We made it to the end of the month, you and me! I blogged every day in June and successfully completed the Freelance Success 2014 30-Day Blogathon. Thank you for reading, or at least hanging in there. (I only got one “unsubscribe” during the month.)
My goal was to take some of the things out of my head and get them onto my website. I wrote some articles about how much I love the genre of memoir and biography, and a little about some of my work in this area:
I will now give you a bit of a break and will stop pelting daily emails at you — though this did get my blogging muscles back in order, I must say, and I will probably be blogging here more often than I had been.
Therefore: “So long!” but only for now, and Thanks for all the fish! (If you don’t know the reference, you should probably read the book.)
Tonight I am uploading a family history/memoir manuscript I just completed for a client. We’re publishing it at Amazon’s CreateSpace, which is such a wonderful option for a book like this. He and his wife wanted to put together his mother’s ancestors’ story, an interesting one of a young couple leaving their familiar Hiroshima, Japan to come and work on the former sugar plantations of Hawai‘i.
The back cover explains that this family’s journey “took them from harsh conditions on a small farm in 19th-century Hiroshima to what became a modest but comfortable long-time family home in Hawai‘i. In earlier years, it’s a story of hard work and sacrifice, and in more recent ones, of appreciation and family connection. Always, it’s a story of perseverance in order to build a better future for the ones to come.”
As always (it almost sounds trite, how often I say this, butit isn’t), I loved getting to know this family a bit and learning what makes them tick. This young couple who left Japan in their 20s came to Hawai‘i, worked very hard and sacrificed some more, and built a good foundation for a lot of descendants who are very nice people. The power of family is strong.
These descendants are now, more than 100 years later, about to have a huge family reunion, and will have this book for those who want to know more about how their family came to be. There’s information in this book that I’d wager most of them – or maybe even all of them – don’t know. We dug pretty deep to find some of it.
Family members who want one or more copies of the book will be able to order it directly from Amazon.com. And this means my clients won’t have to buy boxes of books, keep them in their garage and hope they sell. Instead the books will be printed on demand and distributed by Amazon.com, which doesn’t charge you upfront for the service but merely keeps a small portion of each purchase (and it’s very reasonable).
I had forgotten about writing this editorial about kids speaking Hawaiian, but stumbled upon it online today (while looking for something else!). It was a long time ago. In fact, I wrote this article during the first year I was freelancing as a writer. The newspaper I wrote it for, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, doesn’t even exist any more, for crying out loud.
But its archive does, and it was fun to read this again. I thought I’d share the article here:
View Point, Saturday, March 13, 1999
Keeping alive the language of Hawaii
By Leslie Lang
THE boy at the airport was about 5, and his chatter was loud and incessant. It could have been irritating, but it wasn’t. It was great because he spoke Hawaiian.
His father tried to quiet him, but I listened happily. The boy talked about na mokulele nui (the big airplanes), and everything else that caught his eye. I have studied Hawaiian for almost as long as he’s been alive, but I don’t know some of the words he knows.
It thrills me to run across Hawaiian parents speaking with their children in the language of their ancestors, communicating effortlessly in the language most of us have to learn in classrooms and from textbooks.
Hawaiian used to be the language of this land; it isn’t anymore. But it’s coming back.
My boyfriend and I are taking an adult school Hawaiian language class twice a week. The class meets in a Hawaiian language immersion classroom at Keaukaha Elementary School in Hilo, where we sit in tiny orange plastic chairs….
My grandmother used to tell me about her Hawaiian great-grandfather, who drove long-ago tourists up to the Volcano in a horse-drawn carriage.
Back in the late 1800s, the journey from Hilo took two days, with an overnight stop to rest the horses and travelers. But once they arrived, the landscape undoubtedly looked very much as it does now.
Still an otherworldly land worth visiting, the unique Volcano area is home to two of the world’s most active volcanoes. Sprawling, huffing and erupting within Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, Kilauea and Mauna Loa exhibit nature’s drama in action. But while change and creation, and birth and destruction, are part of the park’s inherent nature, I can still see what my ancestors very likely saw: a moonscape in places, where ghostlike trees hold their ground as ethereal steam swirls from a landscape pocked with vents….
I specialize in writing about Hawai‘i, where I live and have deep roots, in addition to ghostwriting memoirs, biographies and family histories. I help Hawai‘i individuals, small businesses and larger ones with their content marketing.
Content marketing is the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling. It is non-interruption marketing. Instead of pitching your products or services, you are delivering information that makes your buyer more intelligent. The essence of this content strategy is the belief that if we, as businesses, deliver consistent, ongoing valuable information to buyers, they ultimately reward us with their business and loyalty.
