I was contemplatively hurling my Pellegrino bottles into the Kaua'i community recycling bin, last week, when I heard my name called. I turned to the open-arm welcome of an acquaintance newly returned from Macchu Picchu. This is a woman, who, I am aware, treasures the living truths of indigenous culture - not far removed from one herself.
She wanted me to understand the hopes she'd invested in her dream journey to the relics of the Inca nation. She told me, she'd hiked the old Inca trail to the mountaintop, eagerly anticipating communion with these ancients. She wanted me to know, too, how horribly she'd been disappointed .
Okay, we get it, many Americans are deeply attached to the nice round number on our national flag - fifty states, fifty stars - and the unchanging thirteen colonial stripes. We celebrate, as the Fiddler on the Roof did, "Tradition!"
But over dinner the other night, some anguished, equally-colonized, indigenous Hawaiians offered a somewhat tongue-in-cheek solution to the flag issue, as a microcosm of their much larger heartbreak.
A funny thing happened on our way home from the Woman's March on Washington last January.'Iokepa and I were stuck shoulder-to-shoulder, buttock-to-buttock within a (genteel) crowd of exhausted Marchers hermetically-sealed inside a disabled Metro car in a subway tunnel underneath the Nation's Capital - for three hours. This after more than 12 hours enthusiastically chanting, marching, waving signs, and generally placing our aging bodies in the Women's Rights column amidst 500,000 other bodies. It was the day after the Presidential Inauguration.
Alright, I concede that a great deal of what I'm about to contemplate can be seen in the light of having lived most of my life in a time when letter-writing was a life-changing art - emotionally wrought and eagerly awaited; telephones were attached to a wall - and refused to accompany us away from home or office; and an overheated car radiator required standing by the side of the highway in the rain waving down help. And so our banks, bookstores, daily necessities were more than an interaction with keyboard or a mouse. These were unavoidable reminders that we are not alone on this planet - and that other humans (disappointing, aggravating, and occasionally comforting human beings) share our world.
Our audiences are diverse: ethnically, economically, geographically - and this year in particular, when these differences are so glaring and stark - politically. Human beings appear to have been reduced to their silk-screened, t-shirt and baseball cap slogans. And so before we began this winter's speaking tour, I worried - a lot. 1. How do we speak words outside of the smothering political rhetoric? 2. Within the current din of fear and anger, would our audiences care about the Native Hawaiian people and their generous but much-oppressed culture?
A Bit of History
For about twenty years (starting January 30, 1997), 'Iokepa Hanalei 'Imaikalani has been an obedient mo'opuna - grandson. Daily, he has listened for the voices - the direct guidance - of his ancestral Hawaiian Grandmothers. "I hear them as I hear you right now," he explains to Westerners. Native Hawaiians need no explanation. They know they'd be lost without the direct intervention of loving ancestors.
During the five Winter and Spring months when we are not home on our Island, it is pretty darned obvious how we fill our days. We drive through snow, ice, and sometimes sunshine to the disparate locales where we've been invited to speak - invited to share the empowering truth of the Native Hawaiian people and their ancient culture. We ask for nothing except the hospitality of our sponsoring hosts. We encounter widely diverse audiences. Every Return Voyage gathering is as unique as the faces in the front row. We're pretty darn agile.
For those of our friends and supporters who have followed 'Iokepa Hanalei 'Imaikalani and my journey- our Return Voyage to cultural and personal authenticity - there is really no need for background here. But I always anticipate new readers, and so for those folks and others who may have missed last year's post, I insert a link. http://returnvoyage.com/wordpress/na-kaa-mea-change-in-the-winds/
As a matter of fact, as a matter of principle, as a matter of Native Hawaiian cultural authenticity - 'Iokepa Hanalei 'Imaikalani does not point fingers. Better to assume responsibility than to blame As a matter of fact, as a matter of taste - he does not plaster our cars with bumper stickers. He believes that actions, not advertised opinions, speak louder than words. And yet, he is about to make an exception.
Preamble to the Constitution of the Native Hawaiian Nation "We, the indigenous peoples of Hawai'i, descendants of our ancestral lands from time immemorial, share a common national identity, culture, language, traditions, history, and ancestry. We are a people who aloha Akua, aloha 'aina, and aloha each other. We malama all generations, from keiki to kupuna, including those who have passed on and those yet to come. We malama our 'aina and affirm our ancestral rights and kuleana to all lands, waters, and resources of our islands and surrounding seas. We are united in...
Okay, so my husband is very carefully non-political. He argues that his people were "never politicians" and when they were drawn, against their nature, into that arena, they were sorely used and abused. That continues still. Instead, 'Iokepa Hanalei 'Imaikalani's every spoken word is directed at the cultural resurrection of his Native Hawaiian people. His voice is strong; his passion is unquenchable; his work is unending. He does not identify himself in word, deed, or government issued ID, as American. He is a sovereign Native Hawaiian working toward the resurrection of his occupied nation. So obviously he does not vote in American elections.
A version of this post has sat dormant in this computer (actually in its Toshiba predecessor) for seven years. That may be a single record for this writer's patience. And so this story began eight years ago. For all of those years, readers of this website and of our books, and audiences at our speaking engagements across the American continent have discovered that my husband, 'Iokepa Hanalei 'Imaikalani has somesurprising gifts. We know him to be an inspiring spokesperson for his culture, a crystal-shattering chanter of the ancient Native Hawaiian words, and a serious wielder of a 20-inch chain saw. There is very little that he cannot figure out a way to fix. I assumed that I pretty-much knew the parameters of my husband's talents.
Never before have I been moved to do this. In the past, when a comment was too long for this space, I simply shortened it. But this time, the letter is so profoundly important - such a genuine affirmation of the work that 'Iokepa and I try to do, and the work that is at hand across the planet - that I am turning my Post over to this letter-writer. