Twenty one years ago 'Iokepa relinquished every single material relic of his abundant and privileged life. He surrendered to the call of his ancestral grandmothers, his Native Hawaiian culture, and his destiny. Ten months later, I joined him. I surrendered a successful writing career, a magnificent hilltop, glass home - and my claim to being a sensible, feet-on-the-ground pragmatist - for the love of the man and the inspiration of his native culture. To those who know the back-story, this isn't new:
For ten of those years, as recounted in Grandmothers Whisper, we lived together on the Hawaiian beaches - legally and illegally - sleeping in fourteen sequential tents and a seriously aging Camry. We lived without phone, computer, television or any connection other than the strengthening aboriginal tie to one another, the ancestors, and all of the natural world.
For the next ten years, we've taken the story of those early years and the authentic history of this kanaka maoli culture back and forth across the continental U.S.- and spoken to audiences of every conceivable composition: age, ethnicity, social and economic background.
So for twenty years now, almost everything we owned could (and did) fit in the trunk of our car. We were without a conventional home for seventeen years- but saw ourselves as house-less, rather than homeless. That changed dramatically three years ago when we were gifted an actual brick-and-mortar house to call our own. Out-of-the-blue a generous supporter insisted that 6,205 nights in search of a place to lay our heads was enough - that our work and our time should be better spent
The Heart of the Story.
I've already written that story in some detail. What I omitted and plan to address here is the quirkier one - when all material possession had been repeatedly relinquished, what remains? What on this good earth did we value enough to keep?
So many folks across the continent (and on our Islands) have been moved to gift - to contribute to our welfare. We have never charged a penny for the work that we do - then or now. But when we speak, a silent donation basket sits nearby. We depend on it for food, gas, toothpaste - the bare necessities - then and now. But - as often as our audience members drop nickels and dollars into that basket, they have also left books and crystals and feathers and more. We receive each offering with gratitude.
However when your life's physical bounty (by necessity and choice) fits in the trunk of a medium-sized sedan, and your life is determined by continual surrender...well. Typically, we found the perfect recipient at the next stop on our speaking-tour. We'd pass it on. That has been the reality of our life - both on Island and on the road.
However, a very few of those gifts - and there really is no sensible explanation or common theme here - got tucked away for a future we could not have foreseen. These totems of our life on the 'aina and on the road remain.
And so just three years ago, when this house on Kaua'i (where we live, but refused to own) manifested - we re-discovered and unwrapped the totems (the memories) that claim a place in our hearts, and now in our house.
Behind me as I write: the now-framed three magnificent prints - the Native American ledger art of Butch Thunderhawk. We met him at the United Tribes Technical College where he teaches in Bismarck, North Dakota...how many years ago? He insisted that we trade Grandmothers Whisper and The Return Voyage for the prints of our choice. He instructed us on the intimate stories behind each cultural symbol he drew, and he generously signed them to "Inette and 'Iokepa. May your love last forever."
There was no way we could not find room under the suitcases in our trunk for Butch's art. Now they too have a home.
Also: around the corner from where I sit at my desk right now and nestled into our front room bay window, sits a singular high heel slipper unlike any other woman's shoe on this planet. It announces itself loudly in royal blue and vibrant green gems, silver sparkles, and polka-dotted feathers. Tucked inside the shoe itself (where no foot is ever meant to slide) is the small plastic baby traditionally found in the New Orleans King Cakes for Mardi Gras.
'Iokepa and I were the privileged guests of friends in New Orleans during the days that preceded Mardi Gras . We stood - years ago now - within the outrageously rambunctious crowd witnessing the traditional and world-renowned parade of Krewes (social clubs) . The parades commenced. Plastic bead necklaces were hurled in every directions from float to crowd. We were not there for the bounty - yet beads, candy, and dollar-store tzotches were unavoidable hoisted at us. We handed it off to nearby children..
Finally, the Krewe of Muses parade arrived. Historically, every single Mardi Gras Krewe member was required to be male. But the Muses were a post-Katrina phenomenon. These were talented, feminist artists with unlimited imagination. They designed magnificent floats that were both politically-salient and laugh-out-loud funny. The crowd was going bananas - screaming and waving signs that begged, "Throw me a shoe!!!"
Apparently, these artists had created (maybe just a dozen) lavishly decorated shoes for the parade crowd - each wrapped in cellophane, tied with ribbon and dropped into the grasping hands of the rare lucky crowd member. It was considered the prize of Mardi Gras..
'Iokepa and I stepped back deeper into the crowd, allowing the jockeying "Shoe!!: sign-holders to take their places up front. We ogled float after float - the passing intricacies of design and the power of political statement - until finally, the parade stopped in front of us. Then, from three levels above us, one woman stepped out to the edge of the float gripping a shoe. She studied the frenzied crowd, and then assertively pointed one determined finger at me. The masses of people on every side of us divided - creating a path for me to step forward.
This feminist artist, salt-and-pepper-hair woman gently dropped the cellophane wrapped, silver bow-tied shoe directly into my (feminist artist, salt-and-pepper-hair woman) hands. The crowd cheered their approval, and the parade continued.
And oh, inside that cellophane there was note: "Hi Muse Fan! Here it is! A for real glitter shoe from the muses! Please love it and give it a good home! I worked many an hour to make this little work of art, and my fondest wish is to one day find one of my shoes in someone's home. Maybe it'll be yours. Carol-Jean Dixon."
We housed that shoe in a clear plastic shoe box for years. Yes, it took up considerably more trunk space than Butch Thunderhawk's prints,. But the moment that this house appeared, we went online, found Ms. Dixon and sent her a photo of that shoe sitting in our front window with tropical palm trees and orchids visible behind.
Seventeen years without a place to hang or display a piece of art. Apparently, after food and gas and toothpaste - the human soul needs beauty and meaning. Of course, we've found both within our Island's unstintingly lavish nature. But it is so very precious, too, delivered from the hands of our fellow humans. And that, my friends, is worth saving.