I’m familiar with Hawai‘i’s culture, its language and orthography, and many of the islands’ movers and shakers. Whether it’s writing content about Hawai‘i’s business, travel, culture or people — or something else — I do it. My master’s degree in anthropology, specifically the cultural anthropology of Hawai‘i and the Pacific, makes me knowledgeable about and able to write well about Hawai‘i’s culture and people. My journalism degree and background means I know how to conduct research and find the information I need.
Who hires a writer like me to write content? Hotels (I’ve written for the Kohala, Halekulani, and Trump Waikiki hotels, among others), representatives of trade industries (like Hawaii Hospitality magazine), airlines (Hawaiian Airlines, the former Aloha Airlines), travel companies (such as Jetsetters, Fodors.com), online behemoths (such as Ancestry.com), human resources companies (ALTRES), other corporations (Trek Bicycles) and local businesspersons (Richard Ha, and many others). Just about anyone who has a business and a message to impart, in other words.
I’ve been in this business full-time now for about sixteen years, and it’s been interesting to see content marketing emerge. It’s sort of a new buzz phrase, content marketing, but really it means writing articles, web copy, blog posts, white papers, reports, and the like to help tell someone’s story. It’s very much what many of us writers have been doing all these years.
When Isabella Bird was 19 years old, in Yorkshire, England in 1850, she had an operation to remove a tumor from her spine and the operation was “only partially successful.” I’m not sure what that means, but it’s written that afterwards she suffered from insomnia and depression and her doctor recommended, as so many did in those days, that she travel. I wish I had a doctor like that. Though I’m sure Kaiser wouldn’t cover it.
Her father must have been a remarkable man, because four years after that operation, when she was 23 years old, he gave her 100 pounds and told her she was free to go wherever she wanted. Wow! Let’s recap: She was a woman in somewhat poor health in Victorian England who took off and traveled the world, apparently fearlessly.
She traveled first to North America, and stayed for several months in eastern Canada and the U.S., writing letters home to her sister the whole time. Upon her return to England, she referred to those letters to write her first book, a work of travel writing and memoir called The Englishwoman in America. (The full text is online at that link.)
When her father died in 1858, she and her sister and mother moved to Edinburgh, which was her home for the rest of her life. She continued to travel, returning to North America three times and going once to the Mediterranean. Then, in 1872, she boarded a ship in San Francisco that was headed for New Zealand.
She decided to get off in Hawai‘i and she remained here in the islands for six months. I don’t think any visitor ever had a fuller six months in Hawai‘i than Isabella Bird. She learned to ride a horse astride, instead of sidesaddle like a proper English lady, and journeyed to the top of Mauna Loa. She did not travel like an invalid, that’s for sure. Travel seemed to agree with her.
Later, she wrote about her pleasure in “visiting remote regions which are known to few even of the residents, living among the natives, and otherwise seeing Hawaiian life in all its phases.” She recorded her great stay in Six Months in the Sandwich Islands, published in 1875 (original title, The Hawaiian Archipelago: Six months among the palm groves, coral reefs & volcanoes of the Sandwich Islands). Full text here.
Though her books are often categorized as travel writing, they are also memoirs. “A memoir,” says Gore Vidal, “is how one remembers one’s own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, facts double-checked. In a memoir it isn’t the end of the world if your memory tricks you and your dates are off by a week or a month as long as you honestly try to tell the truth” (Palimpsest: A Memoir, 1995). Bird was a keen observer and we are the better for being able to read her memoirs, and get glimpses of the worlds she stepped into.
People live more happily than any that I have seen elsewhere. It is very cheerful to live among people whose faces are not soured by the east wind, or wrinkled by the worrying effort to “keep up appearances,” which deceive nobody. – Isabella Bird, The Hawaiian Archipelago
My daughter and I went to look at Rainbow Falls yesterday, a beautiful waterfall in the Wailuku River that has a lot of Hawaiian traditions associated with it, and I always think of Isabella Bird there. She would be astounded to see it now. While the falls probably look about the same, here’s how we got there: we drove our small SUV up Waianuenue Avenue, and then turned onto a well-paved, wide street that leads to the falls and then turned into its clear, open parking lot, which is large enough to easily accommodate the numerous tour buses that roll in and out of there every day. There are bathrooms there, too.
