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Presenting the past to preserve our future

February 13, 2009

Our last post, “How Do You See Yourself?” provoked an amazing response. Nearly a month later, we continue to receive emails and tweets from diametrically opposed camps. Some say we are helping to perpetuate stereotypes by ignoring gross prejudices. Others believe that we as a people must move beyond past grievances and take control of how we see ourselves as well as how others perceive us.

While I won’t go as far as to say we’re perpetuating stereotypes, I will agree that I am more likely than not to excuse political incorrectness from kūpuna. The understanding and wisdom they hold is far greater than any bias they may carry.

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With each passing of a hulu makua (literally feather parent – elder who is precious like beautiful feathers), we lose more of our foundational knowledge. Over the course of millennia, our kūpuna learned from their ancestors and environment, thereby forging an incredible culture that continues to thrive today.

However, for the Hawaiian culture to endure that knowledge must be transmitted and we must be the willing recipients of our kūpuna’s insight.

Nāna i wawaele i ke ala, ma hope aku kākou – He cleared the way, we came later

With this in mind, Kamehameha Schools’ Hawaiian Cultural Center Ka‘iwakīloumoku thankfully put together a program that provides our entire community with the opportunity to hear and honor the voices of our kūpuna.

Jamie Fong Coordinator of Ka‘iwakīloumoku and Nā Momi Ho‘oheno – the oral Hawaiian history series –shares, “In this fast changing world, the cherished mo‘olelo [stories] of our kūpuna and cultural practitioners can easily be lost and forgotten. Our goal is to capture some of these precious stories and to share them with current and future generations.”

jkaThe series began in January with the incredible story and music of Johnny Kameaaloha Almeida, one of Hawai‘i’s greatest composers. Called of the “Dean of Hawaiian music,” Almeida’s remarkable use of the Hawaiian language and “pure Hawaiian” melodies continue to move us more than a century after his birth.

marylou1.jpgOn Wednesday, February 18th on the Kapālama Campus, Nā Momi Ho‘oheno will present a short film on two master feather artists, the late Mary Lou Kekuewa and her daughter Paulette Kahalepuna. Known as the “Queen of Feathers,” Aunty Mary Lou and her protégé Paulette have shared the artistry of Hawaiian featherwork with generations of limahana hulu. Paulette will also be on hand with a demonstration of the artform to which she and her mother have dedicated their lives. The public is welcome and admission is FREE.

In the coming months Ka‘iwakīloumoku will host other events promoting Nohona Hawai‘i, Hawaiian ways of living and learning. In March, the oral history series will continue with a short film on Haili’s Hawaiian Foods, the famous eatery located at the Ala Moana fish market. Founded more than 60 years ago by Peter and Rachel Haili, today their daughters carry on the family’s rich Hawaiian culinary traditions. In coming months, we can look forward to programs such as Nā Lani ‘Ehā – the music of the four ali‘i Kalākaua, Lili’uokalani, Leleiohoku and Likelike – and an offering from our Māori cousins called “He Reo Aroha.”

For more information, please contact Ka‘iwakīloumoku at 842-8655 or email them at jafong@ksbe.edu.

As Jamie so eloquently put it, “I’m humbled that kūpuna would entrust Ka‘iwakīloumoku with their precious life stories. We owe it to them to portray their mo‘olelo with accuracy and integrity, so that their stories will live on for generations to come.”

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How Do You See Yourself?

January 16, 2009

Recently, having lunch with friends, I was struck by how much Native Hawaiian self-image has changed over the years.

There was nothing particularly unusual about this lunch – a typical get-together of the cronies gathering for a highly anticipated talk story session. However, on this occasion we were lucky to be joined by one of our hui’s Grandpa Joe.

A distinguished gentleman in his eighties, Grandpa Joe is one of those wonderful people you want at all of your parties. A raconteur at heart, his lifetime of experiences and wry wit combined to have us all rolling with laughter. Drawing us in as confidants, he would lean forward conspiratorially. His shock of white hair edging ever nearer and his eyes dancing, he wove amazing tales of the “old days.”

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During the course of the lunch, the conversation turned toward us. “What do you do?” he asked. A physicist, a lawyer, a writer, a professor and a flack (yes, I’m the underachiever of the bunch) were the answers.

“Wow, a group of smart Hawaiians,” he said completely devoid of irony.

“Grandpa!” his namesake mo‘opuna squawked. But, Grandpa Joe was nonplused. He had no idea why his grandson was upset.

Grandpa Joe wasn’t being racist though; he was simply reiterating what he’d heard for a lifetime. Graduating from Kamehameha Schools nearly 70 years ago, his was a world in which native opportunities were few. What we now consider commonplace – a group of college educated Native Hawaiian professionals from ordinary backgrounds – was unheard of in his day.

