways like the kai, the ocean.

I am still here, standing with salt in my hands.

Let me rub it on your stories of pain. Let me sprinkle it on your stories of triumph. Let me use it to garnish your memories. I have come all this way to collect your words. If you let me, I will leave you with salt to flavor them, awakening the taste buds, enlivening the senses, making us thirst, always, for stories.

 


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At the Edge of Her Bed

For my mother.

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“It was perplexing [being accepted] and I wanted to reject it because I had begun to enjoy the seduction of inadequacy.”*

– Lupita Nyong’o

I chewed on her words, each bite of my teeth giving them new shape, then less shape, new shape, then more shape. I let them roll around in my mouth as I took them apart, put them back together, mixed them around with my tongue. I didn’t want to swallow them, not at first, because I had come to like the taste of inadequacy and swallowing them would mean I’d finally have to accept, really accept, the strange idea that I was adequate (or dare I say, even more than adequate).

It is strange, isn’t it, how we are addicted to and seduced by the idea that we are somehow never enough: never good enough, never smart enough, never fast enough, never pretty enough, never… just enough. I myself was addicted to the idea. So I took a bite of her words and audibly sighed when they burst in my mouth, introducing new flavors.

But were the flavors really “new”? Not really. Perhaps “knew” is more appropriate.

I’m not a mother. But I am a daughter. I am the daughter of a woman who always told me that I was enough, that there was nothing about myself that needed “fixing,” nothing that made me less worthy than anyone else, nothing that I needed to hide or be ashamed of. I remember sitting at the edge of her bed, sometimes as tears moistened my cheeks—while my father snored loudly into the night—as she whispered to me, reminding me of who I was, time and time again.

Yet, like most people, I was seduced by a culture of inadequacy, one that taught me that I needed to be on an endless search for “myself” as if it was something external, something to be bought, or achieved, or gained through work, money, or accolades. And while I always worked hard, and always told myself that trying to be better was a positive thing, I eventually found myself completely seduced by the idea of inadequacy. It’s what kept me going, what motivated me. But eventually, I found myself exhausted.

So I sat at the edge of her bed again. And as she had done so many times before, she reminded me of who I was.

I was her daughter. I was the granddaughter of her mother. I was the great-granddaughter of her grandmother, and on and on back to the first mother herself: the land we sat upon, together. There could be no acceptance of inadequacy without also dishonoring the generations of women whose very existence made my life possible. They were in, around, and beside me… always.

But, like many, I occasionally forgot them and was seduced by a culture that told me that I was wrong to even believe that I was adequate (or dare I say, even more than adequate). To give voice to those words meant I was arrogant or haughty. It’s strange, isn’t it, how we sometimes deny the greatness that we are born with, born of, born to, so that we can be a part of that culture, that seductive culture of inadequacy.

Thankfully, I always had a space, at the edge of her bed, a space that let me escape that culture of “not-enough-ness,” a space where I could taste her words, and let them roll around in my mouth, as the perfect antidote, the perfect wake-up-call, the perfect reminder of who I was, who I am, and who I always will be.

I can still taste her words, can still taste those “knew” flavors as they burst in my mouth. I savor them. Mmmm.

 

*This line comes from Lupita Nyong’o’s speech found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPCkfARH2eE&feature=kp


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A Thin Black Book

She had never heard of Maya Angelou.

So I placed a thin black book in her hands, the cover revealing small pink and blue designs in a sea of night. It was my favorite book, a book of four poems. As she took it from me, I glanced at the words “Phenomenal Woman” strewn across the dark cover and smiled. I smiled knowing that she’d come to love the book as much as I did, that the pages would one day become worn like my own copy, the copy that often got caught under my pillows as I let Maya’s words be the last thoughts I considered before—and perhaps even long after—I shut my eyes.

“When you learn, teach.

