He Wahī Paʻakai: A Package of Salt

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ʻUla ka moana i ka ʻahu ʻula a me ka mahiole: the Ocean is made red with feathered cloaks and helmets

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“Kauluwela ka moana i nā ʻauwaʻa kaua o Kalaniʻōpuʻu. Aia nā koa ke ʻaʻahu lā i ko lākou mau ʻahu ʻula o nā waihoʻoluʻu like ʻole o kēlā a me kēia ʻano. E huila ʻōlinolino ana nā maka o kā lākou mau pololū me nā ihe i mua o nā kukuna o ka lā.”[1]

The sea glowed brightly because of Kalaniʻōpuʻu’s swarming fleet of war canoes. The warriors were dressed in feather cloaks of all different colors. The points of their long spears and javelins flashed brightly before the rays of the sun.

  

I can only imagine what it must have looked like, an ocean colored by millions of delicate feathers. If I close my eyes, I can picture the deep reds and bright yellows draped across the backs of our ancient chiefs. I can see them; I can feel them.

Yesterday, I sat a few short feet away from Kalaniʻōpuʻu’s ʻahu ʻula and mahiole, his feathered cloak and helmet. And as they lay before me, I closed my eyes for a brief moment and pictured them in movement, pictured them on the body of our chief, pictured their tiny red and yellow feathers on an ocean, rustling in the wind, full of life. I could see them; I could feel them.

So I whispered a small greeting, as I have many times before, and as the hours passed and as the space around me filled with chants and songs, with the familiar sounds of ʻōlelo and te reo mixing and rolling off tongues, the wind shook the whare and I said my goodbye.

It was like saying goodbye to a loved one, to a family member, one who I knew I would see again, but one that I would miss terribly. They would be going home, back to Hawaiʻi, back to our people, back to our lāhui. And as I sat there, I could not help but shed tears for all that they have come to mean to me, for all that they have inspired in me, for all that they will continue to inspire in my people.

Today I continue to shed tears as a write, carrying an emotion that I cannot quite describe: a mix of extreme gratitude and deep aloha, a mix of happiness accompanied by hope, and on a very personal level, a mix of protectiveness deepened by a sense of responsibility. Although I know that my story is small in the larger history of this remarkable cloak and helmet, I share it because I feel compelled to do so, perhaps as a means of bringing our attention back to them, to these taonga, these treasured items, these mea makamae, to their lives, to their journey, to their future.

Much has been said in the past few weeks about the return of Kalaniʻōpuʻu’s cloak and helmet: some are in support of their journey home while others are not, some are worried about their new association with certain state organizations, and some are concerned that they will be placed at the center of what has become a heated (and sometimes ugly) political terrain. I appreciate what has been said and shared. It has inspired debate and dialogue, which is extremely important. And while this may or may not add to the conversation, I write this because I feel a responsibility to do so: to honor them, to look after them, to love and care and celebrate them for the impact that they have had on generations of people.

When our Hawaiian scholars took to the newspapers in the nineteenth century to record the lives of our ancient chiefs, they described their exploits and adventures in detail, as if each small event was like a tiny feather, seemingly insignificant on its own, but in context, completely necessary. One such writer was Joseph Poepoe who, between 1905 and 1906, recorded the story of Kamehameha in the Hawaiian language newspaper named for the famous chief, Ka Naʻ Aupuni. While writing about Kamehameha and his celebrated uncle, Kalaniʻōpuʻu, he described many battles, looked at prophecy and strategy, highlighting training and skill. And in his descriptions, he also spoke of the sight of ʻahu ʻula and mahiole. When warring chiefs traveled over cliff sides, they turned the land red with ʻahu ʻula. And when they boarded their war canoes, “ʻike maila i ka ʻula pū aku o ka moana i nā ʻahu ʻula a me nā mahiole” their opponents saw the ocean turn red with feathered cloaks and helmets, with millions of tiny red feathers.[2]

I can only imagine what they must have thought, what warriors must have thought when they saw their cliff sides turn red with soldiers and chiefs adorned in ʻahu ʻula and mahiole. And I can only imagine what it must have been like to watch the ocean go red. While I cannot say for certain what they must have felt, I am sure that it inspired something, whether fear and dread, whether hatred and anger, or whether even awe and a bit of amazement. I’m sure they saw them; I’m sure they felt them.

Two hundred and thirty seven years ago, Kalaniʻōpuʻu’s ʻahu ʻula and mahiole were gifted to Captain James Cook at Kealakekua Bay. Although Captain Cook never left the island, these treasured items did, making their way aboard ship to England where they were viewed by thousands in a strange land. What curiosity they must have inspired. Perhaps they became tokens of a far away place and culture, a “far away” people. Perhaps they too were exoticized, romanticized, or perhaps even degraded and disrespected. Perhaps they weren’t. While I am not sure what an English man or woman must have thought looking at the deep reds and bright yellows of our chiefs, or what reactions would have been stirred within them, I am sure that they must have stirred something.

