Chapter Excerpts

Click on the chapter title below to go directly to that chapter excerpt.
Clarence Eli Kaona: Mahi`ai / Farming
Louis Robert "Moon" Kauakahi: Mele / Music
Mapuana and Kihei deSilva: Hula / Dance
The Wong Family: `Olelo / Language
Albert Kamila Choy Ching, Jr.: Hoe Wa`a / Canoeing
Brian Lopaka Keaulana: He`e Nalu / Surfing
Dennis Kana`e Keawe: Kapa / Tapa
William Kalunakeaki Kahu`ena: Lapa`au / Healing
Mahealani Kamauu: Pono / Righteousness
Craig Neff: Ho`omana / Religion
Chapter 1: Mahi`ai (Farming) Clarence [Kaona] and his mother normally harvest fifteen bags of kalo in a morning. They work in simple rhythms--a human counterpoint to the neat rows of heart-shaped leaves undulating in the breeze. Mud sucks at their legs as they move through the rippling water; the sun warms their muscles, which are kept strong with each push into the earth and every pull from it. Try to duplicate their bent aspect, the nonstop work pace--any romantic farmer-in-the-landscape notion is quickly dispelled. Clarence and Miriam crouch in a posture doing a task that the world's best agronomists have been unable to duplicate with machines. For hours they press, yank, stack, weed, and shove, without wasted motion. "All the time, aches and pains," Clarence said later. "Sometimes you don't do it right, your back hurts, your legs, your arms. . . . Taro farming is a very hard job, but I enjoy doing it. It's a challenge every year to see what kind of crop you gonna get, and I'm my own boss. I can work when I want, and when I don't want to work, I don't. "But if you don't work, you can't produce. Right now I got my hands pretty full with five acres. That's about as much as I can handle. I'm doing mostly all the work. When it's time to harvest, then I have my mom, and sometimes my brother comes over and helps me. . . . I don't know--in twenty years you might not see any more Hawaiian taro farmers."

Chapter 2: Mele (Music)

[Louis] Moon [Kauakahi of the Makaha Sons] is as picky about pronunciation as he is about the songs that he selects for the group to sing. In 1986, Moon decided the Sons should record "Ho`ola Lahui Hawai`i," a tune that would become a popular anthem about perpetuating the native race and culture. But as originally written in English, the words to "Ho`ola" decried the death of Hawaiians. The message changed after the original English-language lyricist, Dr. Hiram Young, gave his song to Jean Ileialoha Beniamina, a Kaua`i woman and native speaker who was unable to translate into Hawaiian the poignancy of the pain being expressed. She in turn gave it to her mother, Jean Keale, a pure-blooded Hawaiian raised on Ni`ihau. "She looked at all the negative points of what the song had and she turned everything around," Moon said. "She made it positive. She said not what the people are dying of, but what can they do. The song described the Hawaiian people as flowers who will live, who will continue to survive. . . . Although it's true that Hawaiians are dying, she didn't want to bring out the message that way. She said, 'They are not wilted flowers. They are pretty flowers.'

"Communication is one of the most important means of change," Moon said. "If you go inside and rant and rave at somebody, you may not get anything. I wasn't for being outspoken. . . . Instead of trying to say something that would hurt somebody, I would rather not say anything at all and think about what the situation was and then come out and say something after I analyzed what I was going to say. This I had to develop. This I had to learn."

When Moon arranges music written by someone else, he thinks about the words, what they mean, and tries to convey their true meaning in the arrangements. "I try to let the audience understand the meaning of the Hawaiian words by the feeling of the music itself. If the audience can feel what the song is, they have more or less translated the song--into much more than what it literally meant. That is basically what I like to see happen. That's my high.

"My awareness of the language is [also] making the music more exciting. It's making it more challenging. The music takes on a new meaning. The culture takes on a new meaning. I can read into a song and more or less understand what the song is saying. That's how I set the mood. . . . Most of the time it will come out because it has been thought of carefully and then is brought out."

Chapter 3: Halau Hula (Dance)

Although Mapuana [deSilva] is the kumu, the halau has gradually become a shared responsibility between her and Kihei. During conversation, the kumu often defers to her husband. Once the silent partner in Mohala `Ilima, Kihei now enjoys articulating the philosophies that guide them.