Here’s how Isabella Birdgot to Rainbow Falls, which was then known as Anuenue Falls (did you know that Waianuenue Avenue is named for its wai anuenue [rainbow waters]?), in 1872. They were on horseback (my emphasis): “Miss Karpe, my travelling companion, is a lady of great energy, and adept in the art of travelling. Undismayed by three days of sea-sickness, and the prospect of the tremendous journey to the volcano to-morrow, she extemporised a ride to the Anuenue Falls on the Wailuku this afternoon, and I weakly accompanied her, a burly policeman being our guide. The track is only a scramble among rocks and holes, concealed by grass and ferns, and we had to cross a stream, full of great holes, several times. The Fall itself is very pretty, 110 feet in one descent, with a cavernous shrine behind the water, filled with ferns. There were large ferns all round the Fall, and a jungle of luxuriant tropical shrubs of many kinds.”
She traveled extensively after her stay in the Sandwich Islands, though she settled down in Edinburgh for awhile after her sister died of typhoid in 1880 and married her sister’s doctor. He died just five years after they married and then she took off traveling again, and writing memoirs of all her great adventures.
It is a strange life up here on the mountain side, but I like it, and never yearn after civilization. – Isabella Bird, The Hawaiian Archipelago
Notes on Morocco (published in the Monthly Review) (1901)
Her adventures included traveling alone on horseback from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe, riding alone through a blizzard with her eyes frozen shut, spending several months snowed in a cabin with two young men, and being wooed by a lonely outlaw (these stories are all from her A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains, 1879).
In Amritsar, India, she established a hospital named for her sister, the Henrietta Bird Hospital, and in Srinigar, the John Bishop Memorial Hospital, named for her late husband. In northern India, she met up with someone and traveled with him to Persia, crossing the desert in mid-winter and arriving in Tehran, it’s said, half-dead. From there, she led her own caravan through northern Iran, Kurdistan and Turkey. She did many, many other interesting things in her lifetime; these are only a few.
She was the first woman inducted into the Royal Geographical Society (1892). When she died in 1904, at 72, she was in Edinburgh packing her trunks for a trip back to China.
“There is also a dog, but he does not understand English.” – Isabella Bird, The Hawaiian Archipelago
I am so glad she was compelled to write as she traveled and explored, and then to publish. It’s as though she’s speaking to us from the past and telling us all about how it was for her then.
It’s worth mentioning, too, that many of the books above are available to read on Google Books for free, because they are out of copyright now. And many of them are free on Kindle – I feel a binge coming on, and I’m off to do some downloading. If only there were more reading hours in the day!
Read about what happened here, in an article I wrote about kalo (a.k.a. taro) and poi. This article, for the Hawaiian Airlines in-flight magazine Hana Hou, earned an “Excellence in Journalism” award for feature writing/long form, from the Society of Professional Journalists.
by Leslie Lang
A few years ago, I did a newspaper interview with the comedian Howie Mandel, who was coming out to perform in the Islands, and he kept cracking canned jokes about poi — the traditional Hawaiian staple made from pounding the root of the taro plant into a starchy, nutritious paste. His seemingly endless stream of one-liners stopped only when I mentioned that my husband grows taro and we make our own poi. He was taken aback. “You mean you really eat that stuff?” he asked, sounding confused. “You like it?” The idea, apparently, had never occurred to him.
Mandel’s reaction is fairly typical of newcomers who encounter poi for the first time at a tourist lü‘au, and frequently compare it, unfavorably, to “wallpaper paste.” As far back as the 1850s, Mormon missionary George Q. Cannon had this to say about his first poi experience:
“Before leaving Lahaina, I had tasted a teaspoon of ‘poi,’ but the smell of it and the calabash in which it was contained were so much like that of a book-binder’s old, sour paste-pot, that when I put it to my mouth, I gagged at it and would have vomited had I swallowed it.”
Proving the conventional wisdom that poi is an “acquired taste,” however, Cannon’s attitude changed dramatically after he realized that if he didn’t learn to eat it, the people preparing his meals would constantly have to cook separate food for him. “This would make me burdensome to them, and might interfere with my success,” he wrote. “I therefore determined to live on their food, and, that I might do so, I asked the Lord to make it sweet to me.
“My prayer was heard and answered; the next time I tasted it, I ate a bowl full and I positively liked it. It was my food, whenever I could get it, from that time as long as I remained on the islands. … It was sweeter to me than any food I have ever eaten.”
It might perhaps surprise wise-cracking malihini like Howie Mandel to learn that the plant from which poi is made, taro — or kalo in Hawaiian — is not only relished by the Islands’ kanaka maoli (native people), but also regarded as a divine ancestor. According to the sacred Hawaiian creation chant the Kumulipo, the sky father Wakea and earth mother Papa had a stillborn son named Haloa-naka, who was buried, and from his body grew the first kalo plant, which was also called Haloa (“everlasting breath”). Wakea and Papa’s second son, also called Haloa, was the first human being, elder brother of the Hawaiian people. Hawaiians ever since have been nourished by their sacred ancestor who died to become the kalo plant.