While they were away, things changed, lives in Hawaiʻi changed. After the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom, a writer in the Hawaiian language newspaper, Ke Aloha ʻĀina, seemed to lament the fact that some of their people had never seen an ʻahu ʻula, perhaps a mahiole, or even other chiefly symbols like kāhili, feathered standards. Thus, in 1901, an invitation was put out for people to go to Wakinekona Hale, the home of the deposed Queen Liliʻuokalani, to see them: “E hōʻike i ko kākou aloha aliʻi ʻoiaʻiʻo i mua o nā malihini o na ʻāina e e noho pū nei i waena o kākou, i ʻike mai ai lākou he mea nui ka Mōʻīiwahine iā kākou, kona lāhui.”[3] The article states: “Let us show our true love for our chiefs in front of all of the foreigners from other lands who now live amongst us, so that they will see that our Queen still means a great deal to us, her nation.”

For a people learning to live with the overthrow of their Queen and the subsequent illegal annexation of their kingdom to the United States, I can only imagine what the sight of an ʻahu ʻula must have inspired in them: honor and gratitude, sadness and longing, or perhaps love and a deepening commitment to aloha ʻāina, a renewed and inspired sense of patriotism. Generations prior, ʻahu ʻula turned oceans red; they covered hill sides as warriors marched to battle. They adorned our chiefs and stood as symbols of rank and mana. In 1901, however, it seems that their appearances in public became rare. Thus, to view a cloak and helmet then surely must have stirred something.

In 1912, when Kalaniʻōpuʻu’s ʻahu ʻula and mahiole were unexpectedly gifted to New Zealand, they became part of the national museum’s collection and have been here since. I write this from New Zealand, in the country that they will leave in a few short hours. When I first came here nearly four years ago, I knew that I had to visit them. Thus, on my second day in the country, I went to Te Papa Tongarewa and found them tucked into a dark space in the museum, alone and somewhat separated from everything else. After that day, back in 2012, they became my personal puʻuhonua, my personal site of refuge and safety in a new place thousands of miles from home. I visited often, whenever I needed a piece of Hawaiʻi, whenever I needed to reconnect, to recenter, or to find guidance. I talked to them and I shared my life with them, imagining that if I felt lonely so far away from home that perhaps they did as well. They stirred something in me then; they stir something in me still.

A little over a week ago, I stood next to the ʻahu ʻula and mahiole, chanting before them, to them, and around them in anticipation of their upcoming departure. And as I chanted, I pictured the moana, the ocean that they would once again cross. These sacred symbols of our chiefs would be making their way home, not by waʻa, but by plane, leaving a trail of histories along the way, turning the ocean red once again, this time with ancestral memories. Standing there next to them, as I had many times before, I thought about my many visits. Since moving here, I have learned to cease thinking of them as relics from the past, but have come to embrace them as pieces of our past that have lived to the present and that stir our hearts and minds contemporarily. I see them; I feel them.

Thus, for one last time, I marveled at their beauty and at the skill of my ancestors, and as I stood there, thinking about our history, I realized that each generation of people has seen and understood them differently, always revealing something about the times in which they lived. What a Hawaiian in 1779 must have thought at the sight of an ʻahu ʻula and mahiole—treasured items that were apparently so abundant that they could turn oceans red—would have been drastically different than what a Hawaiian in 1901 would have thought, just a few short years after the illegal annexation of Hawaiʻi. And these reactions and inspirations are different than what filled me when I first lay eyes on them, a contemporary Hawaiian woman who was raised in the years following the Hawaiian Renaissance, who was raised with hula, who was raised to value ʻāina, and who was raised to be an aloha ʻāina. My interpretation of them will always be a product of the present, of who and what we are now, of where and when we happen to be today.

That brings me back to today. I think about these mea makamae and all that they mean to me, and I shed tears once again for what they will come to mean for all of those people who will now get to greet them, to welcome them home, and to embrace them as I have here. They have inspired a range of emotions and reactions throughout the generations. Therefore, while I cannot say what they will bring out of those who will get to see them and visit with them, I am sure that they will stir something: perhaps a sense of hope, perhaps a dream of unity, perhaps a remembrance of strength and pride, perhaps a sense of kuleana. I look forward to seeing what they will come to represent, what they will teach us about ourselves, and how we will continue to talk about, write about, speak, sing, and dance about their existence as a means of further exploring our own.

