I have lived in Hawai'i for seventeen years now. I have, for every one of those years, been profoundly engaged with my husband's indigenous people. And yet I have been blind-sided by what was flourishing directly in front of my apparently, shortsighted eyes. Of course, I knew about Hawai'inuiakea - the School of Hawaiian Knowledge - created in 2007 within the stereotypically western educational system that is the University of Hawai'i
This appears to be, of all things, a story about houses. But appearances can be deceiving. And though I am describing a singular life spent sleeping in tents and car-seats for ten years, and another seven years in other people's beds - this is decidedly not a comparative study of canvas walls or bucket seats versus bricks and mortar. Readers of these posts and of my books, Grandmothers Whisper and The Return Voyage, know a fair amount of the personal history here.
I met 'Iokepa Hanalei 'Imaikalani at sunrise Christmas morning, 1997. Count them: that was seventeen years ago. Perhaps you read about our first ten years together on the Hawaiian Islands in Grandmothers Whisper. Then we took the Native Hawaiian ancestral wisdom on the highways of America for the first time on September 7, 2007. That was seven years ago. For approximate half of each of those years, we accumulated 95,000 car miles, speaking in homes and churches, bookstores and clubs. Perhaps you've read about those seven years in The Return Voyage.
Hawai'i is many things to many people. To my parents back in the early '60s, it was the most romantic interlude of their 58 year marriage. (So much so, that when I broke my mother's heart by falling in love with a Native Hawaiian that moved me 6,000 air miles from Baltimore, she resisted...but she understood.) To many a tourist, it feels like such a calling that they wind up packing up their homes in California or Oregon or Minnesota and relocating permanently.
We are frightened of all the wrong things. We are terrified that we will die; we are afraid of how we will die. Let me count the ways: by cancer, by Ebola, by terrorists, by warring gangs on city streets. We expend so much of our life-juices fearing the obvious, the inevitable. In fact: we will die. We are nothing, if we are not mortal. There is a far greater danger than that inevitability. It is the horror of a severely circumscribed life - to live, but to have never really lived at all.
This is not going to be an easy story to tell. Not easy because I might seem to be targeting our dearest friends, our most heart-felt supporters: the uniformly educated, caring progressive, environmentalists on our Island. These are Americans; many who moved here years ago. They love these Hawaiian Islands, and they feel the pain inherent in the glaringly apparent destruction all around us. These are Americans who care that the reef fish are now toxic and inedible, the rivers are poisoned with the run-off from cattle feces, the fields and hence the ocean around us are full of pesticides. These are not Native Hawaiians, but they are the very best of the malihini (guests) who've arrived and settled these sacred Islands of my husband's people.
Exactly as they are doing elsewhere on the continent this week, here in Hawai'i Americansare casting early-voting ballots in primary elections. We are voting for state offices - the governor, the legislature; we are voting for federal offices - the U.S. Senator. Unique to the Islands, we are voting, as well, for the Board of Trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs - the only governing body for all things and anything Native Hawaiian.
'Iokepa and I have been gratified by the considerable response to the "Add Your Voice to the Cry for Freedom" essay that precedes this one on this page. From just one of our supporters in faraway Virginia: "My eyes were filled with tears as I read the Ever Changing Page account of 'Iokepa at the hearings. It surely feels as if the tide is starting to turn. What an amazing and intense time. I was picturing and feeling 'Iokepa... broadcasting out from within as he stood before the Hawaiians gathered at the hearing. How empowering. It is really happening. It touches a cry deep place within me. I am looking forward to watching this all unfold. The U.S. government is facing way more than they realize. The light is overcoming the dark."
For the last six months, we were on the road with our new book, The Return Voyage; we drove across the American continent and spoke out on behalf of my husband's people. We return home to witness the budding fruit of years ofloving-labor on behalf of the sorely oppressed Native Hawaiian people, and their inspiring culture.
Thanks to Doctor Seuss, when the calendar announces the annual cap and gown ceremonies, his classic book (named in the title of this essay) speaks to the day. I think of this now becauseit's June and there is another generation heading into those places. Some of those places will be comforting; some, threatening - that's the Seuss-an map. 'Iokepa Hanalei 'Imaikalani and I have a couple weeks left before our flight home to Hawai'i from this pastoral spot in Virginia. I'm reminded that there's a story that remains to be told before we leave. It could be called, "Oh The Places We've Been..." Perhaps, it is these words rather than Dr. Seuss's(we're not, after all, twenty-two year old grads) that should head this post.