Taro is a perennial herb that takes around nine to twelve months to mature. The plant is primarily grown in wetland conditions, and the traditional Hawaiian method of cultivation involves ingeniously designed, water-filled terraces called lo‘i, surrounded by walls of earth reinforced with stones, and irrigated by streams passing through the terraces. Along the banks of the lo‘i, other useful crops such as bananas, sugarcane, ti and wauke for making kapa cloth were planted, and edible fish were raised in the water along with the taro. In areas where there was rich soil and enough rainfall, Hawaiians also planted taro in dry plots.
Every part of the plant can be eaten, though it must be thoroughly cooked first to break down oxalate crystals that otherwise sting the mouth and throat. The long, heart-shaped leaves are cooked as greens, similar to spinach. The stem can be cooked and eaten as a vegetable. And the potato-like corm is baked, boiled or steamed and eaten sliced, or pounded with water to make poi, or sometimes fried into taro chips. Today, one can find taro used in breads, bagels, pancakes, biscotti and lavosh, among other foods. You can buy “poi in a tube,” flavored with banana. There is even poi ice cream.
In generations past, the pounding of poi was a regular part of life’s rhythm. My grandmother often told stories of my great-great-great grandfather, Tutu Nalimu, who was born in 1835 and even into his eighties regularly pounded kalo that he grew himself on family land along the Big Island’s fertile Hamakua coast, where I still live. She described the scene to me so many times I sometimes have to remind myself that it was her memory, not mine: The elderly, blind man with a thick shock of white hair, sitting on a lauhala mat on the floor, a cloth tied around his forehead to catch the sweat, swinging a stone poi pounder rhythmically onto the cooked kalo on the wooden poi board in front of him.
These days, many Hawaiians have gotten away from eating traditional foods, since farming and hand-pounding poi don’t fit easily into 21st-century lifestyles and work schedules. Yet there’s still a demand for taro, and on important family occasions it’s still common protocol to throw a backyard lü‘au with all the familiar foods. At the dawn of the new millennium, farmers in Hawai‘i had some 470 acres in taro production, and sold $3.7 million worth of their produce, a record high. The price of taro grown for poi was also at a record high: an average of 53 cents per pound.
At the end of a rough gravel road in Hilo, an old brown building houses the production headquarters of Pa‘i‘ai Poi Systems. Inside, on Tuesdays and Fridays, workers are all business. At 3 a.m. they start peeling taro that was cooked the night before. When they’re done, the taro is run twice through a commercial meat grinder to make poi, then packaged and labeled. By about 9 a.m., the whole operation is done, and the bags of poi head for the airport, bound for supermarket shelves in Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona and Las Vegas, where there are substantial populations of expatriate Hawaiians.
Young, sincere, and articulate, Kalae Ah Chin, who runs the poi factory along with his wife Keli‘ikanoe, sports a shaved head, tattoos and a T-shirt that reads Loa‘a Ka Poi? (“Got Poi?”). The couple also owns Ka‘upena ‘Ono Hawaiian Foods, the original hole-in-the-wall take-out place in Hilo (with another opening soon in Kona), where a sign in the front windows boasts in Pidgin: “Poi – We Always Get.”
Ah Chin says his vision is to get poi back on the tables and into families’ diets. “If you eat poi the traditional way, in a communal bowl,” he says, “it forces everyone to move from the living room and the TV back to the table, where there’s lots of sharing. We wanted to bring families back to the table.”
Talking about taro is not at all like talking about other crops — all business and market prices — because taro is also about culture. “People don’t respect poi like they used to,” says Mahina Gronquist, a Hawaiian-language immersion school employee who was raised in the old ways by her grandmother. “There was a whole protocol,” she says. “To kahi (scrape the poi off the sides of) the bowl; and when you’re eating poi, you cannot take from the side of the bowl, you have to take it from the middle.”
Traditionally, poi was referred to as “one finger,” “two finger,” or “three finger,” according to how thick it was. The thickest poi could be swooped up to eat with one finger; the thinnest needed three. Taro used to be preserved by pounding until it reached the stage called pa‘i‘ai, before much water was added. “Pa‘i‘ai was when the taro was more like a potato than a poi — thick, thick, thick,” says Gronquist. “That’s what our navigators would take on their long canoe voyages because it kept, so they had nutritious and healthy food that would last.” Indeed, taro itself is one of the Islands’ “canoe plants” — the vital crops that Polynesian wayfarers painstakingly carried with them across countless of miles of ocean when they settled in Hawai‘i more than a thousand years ago.
Today, kalo remains a potent symbol of the Hawaiian culture, and, increasingly, educational groups have been using taro cultivation as a means to help Hawaiian young people literally get back to their roots.