I can only imagine it. So, I close my eyes once again, picturing them in movement, imagining an ocean made red. They have been two of my most profound teachers in the last four years. They have taught me of responsibility; they have taught me of honor, respect, and humility. They have taught me to consider all that we can do and all that we will do, to leave our mark on history. My efforts may not be as great as Kalaniʻōpuʻu’s, or my story as grand. However, when I looked at them yesterday, as the ceremonies and protocols were being carried on around me—in a mix of Hawaiian and Māori customs—I smiled, quieted my head and heart, and blessed their journey across the ocean, this time perhaps as a reminder of ʻula, of the red that can and shall unite us

E ʻula pū ana nō ka moana i ka ʻahu ʻula.

 

References:

[1] Poepoe, J. (1905, 7 Dec.) Ka moolelo o Kamehameha I: Ka nai aupuni o Hawaii, Ka Nai Aupuni, p. 1.

[2] Poepoe, J. (1906, 12 Sep.). Ka moolelo o Kamehamea I: Ka nai aupuni o Hawaii, Ka Nai Aupuni, p. 1.

[3] He ike alii nui i ike mua ole ia ma hope mai o ke kahuli aupuni (1901, 24 Aug.). Ke Aloha Aina, p. 1.


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Plant Your Kūmara: Food and the TPPA

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“Whether we’re marching down Queen Street or planting kūmara, our movements matter. So, plant your kūmara.”

On the eve of the controversial signing of the TPPA in Auckland, New Zealand—a highly debated move that will be met with protest around the country—I sit on my narrow patio, admiring our small, city garden, and think about the impacts of this agreement. I will be the first to admit that there are aspects of the TPPA that baffle me, that test me, and that make me feel, for lack of a better word, quite dumb. And I’m not alone. I’ve been in many conversations over the last few months where people have quietly confessed that they do not know enough, or that they do not understand enough, or that the TPPA simply confuses them. They know they are against it; they just don’t know why.

So, I sit here, looking at my small garden—a large feat in a concrete, city dwelling—and wonder, is it really as complicated as it seems? Last weekend, wanting to both learn more and to support TPPA opponents, I attended a hīkoi, a march, to deliver a petition to New Zealand’s Governor General, urging him to not support this agreement. Before the gates of Government House, a woman grabbed the microphone and spoke passionately about the potential impacts of the TPPA. As signs and posters shouted phrases like, “Don’t sign away our sovereignty,” and “NZ is not for sale,” or “TPPA, Backroom Dirty Politics,” I realized that perhaps the reason for my own ignorance regarding the TPPA has something to do with the enormity of it. “Think about any aspect of your life,” she said, “health, education, children, food. The TPPA will affect it all.” Then she ended with what perhaps became the simplest and yet most profound phrase of the day—at least for me—“Our movements matter. Whether we’re marching down Queen Street or planting kūmara, our movements matter. So, plant your kūmara.”

Unfortunately, I don’t have room for kūmara (ʻuala, sweet potato) in my small garden, but I understand her point. Among the many aspects of our lives that the TPPA will impact, one is food, something that I am extremely passionate about, something that I feel is an avenue towards decolonization and sovereignty. To plant your own kūmara, the woman briefly explained, is to resist those large corporations that will and do seek to control what we put into our mouths. Therefore, resistance to the TPPA can be that simple: it’s about protecting our rights, our freedom, our sovereignty and, yes, even our right to choose and grow what will nourish us.

In her article, “Food, Farmers, and the TPPA,” Auckland University PhD candidate, Andrea Brower explains:

“There is a lot to loose [sic] in the TPP—control over land and resources, the tino rangatiratanga of Maori, affordable medicine, intellectual and cultural heritage, internet freedom, the ability to regulate the financial sector, tobacco laws…food and agriculture… it’s bad for farmers and local food security…”

As she further explains, other free trade agreements have had devastating impacts on local farmers and rural communities around the world when they were forced to compete with products from other countries. According to Brower, after the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), for example, “Mexico went from a country producing virtually all of its own corn to one importing nearly half of its staple food… Mexican consumers are paying a higher price for their (now GMO) tortillas…” Can New Zealand and other countries suffer a similar fate? It’s certainly possible. And with that, the TPPA may also impact New Zealand’s laws regarding Genetically Engineered Foods: “GE food labeling is only one of many food safety regulations that New Zealand may be forced to eliminate under the TPP agreement,” says Brower. When those laws are done away with, what then will we be putting into our mouths, what genetically modified crop from another country will find itself on our plates?

All of this makes me think. Perhaps planting kūmara, or even the small amount of vegetables that I have in my garden, is a movement—an action—that does indeed matter! It’s a small and subtle resistance, a small stand. Therefore, while I hope to attend TPPA demonstrations, marches, and protests, I will also plant my metaphoric kūmara because each of these movements is done with reason and intention. They have purpose in reminding us what we stand for and what we stand against, because we must know both.