But more interesting to me, he did not see the very incongruity of his thinking. Here was a man – a Hawaiian man – who without the benefit of higher education used his intellect and will to forge a highly successful international career. There is absolutely no question that Grandpa Joe is an extremely “smart Hawaiian.” Yet, he was unable to place his own life example above the stereotypes embedded within him decades before. He continues to carry the century old bias that Hawaiians are somehow inadequate.

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A generation later, my father followed along the same path of self-deprecation. A recurring conversation in our house went something like this.

Dad: “Hawaiians are lazy.”
Child: “Dad, aren’t we Hawaiians?”
Dad: “Yes.”
Child: “Is anyone in our family lazy?”
Dad: “No.”
Child: “So what Hawaiians are you talking about?”
Dad: Silence

Coming from a household of incurable workaholics, I never understood how my father could make such an outrageous statement. However, in speaking with Grandpa Joe, I began to better understand my own history. My father, like Grandpa, could not reconcile the gulf between his own experiences and the prejudices of long ago.

Yet – even though they could not see it within themselves – both of these smart, hardworking men are part of changing how Native Hawaiians are perceived. Amazing examples like theirs are the lens through which my friends and I view ourselves and our people.

Now, it is incumbent upon us to ensure that others of our generation, as well as the next, deliver on the potential we so clearly see.

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What Makes a Good Blog?

January 8, 2009

Let me begin with I don’t have the answer. But, it’s something I’ve been pondering ever since we began our foray into the blogosphere.

What makes a good blog? Is it one that engages readers far and wide or one that draws like-minded people to a particular nexus? Does it inspire positive action or purely entertain? Is the sign of success tens of thousands of readers or a smaller number of active participants in an intriguing dialogue?

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These are the questions I posed to our little hui of native bloggers. Inevitably, our discussions led to more questions than answers such as, “Why are we doing this anyway?” Hubris aside that any of us could begin to portray the depth of Native Hawaiian thought, why indeed are we doing this and can we hope to be successful?

“I think we’ll be successful if we can get people to expand their ideas of who Hawaiians are,” shared contributor extraordinaire Ikaika Macy. “I’m proud to be one full on moke, but I’m also proud that I’m using the skills and education given to me by my ancestors (both Hawaiian and haole) to make a difference in my community.”

“That’s why I’m part of the hui,” continued fellow blogger Caroline Ka‘ahanui. “There are so many really impressive Hawaiians who need to start speaking up. And, if we can at least help to get conversations started, to me that’s success.”

Mulling over these discussions, it occurred to me to look at the blogs I read and ask why I follow them. What makes them successful for me?

kam-mastWhile I read a lot of blogs for work (like Mack Collier’s Viral Garden and Chris Brogan) and for news (e.g., The New York Times’ The Lede, and KCRW’s Left, Right and Center), I love reading about what makes Hawai‘i Hawai‘i (like Ryan Ozawa’s Hawai‘i Blog and Nathan Kam’s Kam Family). Note, Native Hawaiian bloggers, send us your links. We would love to hear what you’re saying.

melissaThere is one constant I noticed among these diverse blogs – each has a particular voice. If you’ve ever read Melissa Chang’s Urban Mix Plate or Amber Naslund’s Altitude Branding you know right away who wrote it. Like most of the bloggers I follow, their voices (and hence personalities) are clear and consistent.

So with only these few criteria for success, we humbly put it before you the readers, what makes a good blog? Share your thoughts, we’re eager to learn.

Mahalo

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A Dozen of 2008’s Best Books

December 15, 2008

alfredAlfred & Emily
By Doris Lessing
In this intriguing blend of novel and memoir, Doris Lessing combines aspects of her parents true lives in World War I England with an imagined world in which their paths took very different turns. Also, on this list of bests should be Ms. Lessing’s Stories.

mercyA Mercy
By Toni Morrison
While not always a convincing narrative, A Mercy is still a complex and powerful fable set in colonial America. Ms. Morrison once again shows that she is one of America’s finest writers.

book-coverBetween the Deep Blue Sea and Me
By Lurline McGregor
How does heritage impact one’s life? This is the primary question behind Lurline McGregor’s debut novel. Responsibilities to past, present and future are explored in the absorbing Between the Deep Blue Sea and Me.

breathBreath
By Tim Winton
Seemingly a novel about surfing, Breath is a haunting coming-of-age story. Tim Winton blends his talent for beautiful prose with a tale of youthful fervor and fear – and learning to live with both.

