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The stories we choose to tell ourselves about ourselves.

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This keynote address was presented at the annual Kuʻi ka Lono Conference on April 20, 2018. The conference theme this year was “E hoʻā mana.” 

Hoʻā mana. What does it mean to ignite mana? Is it to inspire or to encourage? Is it to give someone authority, rights, or privileges? Is it to empower?

When I think of hoʻā mana, and I reflect on what it looks like (or feels like) to have a fire lit inside of me, in the depths of my naʻau, I also think of those moments of disempowerment, those moments when the light goes out, when the flame dies, when all that is left is the smoke of passions once burning.

Now, when I talk about disempowerment, I’m not just speaking about what we often focus on: stories of the “outsider” coming in to take our lands; to use and abuse our mountains; or to steal our breath, our sovereignty. Those stories exist. In fact, they not only exist, they are so heartbreakingly frequent that our young ones know no other life than one of resistance, one of a constant and never-fading insistence on our right to be here, on our right to exist, and on our right to thrive as Kānaka Maoli.

Yes, stories of disempowerment are so frequent that our young ones only know lives of holding signs, their little fingers clasping the hopes and dreams of a nation written on poster boards. In bold letters they shout aloha ʻāina, they chant kū kiaʻi mauna, they sing of and for ea.

But today, that’s not the kind of disempowerment I’m going to speak about. We could compile lists of offenses against our ʻāina, offenses against all of our sources of sustenance, whether they be physical, emotional, cultural, or spiritual. We know them. We fight them.

So today, I’m going to talk about a different kind of disempowerment. As uncomfortable as it may be initially, I’m going to talk about a kind of disempowerment that comes from within, one that comes from us, and more importantly, one that comes from the stories we choose to tell ourselves about our lives and our futures.

Now, this is not going to be a disempowering speech. It would be irresponsible of me to leave you with your energy depleted, or with your flame struggling to flicker. It is my hope to leave you as inspired as I possibly can. But to do so, I believe, requires some work, some examination, and some deep reflection on us. It requires us to focus our gaze on ourselves for a moment.

Change, after all—radical and revolutionary change—begins with us and not with those forces that seek to oppress us. Change is from the inside out.

To demonstrate this, I’d like to tell you a story. As First Nation’s writer Thomas King once wrote, “The truth about stories is that that’s all we are” (2). Stories. So, this is part of mine.

I’m a teacher here at this university and every semester since I started working here, I’ve taught a class on Pacific Islands Studies. In this class, my students and I explore what it even means to study the Pacific and why it’s necessary. Beyond facts and statistics, we try to get to the heart of the region, to dive into the depths of its ocean, and to taste its beauty and its pain. In doing so, we hope to get to what my mentor, the late Teresia Teaiwa calls, “critical empowerment.” Our students, she argues, “need to be able to critically evaluate all forms and sources of power, including indigenous ones, and indeed, their own and even mine” (p. 269). This isn’t easy, of course, but I believe it’s essential.

A few months ago, in my attempts to build and nurture critical empowerment in my students, I had to turn the focus back on myself. I had to become critical of my teaching, of my words, and of my actions (or, perhaps even a lack of actions). Part of our journey in Pacific Islands Studies includes an examination of some of the most pressing issues in the region. We look at examples of disempowerment: we study everything from the military’s use of Pacific lands (including Hawaiian lands) as bombing targets; we learn about the genocide of West Papuans at the hands of Indonesian “authorities”; and we talk about the devastating impacts of climate change.

Each semester, I feel the tone of the class shift as soon as we get to these issues. It’s somber; it’s sad. My students write reflections about feeling angry, frustrated, depressed. They start to question structures of power in their own lives, wondering why they know about some issues and not others, or why there is not more awareness worldwide about our struggles. And while knowledge itself is powerful, and while many of my students are moved by the weight of these issues, some are left feeling helpless, and others, completely powerless.

“I want to do something,” one will reflect, “but I don’t know what and I don’t know how.” Or “I know we should all care,” another will write, “but I am only one person. I can’t make a difference.” Or, “It takes a lot of energy to care about something I cannot change” a young student will say. “So, why try?” she will ask.

These kinds of statements are common. If I compiled reflections from the last few semesters of teaching, I’d have a collection of words that speak to disempowerment, to feelings of being too small, too insignificant, too isolated, too poor, or even too busy to do anything.

Climate change.
Desecration and destruction.
Genocide.
Colonization of lands and peoples, hearts and minds.

The weight of all of these pressures can be crippling. And, unfortunately, I witness a little bit of this every semester.

So, a few months ago, in anticipation of the flood of common reflections and responses I would get from students, I had to stop. I had to look at myself and critically reflect on what I was doing to my students. Do they need to know about disempowered peoples, about wrongdoings, about injustice, about fear, and struggle, and death?

Yes. I think they do. In order to heal, I think we all do.

But how could I ignite their desire to dream and act for a better future? Or further, how could I inspire hope in a future that feels impossible? How could I counteract the weight of their worlds?

And then it hit me: I couldn’t. I couldn’t empower my students to believe in their own agency, in the magnitude of their individual lives and actions, until I believed in my own. I couldn’t avoid cultivating a feeling of powerlessness while I was simultaneously disempowering myself.

Now, when I speak of disempowerment, I’m not implying that I don’t have faith in myself, or that I don’t think that I can make a difference.

I believe our ultimate kuleana as Kānaka Maoli is to be the ancestors we want our descendants to look up to, the ones who stood for something, the ones who fought for justice, the ones who created a world in which our they could surpass us in achievements, in knowledge, in the cultivation of deep wisdom. So, when I say that I was disempowering myself, it wasn’t in my conviction that we each have the ability to do great things, it was, instead, in the stories that I was telling myself about my myself.

Let me explain.

Each semester, when my students and I arrive at a discussion of global warming, I am confronted by the fact that climate change is spoken about so often that it’s started to lose some of its impact, some of its urgency. It’s a phrase that makes its way into the headlines whenever there is an unusual series of storms or massive heat waves; that makes its way into our news feeds whenever a friend posts something about the environment, or our use of plastics, or the need to go “green”; or that makes its way into our homes whenever a reporter announces that the current President of the United States tweets something like “It’s the coldest year on record. Perhaps we could use a little more of that good old global warming.” Yes, conversations about climate change are actually so common that I fear the phrase has lost some of its potency.