Among these is Nawahiokalaniopu‘u School in the rural Big Island town of Kea‘au, which has been around since 1994 as a Hawaiian-language immersion high school, and this year added lower grades for the first time. It’s an incredible campus, where everything is recycled or reused and the lessons are practical. Students learn about raising fish in the school’s aquaculture program, and they tend pigs, chickens, rabbits for food, all of whose waste is captured and used to make soil.
The cultural history, planting, tending and preparing kalo is only one lesson at Nawahiokalaniopu‘u, says groundskeeper Jimmy Nani‘ole, but it’s an important one. “Most of us today live detached from our bodies,” he says. “We don’t give our bodies what they need; we give them what we want, and the result of that is that people are getting overweight, they’ve got no more energy. What we do with kalo and sweet potato (another Hawaiian staple) is to bring children to the awareness that what you eat is who you are. Just like you cannot have good kalo if you don’t have good soil, you cannot have a good body if you don’t have good nutrition.”
Another place where the culture of kalo is being taught is the nonprofit, 97-acre Ka‘ala Farm, located deep in O‘ahu’s Wai‘anae Valley, which is loud with birdsong and removed from modern development. In old times, the valley was the area’s “poi bowl,” or breadbasket, where the kalo for the whole leeward coast was grown.
Ka‘ala Farm got its start in the 1970s, when a group of “alienated youth” from the Wai‘anae Rap Center, a federally funded community organization, hiked the uplands of the valley and stumbled onto ancient stone terraces. They didn’t immediately recognize them as lo‘i — wetland taro fields — but Eric Enos began investigating further. He was on the staff at the Rap Center then, “though I was probably a little alienated, too,” he laughs. Now he’s director of what has become the Ka‘ala Farm and Cultural Learning Center, where some of the abandoned lo‘i have been restored and replanted. In the early days, Enos says, “We had no idea about growing taro, so we had to learn about it from the University of Hawai‘i’s Lyon Arboretum. They were so overjoyed, because here were Hawaiians interested in taro, which at that time was an unusual thing. They had tears in their eyes.”
Today, three to four thousand students visit Ka‘ala Farm each year to learn about Hawaiian culture by planting kalo and making poi, as well as learning about making kapa cloth and listening to kupuna (elders). Most love getting into the mud to work with the kalo, their bare feet sticking in the slurpy muck as they work. Students learn that kalo was used for offerings, food, as bait for fishing and even as medicine.
Ka‘ala Farm, which is not open to the public, has a Hawaiian Studies program through which high school students can spend one day a week mapping cultural sites and working on stream studies with the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife. Another program helps individuals from a Wai‘anae substance-abuse program learn life skills through working in the lo‘i.
One cannot talk about growing taro without talking about water rights, an issue that has posed serious challenges for the farm, and for contemporary taro growers in general. Over the last century, large amounts of Hawai‘i’s surface water has been diverted away from natural streams and traditional taro areas to support sugar plantations and other modern commercial uses. The effect, Enos says, has been to contribute to “the whole breakdown of Hawaiians’ connection to the land and fishing and everything else.”
“The valley got dried out to make a town,” says Butch DeTroye, Ka‘ala Farm’s facilities manager. “But we believe it’s possible to put water the back, and share it with the forests, too.” Enos says he went through years of bureaucratic struggles to bring water from a diversion ditch down to the valley, where it used to run. “We still don’t have enough water,” he says. “But I think we’re closer to the driver’s seat. Before, we weren’t even in the bus.”
Here at my home on Big Island, where rainfall is abundant, my great-great-great grandfather’s kalo has continued to grow, even during decades when no one was tending it. A few years ago, I came across a bundle of old letters my grandmother had written to her own mother in 1940, including one referring to taro, and to my grandfather wanting to learn to pound poi:
“… We eat a lot of taro now, and also make our own poi with the meat grinder. Have to strain it, though. In a few days we’re going to make some more poi, and Don wants to pound it so he’ll know how. He says if Tutu could pound poi at 80, he (Don) should be able to do it at 29. Instead of improving with the times and using modern, labor saving devices, we’re going backwards.”
Now, more than sixty years later, my own husband — himself from a long genealogy of taro farmers in Waipi‘o Valley — grows taro where my Tutu Nalimu did. We make our own poi using a commercial Champion-brand juicer — a machine now favored for that purpose by many families in Hawai‘i. My favorite way to eat poi is fresh, when it has an almost nutty taste. My husband likes it better when it’s a couple of days old and has soured a bit, in the true Hawaiian style. No doubt, Tutu Nalimu would approve more of my husband’s taste than mine.