As the sun shines down on my small garden, I look at the plants that I’ve already been able to pick and eat from, and I think, “This is a start.” Planting my own food, my own kūmara, will not solve everything. It will not prevent the signing of the TPPA tomorrow. But, it is an action that has purpose, an action that matters. In fact, even in countries devastated by war, by injustice, and by torture and brutality, where people are fighting for their lives, planting matters. In the country of West Papua, for example, planting kūmara is important. Last year, reporters from Māori Television’s, Native Affairs, visited West Papua—a country that has suffered human rights abuses at the hands of Indonesia, a country that deserves freedom and justice—and they recorded the words of one West Papuan who promotes, yes, the planting of kūmara, of sweet potato, because it forms the foundation of life: “The education of children happens in the garden. Men [and women] teach everything about life, the rules of life, behaviour, morals, even our aspirations, they are all taught in the garden.”

Therefore, perhaps it is in the garden, hands deep in soil, planting our kūmara, where we will not only learn about why we must stand against agreements like the TPPA, but where we will also show and teach future generations the values that we stand for, those that the TPPA threatens.

So go ahead and plant your kūmara, or whatever it is that you can plant, whether seeds or roots because our movements—even the small ones in city dwellings—must grow.


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Spiritual Action

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It’s time for “spiritual action,” he said.

Spiritual Action!

I stood back thinking about what an incredibly deep yet profoundly simple concept this was. “This is a year for prayer,” he declared, a soft feather hanging from his neck, dancing across the center of his chest. “Last year was a year for outreach, for education. This is a year for spiritual action.”

I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t experience one of those, “Is he speaking directly to me?” moments. Perhaps some things are destined for our ears. Or perhaps sometimes we arrive at points in our lives when we are ready to not only hear certain things, but to truly listen to the messages that they have to teach us. I suppose I was ready for his ideas; or maybe, just maybe, I was ready for him to remind me how act upon my spirit.

A little over two weeks ago, I left Aotearoa and returned to my beloved Hawaiʻi for a visit. What I assumed would be a “normal” trip home, however, turned out to be so much more. I visited the same places: the farm, the hillsides, the valleys, the mist. Yet, something had changed. But the more I looked outward, searching for the difference, the more I had to go inward, realizing that what had changed was me.

One day, I found myself standing on the outskirts of a classroom, listening to his deep voice speak of prayer, and I realized that to pray is an action, one of recognizing connection and responsibility. It is far more than a solemn request or an offer of thanks. It is something that acts upon our relationships to the land, sea, and sky; to the past, the present, and the future; to ourselves and to one another. To pray, I realized, is to know our place in the world.

Having just completed an academic course of study, I wondered if there is any institution that can teach us this. We can write about prayer and the spirit; we can talk about it and even analyze it. Yet, to live it, or to act upon the guidance of the spirit, is an internal journey, an individual one. Perhaps that journey is what had changed my view of the external world, what changed the way I treat it, or the way that I greet it, each and every day.

I learned much from his speech, standing near a classroom of children, thinking about how fortunate they were to receive his words. He and his friends, affectionately known as the “Oak Flat Boys,” had come to sing on our mountain, to offer their prayers and blessing to our land and people. Coming home with no agenda, no set schedule or expectations, I opened up to the possibility of anything and everything, and on one breathtakingly beautiful day, I found myself on the summit of Mauna Kea, witnessing them lift their voices into the wind, sending it to the Piko o Wākea and beyond. They knew their place as defenders of the earth, as guardians of the spirit, as the singers of stories, the composers of hope, the choreographers of history. I stood alongside them, offering my own song, realizing that although we sang in different languages, and although our foundations lay in different lands, that we were standing for the same things: connection and responsibility.

We understood that to stand on the Piko o Wākea, on the summit of our tallest mountain, was to stand to protect it. It was to stand for all that it represents, to stand for the relationship that the land shares with the sky, that connects ancestors to descendants, that connects the people with their stories. We understood that origin and ethnicity did not matter in prayer, neither did language, for we recognized our shared responsibility to the earth, a responsibility that we were born to carry, that we are all born to carry. We understood that to guard the soils that we stand upon, the oceans that we sail upon, the skies that we gaze upon, and the histories that we build upon, is to stand strongly, shoulder to shoulder, nation to nation. That was spiritual action, using prayer—whether sung, spoken, or even meditated—to cultivate and motivate change.

We stood in the wind, a strong wind that carried our voices and our prayers on its currents, sending them floating and flowing to different realms: different lands, seas, and skies. And when we were finished, I knew that to act upon my spirit is to recognize my connections and my responsibilities daily, in both the small and seemingly mundane moments as well as the large and profound. We need not stand on mountains everyday, in other words, in order to stand for mountains. We need not be physically present on each sacred landscape in order to speak for them, in order to sing for them, in order to hope and pray and work for their protection. We need only recognize that to be of the earth is to be connected to it in the same way that a child will always be connected to its mother, long after the umbilical cord is severed. Physical distance never separates us from responsibility, from being guardians of the earth, protectors of the sacred, creators of history.