"It's so different," he said. "It's still competitive in the sense that we enter competitions, but it's noncompetitive in that we don't have a life-or-death interest in the results. To me, the intensity is just as strong in the depth of our understanding of what we are doing, when the dancers really feel the message and meaning and they have an understanding of it--when they have more to think about than their lines or their feet or their hands.

"Of course, our dancers have to learn those things--the stress on formation and precision--but there's much more to teach and talk about. The dancers are learning to sing because Mapuana wants them to enjoy their dancing--singing while they're dancing! And something else is happening; we're not very strong on drill anymore--more emphasis on meaning. There is a transition taking place in our hula, from hula as a visual presentation to hula as a spiritual and meaningful presentation. In order to convey that, to make that change, we need dancers who are willing to spend a lot of time learning what it is they are dancing."

Kihei cited the halau's study of the Hawaiian language as the best evidence that the dancers understand what they are dancing. "It's interesting now how many of the students don't need to be told to smile because they understand so well what they are doing that they don't need the prompt."

Chapter 4: `Olelo (Language)

Government efforts to perpetuate the language have the secondary effect of encouraging those individuals who teach `olelo Hawai`i within halau hula, who write Hawaiian poetry and song, and who organize important ceremonies such as the governor's inauguration and the reinterment of Hawaiian remains discovered during the excavation for a hotel on Maui. No longer are these activities culturally isolated.

While all this happens, native enrollment in the university system is increasing. Hawaiian scholars are publishing English translations of older Hawaiian-language materials so a broader audience can learn what native authors wrote a century ago. And poetry, stories, essays, and speeches written in English express the challenge--and the meaning--of being a modern Hawaiian to those who cannot speak `olelo Hawai`i.

More and more people are trying to learn. About seven hundred are enrolled in the Hawaiian Language Department at Manoa, where native language courses became so popular by 1989 that the university did not have enough professors to teach the students and still develop new books and learning programs. Earlier that year, when his brain hemorrhage had forced him to abandon his demolition job, Laiana Wong decided to enroll at the university to study Hawaiian language and linguistics. His wife left her job at the pet clinic to teach preschoolers at Punana Leo and take childhood development courses at Honolulu Community College. Their income came from her salary, Laiana's federal scholarship for native students, and his work translating and later teaching Hawaiian to undergraduates. During his first semester, a language mentor got him a job researching turn-of-the-century Hawaiian-language newspapers. He reeled through the microfilms, looking for stories that could be used in immersion textbooks, because no one had time to write new stories. Whether the words were English or Hawaiian, Laiana read slowly, the stroke having impaired his vision. Laiana identified another kind of impairment. "I used to think, 'Man, reviving the language should be easy. If people were interested in the language, they should all feel the same way and we could just get together and start working.'" But his involvement with immersion had shown him that, while many people want to perpetuate the Hawaiian language, they follow different paths to the same goal. "As a result we have problems."


Chapter 5: Hoe Wa`a (Canoeing)

Of the 211,000 people with Hawaiian ancestry counted in the most recent U.S. Census, more than 72,000 live on the continental United States. And half of those expatriates make their homes in California. In places like Hayward, across the bay from San Francisco, and Gardena, near Los Angeles, Hawaiians and other former island residents have their own nightclubs, restaurants, grocery stores, radio shows, hula schools, and canoe clubs.

Many Hawaiians who have lived on the mainland for decades have not changed the patterns of their island upbringing. They still speak in the pidgin cadences of their youth. They wear rubber slippers. They stockpile rice in fifty-pound bags. In southern California, a group of Hawaiians holds an annual ho`olaulea, a celebration, attended by thousands of people. And some determined athletes meet regularly to paddle outrigger canoes, maintaining an aquatic link to their Hawaiian past. No matter that the traditional koa logs have been updated in fiberglass, resin, and nylon; paddling keeps them in touch with their island home.

Paddling outrigger canoes helped Al forge a deep connection with his Hawaiian heritage, but it came about by accident. On a Friday night in 1964 at the Little Hawaii bar in Los Angeles, Al and his roommates were sucking up Coors when a friend introduced them to Sandy Kahanamoku, nephew of surfing, swimming, and paddling legend Duke Kahanamoku. He invited the group to join him in Santa Monica the following day to watch an outrigger canoe race. At the beach the next morning, they were having a good time watching the regatta when a coach singled them out and told them his team was shorthanded--would they pitch in and paddle in a race? Al Ching had never raced outriggers before, but his time in the Marines had kept his body strong and slender, and as a teenager he had crewed sculls for Kaimuki High and had paddled fishing canoes to diving grounds off Waikiki.