Thomas King writes something similar of phrases like “mother earth,” which while powerful for some, have been so overused that he states, “It has no more power or import than the word ‘freedom’ tumbling out of George W. Bush’s mouth” (or, to make it more relevant to today, than the word “equality” coming out of Donald Trump’s mouth.)

My students, for example, know about climate change. I’m not introducing them to anything new. They’ve been exposed to it time and time again. But I have them read about climate change in the Pacific and I have them watch a film that features islanders whose lives are being most directly impacted by rising sea levels. We have discussions and I assign reflective papers. I use and overuse and perhaps even abuse the phrase until they’ve heard it so much they are numb.

Then we move to the next topic.

I do try to raise the point, however, that we must care, that we must act, that we must do what we can to ensure the health of our ʻāina, our kai, and our kānaka. Then, I read through their reflections and I see what I have mistakenly thought was apathy, or a lack of concern. What I’ve recently realized, however, is that what I thought was indifference was actually a reflection of me.

I had not done enough to embody activism, to embody hope, to embody change. I had not done enough, I realized, to show them that change is actually possible, to inspire them to think of themselves as agents of revolution, to empower them to know that we can always do something, even when (and especially when) it seems too big, or too scary, or to impossible to do anything.

Why? Because I had convinced myself that I was doing enough.

“I pick up trash,” I’d tell myself.
“I recycle,” I’d reassure myself.
“I take my own bags to the store,” I’d remind myself.
“I try to be a conscious consumer,” I’d applaud myself.
“I’m doing my part,” I’d convince myself.
“Plus, I teach about climate change. I write about climate change. I inform my students about climate change. I encourage dialogue about climate change,” I’d praise myself.
“I raise awareness,” I’d repeat to myself, over and over again.

And in my attempts to “do my part”, I’d encourage my students to do the same: “share, write, post,” and yes, “raise awareness.”

For a time, that was sufficient. And that idea of “doing enough” was the story I told my students, and perhaps more dangerously, the story that I told myself. As a result, I was caught up in my own complacency, or in the notion that I was doing enough.

What I came to learn in this experience, however, is that the moment we think we’re doing enough, or the moment that we become a little too satisfied with our efforts, is perhaps the first sign that we can do a bit more.

Needless to say, this was a hard lesson to learn. But learn it I did. One evening, after class, I returned to my house and came face to face with my own hypocrisy. A friend had recently posted something about microplastics.

These are tiny pieces of plastic that come from larger pieces that degrade into smaller and smaller fragments. Plastic is indestructible. Plastic is here with us forever. No matter how tiny a piece gets, it continues to exist, which means it continues to impact.

My friend’s post was about the devastating fact that our oceans are littered with microplastics, so littered, in fact, that recent studies predict that “By 2050, there will be more plastics than fish in the world’s oceans.” There are floating garbage patches in our waters and these patches contain harmful materials that are often consumed by marine life, many of which we later eat. Therefore, we are not only polluting the earth and ocean but are also polluting ourselves.

After reading my friend’s post, I started to look around my house and realized that I was surrounded by disposable plastic. Everything from the take-away Starbucks cup (which I thought was recyclable but later learned wasn’t), to the plastic produce bag I used for my vegetables, to the packaged goods in my refrigerator, to my products in the bathroom, and even to the bag I used to put my trash in. All of it was plastic! And I felt sick.

I had told myself that I was doing enough, that I was doing my part. But truthfully, those were stories I created. They were stories that kept me from seeing the truth, like the fact that the production of plastic is energy intensive, or the fact that recycling is also energy intensive, and therefore linked to habitat destruction and fossil fuel emissions. I couldn’t see the truth that while I thought I was doing my part, I was actually contributing more to the problem than to solutions. I had fallen into the trap that so many of us fall into. As Thomas King writes, “It’s not that we don’t care about ethics or ethical behaviour. It’s not that we don’t care about the environment, about society, about morality. It’s just that we care more about our comfort and the things that make us comfortable” (p. 163).

Then I realized that our ʻāina and our kai have been inconvenienced for far too long for our comfort, and I thought, “Now, it’s my turn.” It’s my turn to be inconvenienced and uncomfortable.

So I made some changes. I vowed to live a life of lower impact, promising to stop buying single-use plastics, to cut out processed foods packaged in what would become more rubbish, to reuse before recycling, to compost and reduce food waste, to even start making some of my own products like toothpaste. It hasn’t been easy. And I am by no means perfect, but it’s been necessary. It’s ignited a new sense of empowerment in me, one that grew from a refusal to believe in the myth that I was doing enough.

I share this story with you today because the theme hoʻā mana inspires passion, it inspires action, and it inspires change, radical change. It inspires us to be more and to do more for our people, for our earth, and for our future. But I believe that this cannot happen until we make ready a space for those fires to be lit. As long as I was sitting in the comfort of my own ideas and stories, for example, I could not achieve any level of critical empowerment. I could not grow. There was no space for anything to be ignited.

So, I leave you with this. When I see students like you, students who’ve gone to Hawaiian-focused charter schools, students who’ve grown up knowing that they have a right to an education that honors who they are, students who’ve been taught the values of aloha, of mālama, and of kuleana, I am humbled. I believe you are far ahead of where I was at your age, especially in terms of your commitment, your passion, and your dedication to the lāhui.

Therefore, my stories are meant as reminders. Do not allow yourself to be disempowered, not by others, not by society, not by institutions that threaten our existence, and most importantly, not by YOU and the stories you tell yourself. Do not ever think that you are too small, too insignificant, too young, or too busy to make a difference. Be okay with being uncomfortable every once in a while, especially if it’s for the earth. Be bold and brave. Be a presence.

Critics may tell you that your efforts cannot, and will not, save the world. Do them anyway. Continue to chant and sing of our existence, continue to hold your signs and demand change and justice, continue to learn and to educate yourselves, and continue to cultivate hope, to plant it, to nurture it, and to watch it sprout and grow. And when anyone tells you it’s useless, refuse to let that be the story you adopt. Refuse to let that be the story you tell.

We were born of great people and our descendants will be born of great people if we persist and if we never lose our drive to work towards a better and stronger nation, even if we cannot know what that will look like or feel like right now. What I tell myself, and what now motivates me, is what Thomas King once said: “…don’t say in the years to come that you would have lived your life differently if only you had heard this story. You’ve heard it now.” (p. 167)

So, be the change. Look within. Clear the space. And e hoʻā mana.