In spiritual action, I have learned, there is little room for hesitation and much room for courage: courage to stand, courage to act, courage to sing and dance. These are not new lessons or new insights. In fact they are old, incredibly old. I believe that my ancestors, as well as other indigenous people of the earth, understood this. They understood how to act upon their connections and to use that to motivate and inspire change. Therefore, perhaps all that is “new” is my being able to finally explain to myself what I always knew inherently but could never describe. It is quite simply and yet quite profoundly, spiritual action! It is the courage to act upon my spirit, to let it lead, to let it influence, to let it cultivate thought and to motivate action, to let it live.

I thank my Oak Flat teachers for this reminder: shoulder to shoulder, nation to nation, we will stand, our voices lifted into the wind.

Resources:

For more information on Oak Flat, visit: http://www.apache-stronghold.com


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Ka Lanakila o Hawaiʻi: The Victory of Hawaiʻi

Ka Lanakila o Hawaii

In 1893, just two short months after the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom, a voice sang out from the pages of a newspaper. Rather than mourning or speaking of defeat, as may have been expected, however, it celebrated “Ka Lanakila o Hawaiʻi,” as if declaring that we would be victorious, that our people would continue to rise and stand for what was pono, for what was just.

This voice belonged to Ellen Kekoaohiwaikalani Wright Prendergast, a friend of the deposed Queen Liliʻuokalani and a composer of mele lāhui, or songs for the nation. Although perhaps more famously known for her proclamation that we would rather eat stones than be annexed by the United States, she wrote other songs and shared them openly. She was a true aloha ʻāina, a true patriot, who used her compositions to not only resist, but to also insist that we maintain hope. I ka ʻōlelo nō ke ola. There was indeed life to be found in her words.

Over one hundred years later, I found her mele in a newspaper at a time when I needed hope, when I needed to be reminded of the resilience of our people. “ʻAʻohe kupuʻeu o Kahiki nāna e hōʻoniʻoni mai,” she said, “Ua ēwe, ua malu, ua paʻa. Eia i ka Piko o Wākea.” She taught me that no one from afar could ever shake us as long as we remained rooted and steadfast in the teachings of our kūpuna. There was protection and guidance to be found in their wisdom, in the ancestral knowledge that kept us connected to our ʻāina, that taught us to view it, and treat it, and safeguard it as an ancestor. I found her words while living in another country, physically separated from my home, and as if speaking directly to me, she reminded me that no matter where I was in the world, that I could always find whatever I needed at the “Piko o Wākea,” at the summit of our highest mountain, connecting kānaka to the realm of our akua.

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That’s where I found it, whatever “it” was that I needed, whether strength or guidance, whether inspiration or motivation, or whether just a push to continue to stand and rise even when it was difficult. Her words reminded me that we are only ever defeated if we allow our minds to believe it, if we allow our hearts to feel it, and if we allow our mouths to speak it. Her words reminded me that just maintaining hope for a better future is in itself a victory. Why? Because it motivates us to act. Being Hawaiian, I have learned, is not just a state of existence; it is an action. It is a constant, never-ending dedication that is acted upon, lived, breathed, and shared. Her words taught me that.

Ellen Kekoaohiwaikalani never gave up hope. She continued to fight despite the state of their nation, the overthrow of their Queen, and the possibility that they would lose their kingdom. Thus, I read her words and realized that I need to be more like her; I need to give my descendants a legacy of hope simply because they will deserve nothing less than that. They will deserve strength and guidance and protection. They will deserve my action and my dedication. That is the only way that Hawaiʻi will continue to be victorious despite the circumstances, despite the struggles, and despite the people who will attempt to shake us.

After coming home for a visit, I have witnessed many actions, many expressions of genuine love for the lāhui, many victories:

Last week, a young, Hawaiian man stood in court and defended himself ma ka ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, entirely in the language of his ancestors. He stood for kuleana, for fulfilling his responsibilities to the land and to his kūpuna. He stood as a protector and won. He won! He lanakila nō ia!

Last weekend, I went to the Piko o Wākea with a group of grounded and incredibly brave Native American men. They sang their songs and reminded us that protecting the land, the sea, and the sky is not just a Hawaiian issue or even an indigenous issue. It is a human one. We lifted our voices and prayers for the earth, nation to nation. He lanakila nō ia!

Two days ago, I sat in a circle of dancers and chanters, practicing a hula that honors our Queen. Guided by the woman who first introduced me to hula as a young girl, I was then asked to teach a chant. I humbly accepted, knowing that to teach was to honor those who taught me, who prepared me, and who guided me. He lanakila nō ia!