Al and his friends took off their shirts and shoes, rolled up their pants, and climbed into a canoe. One minute they had been spectators, and the next, their paddles were pulling the canoe through the Pacific. They finished in second place. "It was fun," Al remembered. "[Afterward] we were held in high esteem by the Hawaiian community around here because not too many of us paddled then. It was a big thing, though we were just beginners."

Today, Al is in his fifties, but if not for his sun-crinkled eyes and the gray around his temples, anyone would guess he is thirty-five. His brown body is trim and fit, partly because he has paddled for three decades, but mostly because there is another side to Al's happy-go-lucky demeanor. He is intense and competitive, with the discipline to wake up at 3 a.m. Monday through Friday, clean office buildings before the workers arrive, go home, get his two sons ready for school as their mother leaves for her job, drop the boys off, then go to work on his canoes or house before picking up his sons after school and taking them to afternoon sports.

Chapter 6: He`e Nalu (Surfing)

Brian [Keaulana] knows both worlds, the good and the bad. Makaha Beach is just a few blocks from his house, and people constantly stop by the lifeguard towers to check the surf, drop off family or friends, swap stories. Some arrive clear-eyed, with athletic bodies toned and tanned from years of surfing Makaha. Others shamble in a fog, bellies drooping over their shorts as they gulp another Budweiser. Businessman, derelict, or high school student--Brian regards everyone equably. "You treat people nice," he said, sitting in the lifeguard tower while his eyes remained focused on the beach, "people treat you nice. We get treated accordingly."

Brian joined the Honolulu County Department of Parks and Recreation as a lifeguard in 1978. After serving at various O`ahu beaches for eleven years, in 1989 he was promoted to lieutenant for Leeward O`ahu, and then captain in 1993. His lieutenants supervise all the lifeguards on the coast, making sure the beaches are staffed and equipped, while Brian testifies before politicians about the need for improving water safety. Then he goes back to the west side and continuess his study and charting of currents, shorelines, and hazards. Brian is compiling the data so the traditionally reactive lifeguards can be taught to foresee problems and reduce future risks.

Before, when Brian was on duty at Makaha, he kept watch over children at the water's edge and occasionally rescued tourists from the rip. On work breaks and weekends, he paddled his surfboard out for a few sets. If the surf was meager, Brian bodysurfed. If there was no surf, he sailed his canoe or a board. If the wind wasn't blowing, he paddled, dove, or fished. After buying a WaveRunner III (Yamaha's version of a Jet Ski), which dramatically reduced the time for performing sea rescues, he and three friends circled O`ahu on their jet-propelled craft. Many people focus on one ocean sport and denigrate others, but "we on the west shore are bred as watermen," Brian said. "We enjoy the ocean regardless of what we are doing. Our ancestors weren't just surfers. Their whole life-style was based on survival--'We have to feed one another. We have to get water. We have to fish.' When there was time to relax and surf, they went out in the water and played. For us guys, it's the same way of living, in a modern sort of way. My friends who work on the beach, they living from paycheck to paycheck. The career lifeguard is not really doing it for the money. They like to help people.

"And [while helping], we try and perfect each thing that we do. That's where I think we got our competitive attitude. I kind of like to compete and see where I stand, what caliber. If I'm not good in that [sport], I kind of concentrate on that more. . . . I like to enter events, any kind events, just to keep the competitor in me up. You can always learn more strategy. You always can fine tune your ability in contests. For me, I enter everything and anything. . . . It's kind of like sharpening the knife so it doesn't dull."

Chapter 7: Kapa (Tapa)

The sun soon burned away the clouds, and heat withered the group. Teumere wove a wreath of leaves to shade her head. The truck stopped beside a coconut tree so everyone could have a drink. The assistant climbed the tree and cut some coconuts, which he husked on a stake chopped from the brush. He cracked the nuts open with a rock, and the group drank.