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Skin Stories

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I recently read that we are our stories. That’s all we really are: Stories.

So, these are pieces of mine, small pieces that I’ve selected to share because of an idea I came across earlier today: stories can heal and stories can injure; it all depends on how we tell them.[1]

And I am ready to heal.

So heal I will through small, skin stories.

If I lay myself bare I can only imagine the stories my skin would tell, each mark, each scar, each stretch a story of its own. I can imagine the tales that would be assumed: interpretations and misinterpretations of a life lived in some place, at some time, with some one, or some two, or some more.

Even as a lover of words—someone who grips them at night, holding them in the dark, finding the right spaces to fit them in to, the most titillating order to organize them in to, the perfect positions to drag them in to—there is something thrilling about the absence of words, the exposing of skin, the revealing of truths, the arousal of the purely sensual, before the intellectual (even if just for a moment). One exhilarating moment.

There’s something exciting and terrifying about being read in such a way: exposed, wordless, no room for intervention, for explaining, for correcting (not initially, at least).

I was read. And it was painful. But I’d probably allow it to happen again just to see my stories briefly through someone else’s eyes, to feel them in someone else’s breath against my cheek, to smell them in someone else’s sweat.

I once had a love who read me. He clawed at my heart until it bled words that he could understand, until lines pumped from my veins, and pushed out through my skin. Like a martyr, I smeared them with my fingertips, stretching them over every curve of my body so that he could decipher them easily.

I tried not to flinch as he read them, his eyes moving painstakingly over the canvas of my skin, searching for meaning. He fixated on the corner of my mouth at first, using his finger to part my lips, hoping to inspire sound. When I did not utter an audible word, however, he proceeded to trace letters, slowly, up my arms, down my legs, across my chest, at my thighs. Pausing. Pulsing.

But, as he touched each word, he wiped them away, memorizing what he thought was worth knowing and banishing the rest, sending them back into me. Keeping the insecurities. Ignoring the strength.

And I let him.

Three years later, I believed that his stories—the ones he had created about me—were my own. It took me a long time to realize that what he told himself about me, and what he told me about me, reflected him more than it did the person I initially let him see: lying bare, exposing skin.

I was lost.

In the telling of this story, however, I do not blame him. At least, I don’t in this latest rendition. Earlier versions crafted in my head were created in anger, born from heartbreak. They were raw, mean, and purposeful for me.

Tonight, though, I choose to tell a story that heals rather than injures.

I realize now that I fell victim to likability[2], opting to be what I thought could be liked. I knew no other way than to please, to mold and adjust. So, I tried to change my skin, making it smaller, hunching my shoulders, watching my face sink, as I disappeared into him. That’s the story I thought I read on his body, what I thought he wanted, what I thought could keep him from reading some one else, or some two, or some more naked bodies.

In the end, though, “pleasing” did not work. Who could like me when I wasn’t me? Who could love the vanishing?

As much I do not blame him, I also do not condone dishonesty, cheating, or conscious deceit. And that’s not just residual hurt speaking. It’s truth. My truth. My story. One of my skin stories, inked into the back of my neck: a center, a circle, a point of return and departure.

My skin has so much to tell now.

My ears tell stories: freckled with mixed-raced marriages, legacies of struggle, tiny spots marking the contamination of the noble, or the civilization of the savage, however you prefer to read them.

My hips tell stories: narrow and barren, nothing like my mother, her mother, or her mother before her, spaces that shamefully have not expanded for the next generation, or spaces that someday might, however you prefer to read them.

My legs tell stories: a lifetime spent dancing, shattered knees, and muscled thighs, calves that did not always fit into denim jeans, or calves that still try to assimilate, however you prefer to read them.

And my back, my naked back tells stories: a indention from a childhood illness, stretch marks from the weight I used to carry, and a long, tattoo down my spine: my journey to or from home, or both, wherever you believe that home may be: in space, in time, in some one, some two, or some more.

I know the stories. And today I smile keeping them on the surface, opting to show scars, to celebrate marks, to find beauty in the way my skin has stretched, because the most important lesson I’ve learned in the reading is that I do not need to adopt someone else’s story—some one, or some two, or some more stories—based loosely on me while reflecting more of them.

I can, and should, reject likability, teaching others to do the same, wearing my stories because they are all that I am, owning them, choosing them, everyday, for how they continue to cure and heal my wounds, and for how they can offer a bit of medicine to the next reader.

 

[1] These ideas come from Thomas King’s The Truth About Stories: A native narrative.
[2] Rejecting likability is an idea inspired by Chimamanda Adichie’s Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto.


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Conversations with Tūtū: Reflections on Hawaiian Culture-Based Education and 21st Century Skills

The following speech was delivered at the 2017 Hawaiʻi Island EdTech Collaboration (HITC) conference that took place on March 31, 2017 at the Kamehameha Schools Hawaiʻi campus in Keaʻau. The conference focused on the blending of Hawaiian culture based education with 21st century skills and technologies. I decided to reproduce it here, as a blog, so that I can share it with the people who inspired the many stories shared in this piece. May it be nourishing for us all. 
tutu2

This keynote was inspired by a conversation with my Tūtū, my maternal grandmother.

Now, before I proceed, I should mention that I never met my Tūtū. She left the world before I came into it. Therefore, our interactions exist only in my dreams, in the memories that I’ve heard about her, and in the imaginings I’ve created with her, around her, and at her side.

A few weeks ago, I sat at the place where her iwi are buried, stared up at the Koʻolau mountains, and sent whispers into the wind for her. It was the first time in months that I had come to feel a sense of grounding, a sense of true belonging. You see she was my connection to ʻāina, to place.

Let me explain.

I currently live on the island of Oʻahu. But, I’ve always been grounded here, on the Big Island. Thus, after relocating, I found myself somewhat adrift: not rootless or anchorless, but instead somewhat uncertain of the ground I was treading upon, feeling like a malihini, or a stranger, in a place not completely new to me, but also not completely known

So, I went to visit Tūtū.

It was a late afternoon and I could smell rain approaching. I knew I only had a brief moment before I would be drenched. So, I sat with her and greeted her presence, deeply rooted in the land beneath me. And in that small moment, after reaching down and putting my hands to the earth, I looked up to see a landscape drastically changed. What were once unfamiliar mountains and streams became those that Tūtū would have gazed upon, those that Tūtū would have undoubtedly loved, those that would have sheltered her, taught her, and guided her when she had children, and those that would have soothed her soul when she was in pain.