Some of the taro plants we grow are actual descendants of Tutu Nalimu’s kalo, living symbols of how the process helps me feel connected to my Hawaiian ancestors stretching all the way back to Haloa at the dawn of time.
Poi entrepreneur Kalae Ah Chin encourages more families to grow their own kalo and get “poi machines” like ours. “I wouldn’t say it’s better, or even just as good as the old-fashioned way — the quality family time that goes into sitting around watching Tutu pound the kalo,” he says. “But in light of the fast-paced, Western world we live in, it’s a good way to get the family back together, eating at one bowl, and getting healthy stuff back into their diet.”
Do you know that buzz phrase “content marketing?” It’s what businesses are calling the content they hire us writers to provide. Here’s the best definition of content marketing that I’ve come across; it’s from the Content Marketing Institute:
Traditional marketing and advertising is telling the world you’re a rock star. Content Marketing is showing the world that you are one. – Robert Rose
Content marketing is a focus for me, and much of the content marketing I do is related to Hawaii, where I live and work. I know Hawaii well, and my journalism background and years as a freelance writer makes it easy for me to research and write (or ghostwrite) about just about anything – whether it’s related to Hawai‘i’s business, travel, culture, people, or something else.
I don’t have links to many of my articles on my website right now, so I am compiling a list here. This is just a small number of the many and varied magazine articles, books and blog posts I’ve written for various businesses, corporations, hotels and media outlets in Hawaii and elsewhere.
I learned to thatch on Kaho‘olawe. We’d brought big bundles of pili grass over with us on the boat, and then passed them hand-to-hand to shore. At the hale (structure) that the Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana (PKO) constructed on the island, my friend and I learned how to take a small chunk of it and tie it into place.
You take a handful of the dried grass (which I learned was actually, in this case, broomsage grass) to about the thickness of three cigars, and then hold it up to the piece of nylon cord tied to the small log. You take the cord and go across the front of the pili, behind the log, behind the pili, down in front of the log, and around the cord twice. Then tug it hard, and work it back and forth in both directions to tighten it. Then you move on to the next one.
I really liked it. When, very occasionally, I work with lauhala or make lei and do some other kinds of handcrafts using natural materials, I’m always reminded again how much I enjoy doing that, and always wish I had the time and energy and room in my life to dive deep into it and learn to do it well. Our modern lives can be so removed from having the time and space for that sort of thing, or at least mine is.
Some people manage to build a life around the crafts that are important to them, and I admire that. So many of us, though, live busy, run-around lives that the old Hawaiians with their old-style lifestyles might have a hard time understanding. The traditional style – where families and communities live near each other, and share, and help, and where people make and gather what they need – makes so much sense to me.
That’s pretty much how life worked on Kaho‘olawe, and I liked it.
Dinner that night was rice, shoyu chicken, and dried and fried fish (fresh that day). I helped make cole slaw (cabbage and carrots, rice vinegar mixed with sugar, and some mayonnaise). And after dinner some people sat around talking and Tom made ‘awa. He boiled a huge pot of water, and then squeezed some powdered ‘awa in a red bandana into the water. We all had some while we talked and it was good. A man played Hawaiian music on a young boy’s ‘ukulele and sang, and at one point a lovely, tall, elegant woman got up and did a beautiful hula. The little girls, too, danced some cute hulas, and there was a lot of laughing and singing and talking. It was so much better than TV or even Netflix.
During our stay there, I heard murmured stories about what people had occasionally seen on Kaho‘olawe, where it’s quieter in just about every way and so it’s easier to see and hear. Seeing a person out of the side of the eye, again and again. A feeling that someone was following him around, for days, and then a kupuna back home saying, “You brought someone back with you.” Dreams. “Seeing” a child crying on the ridge.
The Hawaiian friend I traveled with barely slept for four days. She saw someone standing in the trees at night, a woman, and told me about it the first morning. She had been unable to turn away and sleep. The woman was there again the second night, and again she barely slept; it was starting to show on her face. That second night, she woke me up. “Do you see her?” I looked, and you know what? I did see her. But the woman didn’t bother me the way she did her. She watched the woman and I went back to sleep. I don’t know what it meant, but I don’t think it was meant for me. I never knew what that experience said to her.
Kalei told us that in 1992 they had a ceremony on Kaho‘olawe to dedicate a place they were restoring, and helicoptered in legislators from Honolulu for it: Dan Inouye, Pat Saiki, Patsy Mink, John Waihe’e, lots of others. The legislators all sat on the cornerstones and promised to always consider, in their legislation, the well-being of Kaho‘olawe for seven generations – with the knowledge that if, after agreeing, they didn’t keep their word, their spirits wouldn’t lele (leap to the next place when they died).