Yesterday, I stood before the students of Kanu o ka ʻĀina Charter School, listening to them open the day with chant, greeting the land and sky, and I thought about the woman who started this school, how her dreams for a better Hawaiʻi become a reality each time another student is allowed to learn in a school that honors his or her heritage. He lanakila nō ia!

And as I sat down to write this, my nephew came into my room asking to practice a chant with me. He closed the door, sat at my side, and chanted the very words that I found in the newspaper, the very words that Ellen Kekoaohiwaikalani once wrote for her Queen and her nation. We chanted together, two generations, celebrating all past and future victories for our people. He lanakila maoli nō ia!

Both large and small, these triumphs push us forward. They motivate us. But more than that, they remind us that no matter the circumstance, there always has been and will always be an opportunity to rise above, to look to a time when things will change, when they will be better, when we will lanakila. That hope is in itself a victory.

 

Works Cited:

Kekoaohiwaikalani. (1893, 31 Mar.) Ka lanakila o Hawaii. Ka Leo o Ka Lahui, p. 4

 


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He Māʻona Moku: A Satisfaction with the Land

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He māʻona moku.
A satisfaction with the land.
Said of a person who is contented with what he/she has.
(Pūkuʻi, 1983, p. 88)

“Is it because we have become so bitter that our people now crave so much sweetness?”

I didn’t know how to respond. I was quite certain that my friend/constant riddler was speaking about much larger issues in the Hawaiian community than our literal obsession with sugary foods and drinks. However, her words left a taste in my mouth: the bitter taste of truth. And now, even months after hearing them, I can still sense her words as they dance on my tongue, not yet sure of the lesson she was trying to teach me. So, I chew on her ideas, not yet able to fully swallow them.

This blog is my exploration of her question, my examination of my own journey to balance the bitter and the sweet in my life, and my effort to share it with you. This is something that I’ve been working on and pondering over for almost a year now. And while I was trying to wait for the perfect moment to share it—the moment when I would have had it all figured out—that moment never came. I don’t have it worked out. I don’t have a definite answer. No, I cannot tell you whether some sort of historical bitterness is the cause of our sweet cravings and the depressing status of our health. What I can tell you, however, is my story and what I have learned from it.

I stopped eating sugar over a year ago (see my blog “The Sweet Life” for more). What was initially a quest to better my health has become a quest to better understand our relationships with food, and more so, what “dietary colonialism” has done to not only our palates, but to our bodies, the first site of our independence (Pollock, 1992, p. 180). Thus, my quitting sugar gave me the space and time to truly reflect upon my sovereignty by first taking control of what I put into my mouth, each and every day.

It was a release from a form of incarceration, one of being locked into a detrimental relationship with food! I know that sounds strange and I know I sound extreme and perhaps even a bit too intense. However, the fact that the Pacific Islands have some of the highest obesity rates in the world and the fact that diabetes is not only one of the most common but one of the most serious health problems in the region is cause for extreme action; it is cause for intense response (Curtis, 2004, p. 37). I’ve learned that sugar is an addiction with severe impacts (read more on this here). Thus, in a way, I responded to my own “captivity,” as poet and activist Haunani-Kay Trask would phrase it, by literally eating my way out of it. I ditched the sugar and returned to natural foods, learning to cook, learning to eat, and learning to enjoy a truly “sweet” life without all of the processing and additives. He māʻona moku. I learned to be content with what the land naturally provided me.

However, it was not enough to free myself. My experience gave birth to a new understanding of colonialism, where and what it attacks, and as a result, a new approach towards decolonization, starting with our diets (See the “Decolonize Your Diet” blog for more information on this movement). “Dietary colonialism” began in the Pacific when our ancestors were not only introduced to new foods and flavors from afar, but also introduced to new ideas about what constituted a meal, when people should and should not eat, and what was deemed “appropriate” to eat at particular times of the day: “Even before World War Two, missionary wives and other women from the West were strongly advising the women of the Pacific on the ‘proper way’ to feed their families” (Curtis, 2004, p. 38). Over time, the “traditional foods of the islands such as fresh fish, meat, and local fruits and vegetables have been replaced by rice, sugar, flour, canned meats, canned fruits and vegetables, soft drinks and beer. The diet is high in calories and with little nutritional value” (Curtis, 2004, p. 38).

This is the legacy that we’ve inherited. And our colonization has gone even deeper as our dependence on imported foods gets higher and our desire for accessible and affordable meals gets stronger. The effect of introduced diseases continues. While we mourn the loss of the thousands of Pacific Islanders who perished at the introduction of new diseases in previous centuries, we often fail to see the thousands who are dying now as a result of yet another disease attacking our bodies, and our people, slowly.