In that brief and quite moment, her world became my world. When I stood up to leave, I knew that my ancestral connection to Oʻahu had been reawakened through her: through her story, through her life, through her memory in and of ʻāina. I could walk away feeling a bit more rooted, having been reminded that I never traverse this world alone. For, as the great poet Maya Angelou once said, “I go forth along, and stand as ten thousand”, with every grandmother at my side.

I share these reflections because, for me, they tell a story of culture, experienced in moments carved out for connection. And as I hope to share in this keynote, these types of reflections provide the space for nurturing relationships, something that I believe is central to any culture-based education. My conversations with Tūtū form the foundation of this address, one in which I will weave in and out of memory, story, analysis, and indigenous theory, one that will be rooted in ʻāina.

Before I do so, however, I should note that ʻāina is not merely the land upon which we walk, dance, sing, and shout, or the land in which we plant. ʻĀina is that which feeds. Yes, it is where our mea ʻai, or food, comes from. But, on a much larger scale, it is also where all of our physical, spiritual, emotional, and cultural nourishment comes from. Thus, ʻāina can be land. However, it can also be sky, ocean, river, and mountain. It can also be heritage and culture. It can be any source that feeds.

In the weeks prior to visiting Tūtū, I had a craving for something from the ʻāina. I had an intense craving for ʻulu, or breadfruit. I knew that we were not quite into ʻulu season yet. However, something in me wanted it. Something in me needed it. So I visited every farmers’ market I could think of, I searched between the branches of every breadfruit tree I passed in ʻEwa, and as a last and desperate resort, I thought that if I could even find processed ʻulu flour that I could finally satisfy this hunger. Weeks of searching, however, turned up empty until a dear friend gifted me a gorgeous, round, and perfectly plump ʻulu just a few miles away from where my Tūtū is buried.

So, with breadfruit in tow, I went to visit her, to sit at her side. And as I got there, I knew where the cravings had come from.

She had been trying to nourish me: my grandmother, whose name was ʻUlulani. My own heavenly breadfruit. You see the fruit was my way back to her. It was not the physical food that I needed, but rather the connection, the story, the relationship that it embodied. She wanted to connect me to ʻāina.

I’m sure of it.

Now, you may be thinking that this is a bit of a stretch, or that to link these experiences to one another is a far reach from anything realistic, practical, measurable, verifiable, or even commonsense.

That, I would argue, is precisely what a good Western education would tell me.

And that, I would argue, is why Hawaiian culture-based education is essential.

You see I believe that our people understood themselves in relation, never in isolation. There was no separation between themselves and the land, themselves and the sky, themselves and the ocean. As one of my dearest mentors, the late Teresia Teaiwa, once said, “We sweat and cry salt water, so we know that the ocean is really in our blood” (qtd. in Hauʻofa, 1998, p. 392). Our people understood themselves as part of the natural world.

Everything existed together because it had to. And the space between any entity and another was a space that connected. This is what Samoans and Tongans call the vā, the space between, not a meaningless or empty space, but one of potential and one of purpose; it is a space to be nurtured, a space of relationship.

Each one of us in this room, for example, is connected, perhaps not physically or even ancestrally. But we are here, each contributing to the energy of this space. We are here, each bound by what we are hearing and seeing and learning and tasting. We are here, each bound by the potential to form relationships with people, with place, with knowledge, and with story. And we are here, each connected by our dedication to aʻo, which is the reciprocal process of teaching and learning that must inspire our students.

Therefore, in an attempt to feed that potential, or that space between each one of us in this room—between the content we will explore, the lessons that we will teach each other, and the stories that we will share—I will offer some thoughts as a point of connection, something that we can think about, and chew on, as we get a taste of what Hawaiian culture-based education can mean for us today.

Of course, any attempt to do so, however, must begin with culture. Culture, as Samoan novelist and poet, Albert Wendt (1976), argues, is not fixed. It is not stagnant. Culture cannot be pinned down or captured. It cannot be frozen behind a glass in a museum. Culture, he proposes, is as fluid and flexible as the ocean we come from, the ocean that we call home. It must move and shift to survive. And our survival depends on our ability to move and shift with it. In fact, “The only valid culture worth having,” he argues, “is the one being lived out now,” the one moving with the current rise and fall of the tides (p. 76).

Now, his words have certainly caused a stir, particularly among those romantics of culture, or those caught up in notions of tradition and authenticity. Whatever the reaction, however, it is hard to ignore the fact that his words have power. His words make us creators of culture. His words make us those with the agency to make choices about how we will live our lives each and every day, dedicated to our people, to our customs, and to our indigenous knowledge. His words give us the mana to choose, every second, to be indigenous and to act upon that indigeneity.

We build on the past—on our values, on our core beliefs, and on our practices—and create culture so that we can extend the lives of our people into the future, ensuring that our children and grandchildren can survive as Hawaiians in a contemporary world. We build on the past and create culture to ensure that they will always have that same opportunity, or that same space to shape culture for themselves, a culture based firmly in their ancestral heritage but one that meets the needs of today. We build on the past and create culture, becoming the grandmothers who will stand alongside our descendants by the thousands, even if or when they don’t know we’re there.

Why? So that we can help them to satisfy that craving for ancestral belonging when it comes.

And it will come because our children and our students live in a world that continues to try to distance them from who they are; that continues to try to distance them from ʻāina, or that which feeds; and that continues to try to distance them from a true sense of nourishment and satisfaction, rooted and cultivated in place.

When I took my ʻulu home, after having visited with Tūtū, I could not wait to cook it, to be fed by it. So I used the element of heat, as people around the world have done for centuries, making it more digestible for my body, making it soft enough for my soul. In the process, I employed adaptations of ancient technologies, as cooking in itself is an ancient process. Where families would have once gather around the hearth, or around a pit of heat and fire, however, I used modern tools to prepare my ʻulu all the while remembering where it came from and who it came from: both the friend who gifted it to me and the craving that drove me to my grandmother.

And as the smell of breadfruit slowly filled my tiny house, my mind drifted to ʻulu-scented memories of people and places that I remembered fondly: the breadfruit my father used to bake and salivate over; the breadfruit I was given as a gift by one of my most influential teachers after I graduated; the breadfruit I ate in the Marquesas that reminded me of home and made me savor connections across our sea of islands; and the breadfruit I was overjoyed to find cradled between my friend’s hands, before she smiled and quietly placed it in my own.