When we left Kaho‘olawe, it was just the reverse of arriving but also different. We packed our things to be passed through the ocean to the boat – but without quite as much care this time, because if the clothes got a little wet, oh well. We made a human line from shore to pass all the gear onto the Pualele. Several people got stung by jellyfish as we prepared to leave, but nobody had a bad reaction. There were three boat trips to get everyone back to Maui, and we helped load each of the first two, and then sat, chatted, ate crackers and had coffee for an hour and a half until the boat returned.
We went out on the third trip, and this time it was rough weather. It was freezing standing in the water, and the sea was rough. The captain slowed down as we passed along the “inside” of the crescent of Molokini crater, and I counted 17 boats of all different kinds and sizes, from yachts down to Zodiacs and everything in between. One had a ladder from it down into the water and people were snorkeling right off the boat.
Then the captain sped up again, and we headed for Makena landing on Maui. And then a flight back to O‘ahu, and on my way home I stopped at the Safeway in Manoa because I needed to pick up some food.
I was almost knocked over by the massive amounts of artificial lights inside that enormous grocery store; my eyes were physically pained. And I was struck by how there were people bustling everywhere, and hundreds of thousands of every type of item available for the picking up.
It had only been four days away from all that, where the sun was our light, choices were simple, and people weren’t moving around in such a focused hurry, but the sudden transition back into our busy, hectic world was an enormous shock.
I was left with so many realizations from the long weekend on Kaho‘olawe. That it’s good there are still places where a person can observe and live a quieter lifestyle, get a glimpse into older Hawai‘i ways, and help in a small way to preserve it. That it’s important to hold onto those places and those ways. And that, if we’re lucky, we can bring a bit of what we learn back home with us and fit it into our modern lives. Kaho‘olawe really does have a lot to tell us, as one of the PKO members told us. I listened. • PAU
We got to the Hawaiian island of Kaho‘olawe by first taking an airplane to Maui, then a fishing boat, and then a small Zodiac. We climbed out of the Zodiac and waded over an uneven rocky beach bottom onto shore, trying to stay upright as waves broke against us.
About 70 people were there on that four-day weekend 20 years ago. In addition to college students like me, there were Boy Scouts wearing red t-shirts, and young Hawaiian immersion school kids and their families who all spoke Hawaiian. The first afternoon, I came across a young boy sitting on the beach with his ‘ukulele, picking out the theme song to the TV show The Addams Family. Our stay on Kaho‘olawe was never as ominous as that suggested, though. It was a very positive experience.
We were being hosted by the Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana (PKO), a group working to restore the island that the U.S. military had been bombing for decades. After decades of protests, the Navy’s live-fire training exercises ceased in 1990, and the island was transferred to the jurisdiction of the state of Hawai‘i that same year I visited: 1994. The Hawai‘i state legislature established the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve to restore and oversee the island and its surrounding waters. Today it can only be used for native Hawaiian cultural, spiritual and subsistence purposes.
There were boundaries as to where we could wander, the PKO people told us as soon as we arrived on the island. We could hike about 10 to 15 minutes in each direction, they said, but don’t go further than the green beach that way, they said, unless you’re with someone who knows it. They spoke about it casually, but you could tell they knew what they were talking about. I had no desire to go where they said not to go. Places were not off-limits for the reasons we’re used to. It’s not that they were someone else’s property; it was that they might still have live bombs on them. Sometimes bullets work their way up in the sand, they said, and don’t pick them up because some are live.
But other than that initial warning about what’s off-limits, there wasn’t much talk or worry about bombs. Hakioawa, the valley that the PKO uses for its home base, had been checked for live ordinance – “cleared” – eight or ten times, someone told me. “Though last time they did find a fire bomb in the back,” he said.
That first day, a woman named Kalei gave us a small tour of the camp area. When we got to the men’s heiau (temple), only the men went up and we women waited below, and vice versa. The women’s heiau, which was much larger but also more exposed to the wind and eroding, is across the riverbed from the men’s, and lots of baby rattles and other women’s and babies’ things have been found there, she told us. And there were burials of babies who didn’t make it. She pointed out one area and asked us not to walk on it because a burial had been found underneath. “If it were my grandmother, I know I wouldn’t want you walking there,” she said. She told us that this place, and a site being covered up by construction of O‘ahu’s H3 highway, were the only ones known to have heiau situated right across from each other like that.
We hiked up on the cliff to look at the fishing shrine of Ka‘ai‘ai, and a traditional fishpond, whose shape and function was destroyed by the military. She explained that they bombed large targets they could easily see from the air.