Thinking back on my friend’s rather mind-boggling question, I suppose I wanted an answer, or a specific reason, for the fact that so many in our region are unhealthy. Yet, I soon realized that in searching for that one reason—and being far too reductive—that I would actually need to confront an entire system of reasons, one that is far too complex to attack in a single blog. Among other things, I would need to look at international trade and what foods get “dumped” on which islands like leftovers. I would need to examine issues of class in order to understand who can afford which foods, which classes get targeted, and which communities have access to food education and why. I would need to look at access to land and its impact on one’s ability to grow his or her own food. I would need to research the processes of globalization and the impact of “McDonalization,” or the fact that our societies are being taken over by a fast-food mentality, craving what is predictable, reliable, and convenient, even if/when we know it isn’t good for us. I would need to attack a system.

Needless to say, that isn’t easy. If fact, it’s overwhelming. However, my own experiences have empowered me to change myself, and in the process, to provide an avenue for others to change with me. My goal is not to make people feel guilty about their food choices. (In fact, I am far from perfect.) My goal, rather, is to empower people to take control of what they eat, to stop and think about their choices and the larger systems at work that contribute to health problems, and to liberate their minds and bodies by returning to a natural diet, one that honors real ingredients, cooking, and natural “sweetness.” My goal is to align with others in the effort to decolonize our diets, to decolonize our palates, and to work towards freedom from the inside out.

I believe in constantly working towards ea, which is the Hawaiian concept of life, breath, and sovereignty. As political scientist Noelani-Goodyear Kaʻōpua (2014) explains, “Like breathing, ea cannot be achieved or possessed; it requires constant action, day after day, generation after generation” (p. 4). Therefore, this is one of my actions towards ea. I will commit to promoting change on my new blog, He Māʻona Moku, and will provide as much inspiration and motivation as possible. I will commit to sharing recipes or bits and pieces of information. I will commit to celebrating the beautiful stories of those in our communities who are already moving towards decolonizing our diets (and our minds) and who are, through their work, lessening our dependence on imported goods. I will commit to changing our future one mouth (and even one mouthful) at a time. I will commit to promoting a satisfaction with what the land (and sea) provide us naturally, to reveling in freshness, and to savoring freedom.

Mmmm.

References:

Curtis, M. (2004). The Obesity Epidemic in the Pacific Islands. Journal of Development and Social Transformation, 1, 37-42.

Goodyear-Kaʻōpua, N. (2014). Introduction. In N. Goodyear-Kaʻōpua, I. Hussey & E. K. Wright (Eds.), A nation rising: Hawaiian movements for life, land, and sovereignty (pp. 1-33). Durhan and London: Duke University Press.

Pollock, N. (1992). These Roots Remain: Food Habits in Islands of the Central and Eastern Pacific since Western Contact. Laie: The Institute for Polynesian Studies.

Pūkuʻi, M. K. (1983). ʻŌlelo noʻeau: Hawaiian proverbs & poetical sayings. Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press.


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Write, Write, and Right On!

“There lies your hope. Hope to rage and write. To rage and dance and stomp-shake the ground… laugh and rage and write, write, keep on writing, don’t stop till you get there.”

Epeli Hauʻofa, “Write You Bastard”

My niece, ʻĀkōlea, sign-waving for Mauna Kea and bringing me along with her.

My niece, ʻĀkōlea, sign-waving for Mauna Kea and bringing me along with her.

My skin can’t comprehend the cold. It’s bitterly cold, painfully cold. At times, my skin freezes, dries, even seems to stop breathing. I’m caught still. So I search for sources of warmth, anything to bring relief to my skin born out of warmer soil.

Today, I retreat to my desk and watch my fingers dance across the keyboard. I feel a small heat begin to spread slowly: from my fingertips, to my palms, to my wrists, arms, chest. It touches my heart. I rage and write, write, and right on, dancing, and shaking the ground. I find warmth in rage, not an angry rage, but a poetic one: an ardor, a fervor, a passion, a raging poetic passion.

“Poetry…is not what we simply recognize as the formal ‘poem,’” says Robin Kelley in Freedom Dreams, “but a revolt: a scream in the night, an emancipation of language and old ways of thinking” (9). I write for freedom, the freedom to dream and hope for a better future, even if I don’t know what that future will be. Perhaps that is radical: “What makes hope radical,” Jonathan Lear reminds us, “is that it is directed toward a future of goodness that transcends the current ability to understand what it is” (103).

So I write because I have to, because “In the poetics of struggle and lived experience, in the utterances of ordinary folk, in the cultural products of social movements, in the reflections of activists, we discover the many different cognitive maps of the future, of a world not yet born” (Kelly 9-10). I imagine and dream of that world, the one that my children and grandchildren will one day live in, and I choose to picture a world better than this one.

Today, I choose to imagine a mountain free of telescopes. The chair of the TMT International Observatory Board, Henry Yang, recently announced that construction will commence this Wednesday on Mauna Kea. Like a chill and like the polar blast that’s settled into Aotearoa, his words sting. But I do not let them stop me from dreaming because I refuse to fight and stand against something without knowing what I am fighting and standing for.