Then I remembered that for our ancestors food was ceremony and consumption was ritual.

And I wondered: Do we still nourish ourselves in this way?

Before her recent passing, a close friend and mentor of mine shared a poem with me. It came from a day where she was supposed to go to church and didn’t. It was Easter Sunday. As she sat pondering her decision, her mind wandered to food rituals that are bound to religious practice. We eat wheat bread and drink grape wine, symbolic of the body and the blood of Christ. But, why, she wondered, must our Savior always be imported, shipped in or flown in from faraway lands? Why must God always be colonizer, tourist, or even cargo?

I chewed on her poetic musings for a while and realized that we had our own ways of eating that connected us to our divine entities, that connected us to place and people, that connected us to all of creation and to each other.

Therefore, as I ate my ʻulu, I remembered my grandmother and I remembered stories of sacrifice: an old moʻolelo tells us of the god, Kū, and his life as a planter on this island. Although quite skilled in cultivating and growing food, his people were once stricken by a famine that left them starving and hopeless. Seeing their pain and anguish, he told his wife that there was a way he could help them, but that he would need to leave them in order to do so. Looking at her children, slumped over in weakness, she consented and offered Kū her last goodbye.

With his family close, Kū stood as his name instructed: kū, erect; kū, strong; kū, firmly planted in the ground. And as they watched in sorrow, he began to sink into the earth, until he was completely buried in it, surrounded by ʻāina.

With heavy tears, the people cried over this patch of earth, and in the early morning, they noticed a shifting, a movement, a stir in the ground. What began as a tiny sprout of green grew into a wondrous tree, branching out towards the sky, with thick, dark leaves, and with swollen, plump breadfruit.

Looking upon this figure, Kū’s wife understood that her husband had become this tree: the trunk his body, the branches his limbs, the leaves his hands, and the fruit his head, each ʻulu containing the memory of his life, his sacrifice, and his love for his people.

When I ate the ʻulu, I remembered this. I remembered that our ancestors considered food their relatives, their greatest teachers, their communion with gods. Thus, true nourishment was not just about satisfying physical hunger. All human beings on the planet are linked by the biological need to eat. But, for us, for kānaka maoli, true nourishment came from realizing the relationship between food and body, between ancestor and descendant, between place and people.

Thus, it’s no wonder that one of the first strikes of colonialism, one of the first acts of war against an indigenous people, is to cut them off from their food, and from their resources, so that they are not only stripped of the ability to feed themselves physically, but are simultaneously stripped of the ability to nourish themselves spiritually, emotionally, and culturally. They are stripped of connection, and in doing so, from an entire way of being and seeing the world.

And we need not look far into the past to see examples of this. Think of pipelines, think of telescopes, think of oil drilling, think of dredging, think of bombing, think of the pillaging of land and the erasure of history for profit. Examples of forced disconnection are everywhere. And examples of lived disconnection are even more abundant. So abundant, that we sometimes can’t see them.

Therefore as I ate, and as I considered these seemingly disconnected ideas together, filling the vā, or the space between memory and food, between story and ancestry, between ritual and consumption, I wondered: Is it possible to eat this way again?

Is it possible to feed ourselves with foods that come from the lands of our birth, from the lands of our ancestors; foods that link us to who we were, who we are, who we can be; foods that take us back to our grandmothers?

Now, with such a lengthy introduction, you may be asking yourself what this has to do with Hawaiian culture-based education. And it is precisely this:

Education, in the traditional sense, fills.

Hawaiian culture-based education, on the other hand, must nourish.

As a teacher, I often wonder what I’m feeding my students. When I walk into the classroom am I going to supply them with things I’ve picked up off of a shelf, like the shiny and perfectly packaged foods labeled “healthy” or “nutrient-packed” when in reality they are overly processed, and often times, devoid of any true substance? Or am I going to go an even easier route and feed them a pre-designed, pre-determined, and pre-made meal, one that can be consumed anywhere in the world and still taste the same? Or, am I going to give them the knowledge, the resources, and the technologies—both old and new—that they can use to one day sustain themselves?

Now, I believe that the metaphor of food actually translates quite well into the classroom. Why? Because we live in an era of McDonalidization. (Yes, that’s a thing). And although we may not want to admit it, even our education systems are in danger of being “McDonaldized.”

Think about it. McDonalds runs on certain core values: predictability, reliability, and convenience. Wherever you are in the world, you can walk into one of these restaurants and know that they will have certain key items on the menu, thus making them predictable. These items will not only taste the same, but will also feed your increasingly homogenized palette (a product of globalization, no doubt), thus making them reliable. And, these items will be convenient, supposedly saving you time while also conveniently distancing you from ʻāina, from connection, and from a sense of identity and urgency to maintain your food ways and life ways.

As we’ve been feasting on “fast” foods to accommodate our “fast” lives, societies have adopted these same principles to the point where they can be seen everywhere. In fact, the very ubiquity of these principles makes them almost invisible to us today. If you consider it, you can see that we are constantly exposed to “quick fixes” and “time savers”, anything to help us be more efficient. Even our banks and our pharmacies have adapted so that we don’t even have to get out of our cars to get what we need; money and medication come straight to us. But the more our lives are introduced to “efficiency” through machines and advanced technologies, the more we are living the impacts of disconnect, sometimes even without being aware of it.

In fact, it’s even in the way we educate our children. Yes, I would argue that standardization is the McDonaldization of education. It is the assumption that you can serve students the same curriculum, presenting it on the same trays, with the exact same components, regardless of location, or perhaps more precisely, while ignoring location altogether. It is the assumption that you can walk into any school in the country and students of the same age will be receiving the same content, passing the same tests, and achieving at the same levels as students at another school. It is the assumption that these classrooms will produce students with similar knowledge, making it easier to assess them, easier to predict their outcomes, and easier to rely on so-called proven methods that although suited for some, are never suited for all.

Hawaiian culture-based education is the antidote to this. It is the foundation of relationship and connection that our students need. Yet, in today’s world we are presented with a challenge: with all of the advancements that make our lives “faster” and apparently more efficient, our children and our students seem to have less and less space and time to slow down and savor the richness of their heritage.