a-case-of-exploding-mangoesA Case of Exploding Mangos

By Mohammed Hanif
In this extremely timely satirical novel, Mohammed Hanif uses his biting wit to illuminate the complex events of modern-day Pakistan (and, yes Virginia, it is funny).

daphneDaphne
By Justine Picardie
Okay, I’m a geek, but I loved this story of Daphne du Maurier and her obsession with the Brontës (especially Brontë brother Bramwell). Daphne sucked me in with its twisting tale within a tale storyline.

godGod and Gold
By Walter Russel Mead
In this compelling look at the spread of a common English-speaking culture, God and Gold argues that the United States is the logical successor of Great Britain’s empire building. While the connections are sometimes a little murky (or missing), Mead rationalizes the rise of the Anglo-Americans.

irregThe Irregulars
By Jennet Conant
The Irregulars is a fascinating telling of kids book author Roald Dahl’s life before Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach when he lived the clandestine life of a spy. Perhaps not the most historically relevant story, it is nonetheless entertaining.

northernThe Northern Clemency
By Philip Hensher
Booker Prize finalist Philip Hensher has a way with language that shines through in this well told tale of English family life. The Northern Clemency combines an impressive ability to animate both characters and settings with a skilled comic timing to craft an immensely satisfying narrative.

not-quiteNot Quite What I was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure
By Rachel Fershleiser
Compiled from submissions to SMITH magazine, which asked readers to send in six-word memoirs. From “most successful accomplishments based on spite” to “found true love, married someone else,” these snippets give fleeting insights into how people see themselves and those around them. Too bad, I can’t write a six-word synopsis.

unaccustomed_earthUnaccustomed Earth
By Jhumpa Lahiri
Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth is a stunning collection of stories. Ms. Lahiri hauntingly illuminates both the ties that bind families together and the rituals that doom them to isolation. Her masterful portrayal of cultural and generational chasms provides a definite “must read.”

ft_vowellThe Wordy Shipmates
By Sarah Vowell
Another nod to my inner geek, Sarah Vowell’s The Wordy Shipmates makes the list of top books of 2008. An amusing concoction of pilgrim history and pop culture, The Wordy Shipmates definitely entertains.

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Book Review: Between the Deep Blue Sea and Me

December 11, 2008

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Update – 12/17/08: Kekoa Enomoto wrote a very cogent review of Between the Deep Blue Sea and Me for the Maui News. Additionally, the Hawaiian language newscast ‘Aha‘i ‘Ōlelo Ola (CBS affiliate KGMB-TV) covered the launch of this debut novel.

In the voice of darkness, birds stirred with anticipation. The approaching daylight separated sky from earth. By the time the first rays of the sun reached the top of the Ko‘olau Mountains, the birds were already in full chorus, celebrating the arrival of a new day.

On the leeward coast of O‘ahu, a Hawaiian woman, ageless as the ocean, stood in the mystery, ready to carry out her role in the morning ceremony. Water lapped as the tide rose. Into the darkness, facing the intense calm of the water, she began to chant. The primal sound of her voice was filled with the power of those who came before her. Her song carried out to sea.

So begins award-winning filmmaker Lurline McGregor’s first novel, Between the Deep Blue Sea and Me.

Turning her cinematic eye to a story that inherently resonates with so many of us, McGregor delves into what makes a native person native. Expanding upon the question of nature versus nurture, she tells the tale of a woman – Native Hawaiian by birth, western by upbringing – who is forced to confront the dichotomy of her indigenous past with the realities of the 21st century.

book-coverWithin this riveting story we follow the protagonist Moana Kawelo on her quest to reconnect with her kū‘auhau (heritage) and understand what it means to be a Native Hawaiian in the modern world.

The exploration of cultural consciousness in Between the Deep Blue Sea and Me has received enthusiastic reviews from around the native world. The Chairman of the Board of the national Native Arts and Culture Foundation, Walter Echo-Hawk, raved, “Wow! What a moving story about the spiritual side of Native life in modern-day Hawai’i.”

potiki“It is an intriguing story of modern Hawai‘i, its legacies and therefore its concerns,” shared Patricia Grace, Māori author and winner of the prestigious Neustadt International Prize for Literature. “It is a story contextualized by the connectedness between generations, land, culture and spiritual guardianship – all drawn together in a ‘now’ time.”

Author Lurline McGregor continued, “Just as the movie Whale Rider was able to present an authentic Māori experience while speaking to a broader global audience, our Hawaiian stories can also be used to inspire people worldwide.”