So I rage and write, write, and right on for the future that I’ve pictured, imagined, and dreamt of: a future where my descendants will not have to fight against the desecration of their sacred sites. This includes every “site,” from their land, to their ocean, to their very bodies, minds, and hearts. I may be called radical; I may even be called naïve. But my body burns, heated with rage, and as I write, I can no longer feel the cold. I am warmed by movement, by social movements of hope, justice, freedom, and true aloha!

So these are my words, my poetic ragings. I will write, sing, shout, and dance them, taking my fingers from the keyboard and putting them to the sky, the sea, and the soil, as I choreograph a better future, my feet dancing, stomp-shaking the ground.

Whatever happens, continue to rage. Continue to write, write, and right on.

E kūpaʻa mau ma hope o ka pono.

Works Cited

Hauʻofa, Epeli. “Write You Bastard.” Wasafiri. 12:25 (2008): 67. Print.

Kelley, Robin. Freedom Dreams. Boston: Beacon Press Books, 2002. Print.

Lear, Jonathan. Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006. Print.


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The Light

Photo 2015-04-24 11 16 35 AM

My uncle and his family. Photo taken by the Puhi/Haʻo ʻohana.

“The light bulb came on,” he said.

 This is for my uncle.

I grew up around strong men, men who stood for something. They were the type of men whose hands were calloused, whose skin was darkened by the sun, who wore dirt like it was a part of them, their hats always rimmed in sweat stains. They were rough men who could inspire fear. But, oh their voices could soothe when I needed them to and their hands could hold my own when I wasn’t strong enough to stand. They taught me of strength.

I followed them in my youth: large rubber boots digging into rain-drenched forest floors. Silently stepping where they would step, I’d watch them not knowing if my feet would ever plant as deeply as theirs did or if my hands would ever be as steady. They were giants in stature with hearts to match. They’d give everything, even when receiving nothing in return. They taught me of sacrifice.

Yesterday, I spoke to one of these men: my uncle. Through the small screen of my phone, I saw him standing on the side of the road, a Hawaiian flag draped around him, tied securely on his right shoulder. His dark eyes seemed to look straight across oceans; his brow wore its usual wrinkle. He held a sign reading: “Stand for our Mauna!” Stand for our mountain.

He’s always stood for something and now years later, he stands for something still. No longer a child, I watch him and all of the other men who I grew up around. Like the ʻaʻaliʻi, they bend, but never break in the wind. They teach me of resilience.

Like a true uncle, he took a break from his sign waving, the sound of car horns filling the background, and asked me how I was, living so far away from home. Amazed at the wonders of modern technology that allowed me to be “there” without actually being there, he wanted to know what I’d be having for dinner, his voice full with the same humor that comforted my childhood, his feet still rooted in the ground.

“The light bulb came on,” he then said confidently. He had gathered with countless others, holding signs, showing their support and standing for Mauna Kea. He was dedicated. “We have to do it now,” he said, “or we’ll lose everything.” “I’m doing this for the kamaliʻi.” For the children.

I thought about his grandchildren, my little cousins, who I had talked to just before, their bright smiles giving me a spark of hope. And I realized that they’d follow him, their feet planted, their hands turned toward the ground, ready to tend and heal it. He’d lead them just as he and my own father led their children: by embodying those values that our kūpuna lived by.

I grew up around men who did not have to preach about aloha ʻāina because they knew of no other way to be: hands always soiled, feet always treading lightly, even while carrying the weight of generations. And I realized, as I looked at him wearing his Hawaiian flag and waving at cars as they passed by sounding their support, that his “light” had always been on and it had always shined brightly, guiding us, teaching us, illuminating our paths. However, he spoke as if he had just become a part of the movement. “The light bulb came on,” he said, as if he had not been a part of fighting, standing, and striving for the betterment of our people and our land all along.

But to me, he’s always stood for something, even when perhaps he didn’t realize it, and even when perhaps he didn’t receive any acknowledgement. Part of my childhood was spent watching him, my father, and countless other uncles stand for the life of our forests, for our livelihood, for our future. It often took them away from us; it sometimes brought hurt and anger. But it brought hope in equal measure. They taught me of responsibility. And they teach me still.

I hung up the phone wishing that I had told him how I felt, that it is because of him and the many other strong men in my life that I even know how to stand, firmly rooted, grounded in the wisdom of those who came before me. Men like him and my father taught me about aloha ʻāina before I even knew that it was a concept to learn. I wished I had thanked him. But I pictured him standing there, on the side of the road, our Hawaiian flag draped around him, with that same familiar smile that he always greets me with, and I knew that he’d be content just knowing that I will always stand with him, our hands turned toward the ground.

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