I increasingly hear phrases in my own classroom like, “I’m Hawaiian but I didn’t grow up that way.” Or, “I never knew my history.” Or “I don’t really know what my Hawaiian name means.” While I am also honored to know many young kānaka maoli who are solid and steadfast in who they are, my classrooms seem to be filled more with examples of the former: those starving for a sense of identity, not quite knowing where and how to feed that ancestral craving for connection.

This has made me realize that while our students are advantaged with every technology imaginable some of them are simultaneously disadvantaged because they’ve lost the ability—and perhaps even worse, the opportunity—to connect without these technologies. Thus, I believe that a 21st century skill to cultivate and grow is one of relationship, of teaching students how to see themselves as not only part of the ʻāina, but also part of an ongoing genealogy of people, places, and events that they can add to, or perhaps more precisely, that they must add to.

The students of today will be far more literate in modern technologies than we ever will be. Since I started teaching in 2007, I’ve noticed a drastic change in my classrooms. The students of today are those who have never known a life without swiping left, without Googling, without the wonders of the Internet. They are used to having the world at their fingertips—literally. They can go anywhere and be anything virtually in a matter of seconds. Thanks to technology, the world is becoming smaller and smaller as humans are more and more connected, and sometimes to my own dismay, more and more the same.

The students of today seek instant gratification, instant approval, instant confirmation of worthiness and importance in a like on Facebook, a heart on Instagram, or a comment, solidifying their existence. The students of today, in fact, are so connected to everything and everyone, that they are at the same time disconnected. Connected to the world, disconnected from ʻāina.

So, my question is: What are the 21st century skills that you are going to cultivate and how will these skills empower our youth to live understanding themselves as indigenous, as part of the land, as feeding from their ancestors, as standing, always, with ten thousand at their side? What opportunities will you afford them in and out of the classroom? And together, how can we mentor them and not necessarily teach culture, but provide spaces for living culture?

I believe the potential of Hawaiian culture-based education is as wide and vast as our ocean. To be culture-based is not to bring tokens of culture, small tidbits of knowledge, or relics of a deserted past into the classroom. It is not to centralize imported, shipped in, or flown in concepts and to “Hawaiianize” the foreign. Rather, it is to tap into the ways of knowing and being that our kūpuna lived by and to teach and learn in that fashion: respecting the pilina, or the bond, between all things.

Postcolonial scholar, Ngugi Wa Thiongo (1986), once wrote about what he calls the cultural bomb: “The effect of a cultural bomb,” he said, “is to annihilate a people’s belief in their names, in their languages, in their environment, in their heritage of struggle, in their unity, in their capacities and ultimately in themselves” (p. 3). I see the lingering impacts of this in our communities, in our families, in the things we say to ourselves about ourselves, in the things that our students say to themselves about themselves and their potential.

Culture runs the risk of becoming a required subject, a portioned-out time of the day, spoon-fed to them. Culture, however, must frame their day. It must be so ubiquitous that they are almost unaware of it. Culture must simply be the way things are. It must be part of every day: starting from how they meet and greet one another, to how they are welcomed into a shared space of learning, to how they become co-carriers of responsibility, with the ability to respond to the challenges of today. They must be immersed in aloha while also being primed to be cultivators of it, to ready the soil for an empowered future. Our children and our students must never be complacent, must never forget the past, must never be without connection. Our classrooms can provide the space to taste the realities of what it means to be a contemporary Hawaiian today and what it takes to carry a nation forward.

I think about my Tūtū often these days and wonder how she would have taught me, how she would have nourished me and showed me the wonders of the world. Although we never had that chance, I imagine that it would have started with ʻāina and that would have included great food: nourishing, healthy, from the soil and sea. I imagine it would have involved story-telling and ancestral memories, working and sweating, feeling the weight of our pasts: the beauty and the pain.

I imagine that it would have included sitting with her without a screen or an app between us. Instead, I imagine that we would have filled that space, that vā, with story, creating memory and creating culture.

Now, I’m not saying that technology is a hindrance to deep learning, or to a type of learning that goes beyond the feeding of facts and the regurgitation of information. What I am saying is that technology must be a tool for tapping into the breadth and depth of our ancestral knowledge. In short, it must be a tool used to cook the ʻulu as it cannot, and should never be, the “meat” or the “substance” to be consumed. It must be used to make knowledge more digestible or softer for our contemporary palettes, but must never become the sole source of nourishment itself. Culture must be what feeds. ʻĀina must be what feeds. History and ancestry must be what feeds. And modern technologies can be the spoon for that, but not the meal. It must lead us to new tastes, new smells, new experiences of connection.

A couple of days ago, I took a walk with my father and my older sister. As we hiked forest trails in mud-soaked boots, embraced by mist and the scent of dancing ʻolapa, my dad recounted his time eating hāpuʻu shoots. He had recently taught my sister how to prepare them, and as he spoke, he reminisced. Telling me about these fern shoots brought back memories of place and people, so many in fact, that he could almost trace a moʻokūʻauhau, or genealogy, through food.

When I thought about hāpuʻu, I was reminded that these shoots were once a famine food, something that our people would only eat when they had nothing else. It was a survival food. But, when my father spoke about them, it was with fondness. And when my sister recounted the process of learning how to prepare them the week before, it was with pride. They had gathered the shoots together in the forest above our home. My father had instructed her on how to choose the right ones. They then boiled them so that they could peel them and soak them, all in preparation for the final cooking.

And when they ate them, days later, it was a solidification of their relationship, a confirmation of ancestral knowledge, and a validation of connection to ʻāina. They had been fed and nourished by the experience. And they were still salivating over it.

As I listened to their memories unfold, I realized that our children need these types of experiences. Why? Because they are starving for them and are in danger of being malnourished, perhaps not physically, but spiritually and culturally. Thus, they need the so-called famine foods so that their taste buds can readjust, and rejoice, and begin to hunger for more. They need “foods” for survival because our survival as a nation depends on it.

Our students need a true taste of what it means to be aloha ʻāina.

Aloha ʻāina is far more than loving the land. As many contemporary Hawaiian scholars agree, it is about a constant and loyal dedication to the life of our nation. It is a never-ending fight for the betterment of our people. This commitment, I believe, comes through knowing the land, the ocean, and all of our sources of sustenance intimately: knowing them as ancestors, treating them as ancestors, seeing them as the grandmothers who march at our sides by the thousands.