The road gave out after the coconuts, and the entourage continued on foot up the Vai Momoiri path, through the makatea--the coral that had risen from the sea to surround the island. The Atiuans showed Kana`e [Keawe] a large stone formation--the testicles of the god Maui--and the cave where the sons of Chief Ruapunga once lived.

Teumere headed down the trail, swinging the machete and laughing as her green dress fluttered around her stout body. Suddenly, she stopped. There on her right were the trees in her dream--the long, straight stalks of mati, a species of fig suitable for bark cloth. She struggled to cut through the bark until Kana`e gave her one of his shark-toothed knives; then she quickly pulled the edge down the length of the tree and with the assistant's help pulled off the split bark. They found more stalks, stripped off the bark, and rolled them into bundles, which they secured with vines and stacked on the path.

Atiu enchanted Kana`e. He was far from the demands of his American life--mortgage, bankers, building codes, and power grids that represent walls for so many people. On Atiu, life is still deeply rooted in the land and the old ways. Earlier, the group had passed a crew of men who laughed as they worked on the island's coral runway with shovels. The men waved, and Kana`e recognized several of them from the previous night at the Tumu Nu. Through the sun's glare, he could see they were sweating, but the men seemed unconcerned. Like Teumere, several had stepped into the jungle to weave wreaths to cool their heads. The night before, Kana`e had heard them sing with a joy that comes only from the heart, and now, as they labored, the joy was still evident.

Chapter 8: Lapa`au (Healing)

Before plantations covered the island slopes with green sugarcane fields and neat rows of pineapple, native forests flourished. The plants and trees were used by Hawaiian families to make medicines, as well as for food and shelter. According to native historians, good health for the Hawaiians depended on the well-being of the forest, so they took care of the kukui groves, where they planted kalo; the hala trees, whose leaves were plaited into mats for their houses; the coconuts, bananas, and breadfruit, which helped sustain them; and the `olena, `awa, popolo, noni, ki, ko, mamake, hinahina, hau, ko`oko`olau, limu, and other plants and shrubs, which healed them.
Foreigners planning to expand the sugarcane business regarded these people as poor. They did not understand how the wealth of the land enriched the Hawaiians' spirits and bodies in ways that Western "improvements" could not. Perhaps that is why the mother of William Kahu`ena decided in 1919 to send her pure Hawaiian infant away from downtown Honolulu. He went to live with his grandparents in Wailea, an isolated town in the Hamakua district on the island of Hawai`i.
The Hawaiian-speaking elders welcomed the child into a house thatched with pili and paved with stones. Wherever Grandfather went, the boy followed, usually on the old man's back as he walked up the mountain to cultivate kalo or down to the beach, where Bill played and fished from the stream. Everywhere they ventured, Bill absorbed strength and knowledge from the rugged land, and he grew into a robust and independent boy. On Bill's first day of school, he encountered a teacher who beat him because he spoke Hawaiian. The boy threw a desk at the man and never went back. "And from then on," Bill remembered decades later, "my grandfolks taught me how to live off the land, which consists of going up the mountain and getting all the things that we had up in the mountain or down at the beach, in the river. We traveled out in the deep ocean, out in canoe."
Along the paths of land and sea, Bill learned how to use plants to catch lunch from a stream, how to build a fire to cook, and how to turn bamboo into a spear to catch dinner from the reef. His grandparents also showed him which plants can heal and how to prepare the leaves, roots, bark, and fruit as medicines.
Bill grew into "oni kalalea ke ku a ka la`au loa" (a tall tree that stands above others). Even in his seventies, gray-haired, he mirrored the forests of his youth: tall, robust, brown, silently offering visitors shade, fruit, comfort, or medicine. From a Western perspective, his humility did not make sense. This man grew up Hawaiian, as fluent in the language as he was in the indigenous crafts and medicines. He had adapted to the changes brought about by annexation, World War II, and statehood, and Uncle Bill endured with the steadfastness of a giant koa tree, observing the world in a quiet, friendly manner, shy in the presence of strangers eager to learn his knowledge. His voice, barely audible but always polite, shared without embellishment, even with family or his friends at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. When others might have bragged before the reporter's tape recorder, he simply said, "What I know about medicine, it took me a quite while. I had to grow up with it. I used to go to up-mountain and pick the medicine up . . . and bring back and prepare it for my grandfolks and my granduncle, and they showed me how to apply it."