September will mark seven years since 'Iokepa Hanalei ‘Īmaikalani and I took this low-tech, low-profile, ancestral-driven show on the road. That is seven years since we packed up our ten years of grooming on the beaches of Hawai'i and took the Hawaiian Grandmothers' wisdom and our stories to those willing ears and hearts across the United States. In these years, 'Iokepa has repeated his Grandmothers' words often. He's been nothing if now consistent. When the good folks in our audiences raise their hands and ask, "What can I do to help?," he has answered always, "When you hear something positive happening on the Islands, please offer a prayer for the Hawaiian people."
There is a new member of our family, and all words feel patently ridiculously predictable. "Miraculous" doesn't replicate the adrenaline rush, the heart-thumping anxieties, the feel of that newly exposed-to-our-atmosphere skin. 'Iokepa and I were immutable fixtures just outside the door at the moment ofher birth (and for ten hours before). We were inside that door with baby in arms immediately after. (At the climatic moments I was literally on my knees with my head glued to the door.)
The last three months on the road with The Return Voyage have been snugly scheduled with just a bit of breathing room. Our schedule page tells the story. We've just returned fromour spin through the southeastern states; we're back at our base camp here in the northern Shenandoah Valley. We are now doing something that 'Iokepa and I very seldom do - we are waiting. We do not wait, because indigenous Hawaiians did not wait. Like all tribal peoples, they lived every moment - no, every breath - with absolute awareness that it might be their last. There was only today, this breath. Everything else was illusory; everything future was unknowable. To expect, to wait, was to refuse to live this breath fully.
It is winter on my skin and in my bones. I am bundled from the top of my head to my wool-encased feet. The plunge from eighty degrees to twenty degrees was abrupt and challenging. The first question we've been asked during the past couple weeks in Seattle and Portland, in Baltimore and now in northern Virginia is: "Why are you here in the winter?" We are here in the winter because that is when folks choose to come out of their caves to attend book events, to listen to the itinerant speaker - to invite us to share our story. In the summer and autumn they are traveling and active in other ways.
This is a story that I’ve never before told. I hesitate even now – perhaps twelve years after the fact. My hesitation still hinges on Thanksgiving, for goodness sake. Thanksgiving: uncontaminated by commercialism; serving up my favorite foods; and celebrating gratitude. It’s a hard holiday not to love.
Racism: it’s in no way subtle. But neither is it consistent. There are ironies that would be laughable if they weren’t so painful. Like a bad joke, it only hurts when I laugh. So our president, Mr. Barack Obama – whose mother hails from Kansas and whose father was the son of an African tribal chief (making our president by any mathematical calculation half white and half black, and royalty to boot) – had his fate sealed in American eyes, word, and deed. He is simply “Black;” no subtleties are permitted.
The ancestral grandmothers have spoken. ‘Iokepa Hanalei ‘Īmaikalani and I are on the edge of our seats with excitement. Huliau–the Return Voyage is about to shift into an entirely new direction. The goal remains the same. Within the authentic Native Hawaiian experience lies the answer for a contemporary world tormented by rage, greed, and war. It is ours to seize the ancients’ gifts – to return to that which all of us are born knowing. We carry it in our very bones, this memory of another way.
Tell me why it’s so much easier for modern men and women to delineate – to draw big black lines around our thoughts and our hearts, to categorize, to isolate, toseparate – than not. Oddly, this ability has come to pass for intelligent, educated discourse, for a level of sophistication. I suggest that it is none of the above. Now tell me why aboriginal men and women (the ones whom we tend to dismiss as primitive) saw only unity, only the connections, the relationships, the whole. They could not, in fact, see other than that.
On January 13, 2012, my oldest friend on this earth died. She was the model of modesty, empathy and a hard-work that she consistently made to look easy - in sum, grace.
On May 20, 2012, 'Iokepa and I were crushed in our automobile by ayoung man driving 80 miles an hour in a 40 mile zone - heavily intoxicated and then running on foot away from our destroyed car and my damaged body. When we met this truly nice young man days afterwards - in a jail cell - he touched us deeply with the goodness of himself and his life. We found the divine where we least expected it.
For five autumns now, ‘Iokepa and I have found ourselves strangers in unknown distant cities. Each year we’ve had to unearth a Jewish congregation from the yellow pages, and solicit an invitation to celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in their large urban synagogue. Without exception, we’ve been embraced. But it is here in our tiny Kaua’i Jewish Community that we find home. Blessedly, we are home again this year for these most sacred Days of Awe.