The future of our people will reside in the ability of our youth to see beyond the screen in front of them—beyond the glow of their social media outlets, their instant likes, and their constant updates—so that they can slow down and savor the depth and richness of everything around them, so that they can put hands to ʻāina and feel its pulse.

Our children and students need the skill and the strength to ʻauamo kuleana, or to carry their responsibilities, to serve and feed their people, to strengthen ancestral connections, and to use them as a base for protecting and safeguarding all of those sources that feed. To ʻauamo is to put a pole across your back—one used to carry large bundles of food, water, or supplies—and to shoulder the burden for the next generation. Thus, our students must be awakened and reawakened, constantly, to the beauty, power, and pain of being indigenous.

What is responsibility but the ability to respond? And in today’s world, where our children can access anything and everything at the push of a button, they will need guidance in becoming stewards of what’s beneath their feet. They will need guidance in learning how and when to respond to today’s challenges. And that can only come through connection, through pockets, and moments, and silences for feeling and tasting kuleana.

Without this, we will be lost.

Thus, the 21st century skill that I hope to cultivate in my own classrooms is one of connection. Everything that I teach is taught in relation to my students. They are always pushed to find that personal relevance, or that string of thought and action that can make anything, even the seemingly foreign, somehow personal, or something with the potential to impact them and they way they see the world. Any and all modern technologies used are to support this mission, never to distract from it.

Why?

Because our youth have enough distractions.

What they need now is hope. We need to grow hope from the soil, we need to harvest it from the sea, and pull it from the clouds. We need to be washed in it. But we will not see it, or grasp it, or be nourished by such hope until we are able to cultivate it, starting in our classrooms. Hope, in itself, is a radical political act, one that defies any and all attempts to silence us, to marginalize us, or to even bomb us out of existence. It is a political act in a world that expects us to lose hope, to dream smaller, and to give up and assimilate.

Thus, we must build hope and a sense of pride and this must come from a willingness and a dedication to stand for something bigger than oneself. I firmly believe that our students will only know what that “something bigger” is when they can look up from the screen momentarily, or turn off the music in their headphones, or distance themselves from the keyboard, and close their eyes, putting ear to the breeze, putting hand to the earth, putting heart to the knowledge of who they were, who they are, and who they can certainly become.

Give your students this chance through a culture-based education that nourishes, that feeds them experience and moments for change, moments for connection, moments for communion with their grandmothers. Give them the chance to fill the spaces between with meaning and purpose.

Feed them. Nourish them. And let them sigh, audibly, “mmmm”.

tutu

Mahalo e Tūtū.

References:

Angelou, M. Our Grandmothers. http://www.ctadams.com/mayaangelou25.html

Hauʻofa, E. (1998). The ocean in us. The Contemporary Pacific, 10(2), 391-410.

Teaiwa, T. (2016). Personal Communication with author.

Thiong’o, N. (1986). Decolonizing the mind: The politics of language in African literature. Portsmouth, Heinemann.

Wendt, A. (1976). Towards a new Oceania. Seaweeds and Constructions, 7, 71-85.


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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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Under the Noni Tree

History is messy.

Noni Fruit

Noni Fruit*

Like the fruit of the noni tree, it’s bumpy and it’s blemished. It ripens slowly: born green, turning yellow, and falling when white. We’re often intrigued by noni, by its peculiar shape and sour smell, and are sometimes even drawn to it because we know, like any other medicinal plant, that it has the potential to heal us. Yet, we still turn away from it, our noses in the air, because smashed, smeared, and sour fruit can be hard to take.

Like noni, history is messy. But eventually, we have to face it—even smell it, taste it, and rub it on our skin—so that we can heal and move on.

My “eventually” came sooner than I expected. Yesterday I spent five hours seated under a noni tree. Flies swarmed around my feet, attracted by the reek of rotten fruit, smeared across a mix of sand and soil. I was positioned on a stone near its trunk. I leaned my back against it, my hair softly brushed by the large and dark leaves that danced above my head. While I probably wouldn’t have picked this location myself, I was led to it. Across from me, seated just beneath the extended stretch of noni branches, on the edge of hardened pāhoehoe lava, was the one who led me there: a man, a storyteller, a canoe builder. I had come to hear his story and he had come to smear it across the ground before me: every dirty and messy bit of it.

It was the messiness that I was least prepared for. Yet, with time, it was precisely what made me salivate. The longer I sat among the noni, the more I wanted to taste it. The more the smell excited my senses.

We all have versions of history that we favor over others, especially when it comes to the lives of our ancestors. It’s simply easier to accept the beautiful, courageous, and honorable actions of those who preceded us. It’s easier to accept the clean, tight, and bundled-up version of history, the one presented to us like a woven basket carrying only the best crops, ready to be consumed. It’s much harder, on the other hand, to accept that our ancestors made mistakes, that they did things that warrant embarrassment, and that they were human. We often position them on the highest branches and then are always disappointed when, like ripe noni, the reality of some of them falls to the ground and splatters at our feet. Yes, it’s much harder to accept the messy version of history: the one that appears smashed and smeared, the one that smells.

Yet, the smellier is sometimes the better.

The ripe noni fruit, when combined with salt, is a potent combination. It may stink, but it heals. History is the same. It’s like the day I learned that I am the descendant of both anti-annexation petitioners on one side of my family and pro-annexation lobbyers on the other.[1] My own personal history is messy! While I could cover-up the truth, burrying the stink beneath a layer of dirt, forever hiding the reality of my existence, I simply cannot deny my ancestry. I cannot escape who I come from. One of my ancestors lobbied for the annexation of Hawaiʻi, an event that forever changed the course of history in these islands, an event that devastated many, including my other ancestors who petitioned against it. In 1898, the two sides of my family stood opposed, not knowing that generations later, I would be here: a descendant of both of them, a descendant of people who may have been enemies.

While it would certainly be easier to ignore the actions of an ancestor who, at one point in history, ignored the wants and needs of the Hawaiian people, the simple reality is that I can’t change the past. All I can do is face it. All I can do is take it in and own it. Like salt rubbed on a fresh wound, I have to accept it. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt: that history doesn’t hurt, that truth doesn’t hurt. It does and sometimes it’s excruciating! But the pain is necessary. It is necessary if we ever want to heal. Facing the realities of my family history made me also face my responsibilities. Now knowing my history, knowing every messy bit of it, I have an even greater sense of obligation to my people. Yes, it’s messy. But, in the messiness of my own history, I’ve found purpose.