Chapter 9: Pono (Righteousness)

Kaua`i had been that kind of safe place for Mahealani [Kamauu] while she was growing up. There, in the Lawa`i gardens of her mother, aunties, and uncles, she had the freedom to become almost anyone. And even though plantation work was difficult, Mahealani's family always made time to enjoy music and family celebrations, just as she would later free herself from obligations to make time for poetry, creative writing, and family and friends.

Mahealani recalled that freedom as she prepared her speech for the annual celebration of Ka La Ho`iho`i Ea (Restoration Day), which commemorates the day in July 1843 when a British admiral restored King Kamehameha III to sovereignty after the native Hawaiian government had been surrendered for six months to an English lord and his terrorizing warship.

"I stand before you a person utterly committed to freedom for our people. Freedom not to coerce others into believing the way I do, but freedom that our people may make their own choice--to be free and self-determining.

"I will never exhort you to hate or condemn your brothers and sisters. For when you hate or condemn your brothers and sisters, you invite hate and condemnation upon yourself.

"Understand your humble place as a being in this great universe--you are one with all things in it. If you send hate, it will return to eat you. You know this. It was taught by our kupuna.

"Instead, let us choose life-affirming love for our people. . . . We commit every ounce of our spiritual, intellectual, and physical energy to make this world work for us."

Two hundreds years of epidemics, dispossession, and oppression have left many Hawaiians distrustful, not only of those whom they consider oppressors, but of one another as well. Although factionalism and infighting have hindered most struggles for independence and self-governance, including the colonial American struggle in the eighteenth century, outsiders and some Hawaiians expect unity. Mahealani ignores such expectations.

"Sovereignty is greater than the sum of all our parts," Mahealani said, speaking as the woman in the middle who has worked with many different factions. "I refuse to succumb to partisan infighting. I am very idealistic. I see sovereignty as an ideal, and it is a vision that we should work toward together. We have to. You talk about nationhood. My nation includes all of us. It is not exclusive. So, therefore, I think it's appropriate for me to work with all people who share the vision. Obviously they have their differences, but I can't allow these differences to become an impediment. I refuse.

"My preference is full, sovereign, international status, but my overriding concern is that the decision reflect our collective will, and I am willing to accede to that, whatever it may be."

Chapter 10: Ho`omana (Religion)

When Craig Neff first landed on the island [of Kaho`olawe], in 1983, two years after the Navy began to allow native access, he thought he knew what it meant to be Hawaiian. "When I was growing up, I was always locked into being Hawaiian. That was one thing I liked and I felt strong about. . . . I was listening to Hawaiian music. I tried to see things Hawaiian. . . . I thought walking around with your Hawaiian T-shirt, having one Hawaiian flag on the back of your car, paddling, whatever, was making you Hawaiian. But when I went over to the island, it really hit me what being Hawaiian was.

"When you're off [Kaho`olawe], you don't have to like the guy walking on the street because you don't know him. But on the island, anybody walk by, you tell `em 'howzit' or something like that. It's a different feeling because you're dependent on this person. If you get hurt, he has to do something to take care of you. It's a different way of thinking."

The first time Craig visited Kaho`olawe, the sun and stars shone in clear skies for three days. But on the last night, after he had taken part in a ceremonial walk across the island, after prayers and offerings to the god Lono, clouds moved over the island, and it rained and rained--live-giving rain for the thirsty land. "That's what we were asking for, hoping for," Craig remembered, "and we stayed up the whole night talking story 'cause it was just too wet to even sleep. And the next day it was a nice, beautiful day. . . . As we left the island . . . we had to swim out and jump on this big catamaran, and I looked back and I just started to cry, and I told the person who went over with me, 'What I went through, that was one for the Hawaiians.'"

Afterward, Craig decided Kaho`olawe was the place to be. "This is the key to get into what I was looking for. It wasn't going around beating up people, or yelling at people . . . that's not the goal of being Hawaiian. . . . [It was] going over [to Kaho`olawe and helping to restore the island] and learning. . . . When I came back and seen O`ahu, the streets and everything paved . . . [for the first time] I could feel the ground under the asphalt just suffocating. It's a living thing, and if you put concrete or asphalt over it, you're killing, you're suffocating it. I could feel that when I was driving on the road. . . . [Kaho`olawe] and its people really changed the way I thought."