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Daviana McGregor at the launch of Between the Deep Blue Sea and Me

At the book’s launch party, Muscogee poet and author Joy Harjo eloquently reflected on the power of the native voice presented in Between the Deep Blue Sea and Me. “We are all indigenous peoples, we can all trace our lineages to a time when our ancestors listened to the earth.” Native Hawaiian activist and author Davianna McGregor (and Lurline’s cousin) continued, “Lurline gives us a story that articulates the past and the present – land, repatriation, and spirit are forged together to create an engrossing tale of modern and ancient Hawai‘i.”

Lurline McGregor autographs copies of her new book, Between the Deep Blue Sea and Me

Lurline McGregor signs copies of her new book


Between the Deep Blue Sea and Me is published by Kamehameha Publishing. For more information, click here.

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Newspapers – A Boon or Bust

November 30, 2008

When I was little, my mother would gather me upon her knee to read the newspaper with her. Not just the comics, but the whole paper. Hard news, features, recipes, the entire thing.

I learned to read this way. But, more importantly, I learned to think. Many of the beliefs I hold today were formed then – discussing with my mother the meaning of the words we sounded out. As we read about the gas crisis, she explained why it was important to care for our resources and how our actions impact not only ourselves but those around us. She spelled out for me that we live on a small island, and therefore need to be even more considerate of our ‘āina so that it can continue to provide food, clean water and shelter. I am an environmentalist today because of discussions we had when I was five.

As I grew older I learned that our practice of using the newspaper as a learning tool is a family tradition, dating back five generations to a time when Hawai‘i was the most literate nation in the world.

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In the late 1800s nearly every Hawai‘i adult could read and write. And, they were encouraged to write down everything – stories, myths, blessings and curses, as well as news – and to send them to one of the myriad of Hawaiian language newspapers. These papers were literally the nation’s history.

It was during this heyday of people’s journalism that one of my kupuna began assembling his children to discuss news items. Understanding that the Hawaiian culture and nation were under attack, he used the newspapers to teach his keiki who they were as Hawaiians and how they fit in both the ancient and modern worlds.

Therefore, it is with pride that I carry on this tradition with my child. Just as my mother did before me, I gather my son on my lap and we pour over the day’s news. Recently, we discussed what it means to vote, how to decide which candidate to support, what election topics are important to us and why.

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Imagine my satisfaction as my son made his own decisions on significant issues. When he learned that his teacher and I stood on different sides of the Honolulu rail transit debate, he questioned each of us on why we believe as we do. Taking the gathered input, he made up his own mind.

I couldn’t be more proud. My seven year-old has shown that he will not be a mindless voter. Instead, he will seek out information and deliberate upon it before deciding what is right for him.

If only every voter would follow his example.

Yes, the newspaper has been a wonderful tool, introducing my child to the broader world. But, it has also had its drawbacks.

Now that my son knows how to read, we can no longer skip over unpleasant stories. This weekend’s paper detailing the horrors of Mumbai and the senseless holiday shopping deaths have left both of us with larger questions of life and death and of right and wrong.

I’ve tried to teach my son that people are not bad, but sometimes they do bad things. We can hate actions, but not each other. These distinctions are becoming much harder to preserve as he reads and learns more. And, I’m wondering if I’m doing him a disservice by introducing him to too much too soon.

While I am grateful to my mother and kupuna for giving me the gift of loving newspapers, will my son see this as a gift or a curse?

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Hau‘oli Lā Ho‘omaika‘i – Happy Thanksgiving

November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving is one of the occasions that has always given me pause. The thought of my horse knowing the way through the white and drifting snow sounds awesome. Every Hawai‘i kid would love to go careening through a snow covered landscape (or how about just seeing real snow for once). And, the annual turkey feast is not to be missed – of course with some obligatory island add-ons like fresh ahi and my mother’s Portagee sausage stuffing. I love spending this time with my family.

However, the pilgrim story is another matter. As a Hawaiian (native I mean versus hailing from the state), the celebration of one people’s survival at the expense of another seems rather disloyal.

Therefore, instead of donning doublet and breeches, I have chosen to pour my ambivalence into the greatest of American’s pastimes – television. Where else can the horrors of the human experience be served up so proudly with pratfalls and canned laughter?

face1So, with a nod to Sarah Vowell, author of the hilarious puritan exposé The Worthy Shipmates and voice of Violet Incredible, here are a few holiday memories to brighten the day.

Hau‘oli Lā Ho‘omaika‘i ia Kākou – Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

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Some of our favorite Thanksgiving episodes

Friends – Phoebe and Joey experiment with turkey

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving – ‘nuff said

WKRP in Cincinnati – Turkeys away

Happy Days – The first Thanksgiving

Roseanne – A family celebration

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