My five hours under the noni tree, similarly, made me face the ugly, the smelly, and the dirty parts of another story. I had arrived prepared to receive the pretty version. Yet, the man who sat before me positioned me on a small stone that dug into my legs, like a five-hour reminder of the discomfort that comes with learning truths. He did not speak of the reawakening of our people and the revitalization of old customs in romantic language. Instead, he spoke of the dissension, the turmoil, and the anger that sometimes comes with such efforts. These realities often get buried, hidden, and forgotten. Yet, to forget that part of history is to risk repeating it. It is no secret that some of our most profound lessons come from mistakes, from struggle, and from the moments spent agonizing, or crying, or fighting. Therefore, why deny ourselves the lessons that come with the tough, the difficult, and yes, even the stink?

As my storyteller continued to reveal the fruits of his history, I found myself wanting more. The longer I sat there, and the more he told me, the more noni I wanted to eat. It was deliciously sour and delectably bitter. I partook of it and felt it run through my body, cleansing it. Then when we stood to leave, I peeked out from under the noni tree. My eyes scanned the site of our conversation: the solid stone walls; the thatched house in the distance; the appearance of carved, wooden figures standing tall; the reality of tourists walking over a deeply storied landscape, treading on a history unknown to them. My gaze then shifted back to my own feet, surrounded by small flies swarming over smashed fruit. It was then that I realized that I’d rather walk knowingly into a mess than be an unconscious traveler.

Looking out from under the noni tree at Hōnaunau, Kona, Hawaiʻi`

The site of our conversation: Hōnaunau, Kona, Hawaiʻi.

As I finally left and parted ways with the one who led me there, I looked out once again. My five-hour conversation had changed the landscape. The sky had new color, the soil and sand beneath me had new layers of depth, and the noni tree had a new smell, a sour smell that I now appreciated. My senses had changed, having adjusted to new truths.

I walked away, the stone that I sat on leaving temporary indentations on my thighs. I looked down and smiled. History is indeed messy and sometimes, it hurts. Yet, I’d rather smell it, taste it, and yes, even smear it on my body and wear it, than live with parts of myself concealed.


[1] For more information on the annexation, refer to “The 1987 Petitions Protesting Annexation” by Noenoe K. Silva at the following website: http://libweb.hawaii.edu/digicoll/annexation/pet-intro.html

* The picture of the noni fruit featured above comes from http://www.andamanplantations.com/img/noni_juice.jpg


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Lashings and Landings

Many great voyages have started with loss.

The bow of a canoe.

The bow of a canoe.

Take Moʻikeha, an ancient chief from Moaʻulanuiākea[1], for example. He was so distressed over his loss that he ordered his people to prepare his canoe to sail into “ke kai kāwahawaha o ka Moana Pākīpika”[2], into the furrowed waters of the Pacific Ocean. He spent weeks at sea, perhaps hoping he’d find something, or someone, to fill a void, to occupy a space: a gaping hole, left empty.

I suppose coming home one evening to find that his wife, Luʻukia—so enraged at rumors that he had been defaming her in public—had decided to bind herself from the waist to the thighs, was enough to drive him across oceans. Oh, what people will do when their desires cannot be fulfilled! It is said that the weave around her was so intricate that the ends of the rope were impossible to find: no apparent beginning, no visible end. Only those who bound her knew how to undo it. This, of course, made it impossible for Moʻikeha.

Although he pleaded with her to tell him what he had done wrong, she refused. And so his desires lay bound and concealed in a tight weave around her “wahi hūnā”[3], her “hidden place”. Without any access, and without being able to find the beginning or the end of his quarrel with Luʻukia, he left. He departed his homeland in Tahiti and set out on an epic journey.

Many great voyages have started with loss.

But to focus on the loss is to miss the point of the journey.

Moʻikeha may have been distressed. In fact, he may have been extremely frustrated, outraged even. Or, like many who came before him and like many who came after, he may have simply been heartbroken. She surely must’ve been quite a woman! To fixate on what he had lost, however, or to focus solely on his hopes and dreams that were then lashed down beneath a tight weave of rope, would be to ignore all that happened afterward including his arrival in Hawaiʻi and the life he created there.

Strands of sennit rope.

Strands of sennit rope.

The same can be said for us. Many of our voyages begin with loss. Yet, they never have to end there.

If we sail through the history of centuries past, we see loss everywhere: loss of language, loss of customs, loss of knowledge, loss of story, loss of identity, loss of land, loss of voice. And yes, we even see disconnect. Like Moʻikeha, we sometimes see the things we desire most locked away from us. At times, we even see ourselves bound tightly to a future that we don’t want: no beginning, no end, no visible way out. It’s easy to be overwhelmed, disheartened; it’s easy to give in to the loss!

But when we cease trying to untie the knots, searching for the ends of a rope that will always be too intricately entwined to find, we realize that we don’t have to. We learn that there are other ways, other avenues, other paths. We accept that the lashing has no end and we stop searching for it. We stop seeking what we think we need and we instead try something new. We ready our canoes for a new voyage.

What we find along the way is the power to unlock our own potential. Sometimes binding can’t be untied. But sometimes, we can cut through it, slowly and carefully, unveiling all that lays beneath. It’s done one strand at a time. But each strand has meaning. Each leg of the voyage has purpose.

Loss doesn’t have to be the departure point and the destination. Terms like revitalization, resurgence, reawakening, and remembering, terms that are so often associated with our recent history, each stem from some sort of loss. Yet, regardless of what motivates the journey, it is where that journey takes us and the ways that it fills spaces in our thinking, in our feeling, and in our knowing that matters most. Even when a voyage begins with loss—whether it is loss experienced at the refusal of a loved one who’s decided to bind joy and delight in a complex weave of rope, or loss of another sort—it certainly never has to end there.

Sometimes loss is precisely what we need to push us into the furrowed ocean of our own potential: vast and expansive. And it is from there that we can land again.


[1] There are many different versions of this story. This particular version comes from Abraham Fornander’s Hawaiian Antiquities and Folklore, p. 112-154.

[2] This reference to the Pacific Ocean comes from the version written by Olopananuiākea, printed in a Hawaiian language newspaper, Ka Holomua, in 1913, vol. 1, issue 7.

[3] A term used in Fornander’s version, p. 113.