We saw the mo‘o that the Hawaiian goddess Hi‘iaka fought. She severed its head, which is now a prominent rock on the hill, and she threw its body, which landed directly across on Maui and became a small hill that’s easy to spot. The mo‘o’s tail landed in the channel and now we call it Molokini.
The U.S. Navy, charged with clearing the island of live ordnance now, stays on the other side of the island where all the white sand beaches are, and we never saw them or had any sort of interaction. That other side is also the site of Smuggler’s Beach, where opium smugglers used to stop. But the PKO chose this valley for their site because it has the most mana: there are heiau, petroglyphs, and it’s where people used to live. It’s not the best part of the island physically, one of them said, but it is spiritually.
They asked us to sign two legal releases, one from the Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana, and the other from the U.S. Navy. “We’ve been known to withhold food from people until they sign,” the PKO’s Hokulani joked, or was she serious? Everybody signed.
It’s unusual, as an adult, to be completely dependent on others for your food! But it was never a problem. The kitchen, which was also the gathering place where people hung out, was outdoors and well-appointed with huge gas burners and pots and enormous woks. I helped make egg salad sandwiches for lunch that first day, and there was also peanut butter and jelly, and pretzel sticks, carrots, celery and apple and mango slices. There was always coffee on, a very nice and civilizing touch, I thought.
Dinner that first night was turkey chili with brown rice, and a vegetarian stir fry. There was also cole slaw and fish soup, which was salty – I think they used seawater. There was plenty to eat and it was tasty, in that way that eating outside is almost always better.
After we ate, we went around in a circle and talked. A guy named Peter said he had just graduated from medical school, so he would be the doctor if anyone needed medical care, but only if it was easy. Otherwise, he said, he’d ask the nurse who was along. Someone asked him where he graduated from and he said, “UH.” Someone else joked, “So don’t ask him any hard questions.”
One man talked about growing up on Maui and how his sister used to scream in the night when their windows shook because of bombs exploding on nearby Kaho‘olawe. The circle was quiet as he spoke. Another woman, who’d grown up in Lahaina on Maui, said she never dreamed that someday she would be on Kaho‘olawe.
Tom told us that the island can tell you a lot, but you have to listen. “You’d be surprised,” he said. I slept very well that night and dreamt a lot, but could only remember the dreams being of people and things in my everyday life. I didn’t hear Kaho‘olawe speaking to me in my dreams that first night.
A few of us hung out there after dinner, drinking hot cocoa and talking some more. We got to talking about Farley Mowat’s book Never Cry Wolf, which came to mind because of all the mice on the island. It was a great group of people. Among a handle of others, there were a couple of our hosts from the PKO, including the guy in charge of the water project and reforestation/revegetation work who lives off-grid in Ha‘iku on Maui. A UH student from Moloka‘i had also grown up without electricity – both were used to going to bed and waking up with the sun. There was a professor from UH Manoa, and a neuroscientist from USC and her husband, who is with the American Friend Services. The Friends do work on peace and justice issues and have an interest in the return of Kaho‘olawe to the Hawaiian people, I learned.
The atmosphere on the island was relaxed. Breakfast the next morning – a work day – was hearty and solid: it was oatmeal, to which you could add granola, raising, peanut butter, guava jelly and or honey, and it was at 8:30 or 9, not at the crack of dawn. Things got planned and done, but at a good and relaxed pace. There was no hurry.
Some people, mostly men, hiked up after breakfast to work on the watcher catchment. I’d hiked up there the day before to look at it, and what a beautiful view from that point: Lana‘i off that way, Maui over there. You could only see the water tank, which was painted camouflage, from the beach if you knew it’s there and looked for it.
Most of the women stayed down at the camp. Tom, from the PKO, said a bunch of ‘ōhi‘a logs we’d brought on the boat needed to be moved from the beach to the thatched hale they’d constructed on the island, where they would replace some that were rotting. He said, thinking out loud, “They’re pretty heavy, though. Some of them weigh up to 200 lbs. If they don’t get moved this morning, that’s okay.”
A young college student spoke up in a strong voice. “Hey, we’re women!” she said. “We can do anything!” It was an empowering and rallying call and I think we all stood up straighter. We worked together and easily moved every one of those logs, and then a bunch of other, longer and thinner ones that needed to be moved, as well.
Afterward some of us women hiked out to the “bathing beach,” about a half mile off and kapu after 4:00 for women only. Fresh water is a precious commodity on Kaho‘olawe, and it’s not wasted on bodies. The bathing beach is a sandy beach where you easily walk into the ocean and wash your hair and clean off red earth of Kaho‘olawe off your body. Your feet (and the rest of you) get very dirty with the island’s rich-colored red-brown dirt. They call it a Kaho‘olawe tan. I felt very clean and renewed afterward.