When you get, give.”[1]

I had “learned” and “gotten” so much from that thin black book that I started buying multiple copies of it, always having an extra at home so that I could give it away. Then, whenever I sensed another woman in my life needed to be reminded of her “phenomenal” nature, or needed inspiration to “rise,” or needed to know that they were never alone but that they stood “as ten thousand”[2], I’d grab a copy, scribble a message on the first page, and give it away.

It became my favorite gift, for in the giving, I’d get to watch one more woman be empowered by words. When she said she’d never heard of Maya Angelou, I knew that she needed to: needed to hear of her, needed to hear from her, needed to hear with her.

So I placed the thin black book in her hands and felt my heart smile. I hoped she’d read it as often as I did, that the words would seep into her skin, and that they’d become so much a part of her that she’d forget that she didn’t write them herself. I hoped that she’d never again bow her head at the thought of her own inadequacies but that she’d come to celebrate her perfect imperfections. I hoped that every time she fell down that like dust or air she’d rise again, stronger, more confident, carrying the gifts that her “ancestors gave”[3] her. And I hoped that whenever she’d be challenged, that whenever she’d have to fight, that whenever she’d have to battle to save a piece of herself that her words would match those of Maya and that her heart would shout out: “I shall not be moved”[4].

She had never heard of Maya Angelou. Now, years later, she celebrates her. We all do, for her words became the words we’d use to color our experiences, to give us perspective, to become like the small pink and blue designs that brought life and texture to a sea of night.

We celebrate you Maya, and we thank you, from one phenomenal woman to another.

 

[1] From “Our Grandmothers” (lines 67-68)

[2] From “Our Grandmothers” (line 84)

[3] From “Still I Rise” (line 39)

[4] From “Our Grandmothers” (lines 26-28)


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Wake Up!

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You can’t see the stars like that, girl, not when you’ve got sleepiness in your eyes. Rub them. Wake up! ‘Eleu. I don’t have time to wait for you. We don’t have time to wait for you. Too many generations. Too many have been slept away. Now look.

Yes, it’s dark; it’s cold. But this was never going to be easy. You knew that. And my job is not to soften things for you. We have too much to lose for softening. Maybe that’s why you preferred to sleep all these years. When you ignore the presence of the stars, when they are blocked by the ceiling of your mind, you can rest peacefully. Oh, but I won’t let that happen. Wake up, girl. It’s time.

I’m doing you a favour. I know it doesn’t seem like that now. But, I am. I wish someone had done this for me. I spent years sleeping. Now I can’t escape the stars. I search for them even when they are drowned out by city lights. I long for them even when the sun is shining. You’ll never be able to ignore them again, not when you really learn to see them. And you shouldn’t.

Wake up. Look up. Imagine yourself out there, among them, part of them. You know you aren’t really separate from them, right? Every space, every single space, is filled with memory. So it connects. Never divides.

Now what do you think? No, I don’t want to hear what you’ve read. Forget that now. What do you think? Don’t just recite, girl, ignite. When you give me memorized words with no meaning, that’s when you’ve begun to lose. Ignite that na‘au, that gut-feeling. Tell me what it feels like.

I’m not trying to be mean. I push you because that is aloha. Forget that tourist rubbish. My aloha means that I care enough about you to not let you sleep for another generation. So wake up, girl. We’ll stay here until you can give me something of depth, even if it means we have to stay here until the sun rises. In fact, maybe that’s what you need. When you can’t see them anymore, that’s when you’ll feel them and know they’re always there.

Ua moku ka pawa. The darkness has broken. We’ve been here all night. You didn’t sleep. But there’s no use being awake if you can’t react, and can’t be moved to act. Act. Wake up!

What’s that? You have something to say? Tell me.

That’s true. I was never really speaking to you, girl. I was speaking to that part of you inside that is old, that is so much older than both of us. That’s the part of you that had to be awakened. You know you’ll never be able to put that back to sleep. And you shouldn’t. That’s what will guide you. That’s the part of you that will always seek the stars, searching for the spaces of the universe filled with memory. Let it ignite you. Too many generations. Too many have been slept away.

Now look. It’s time.

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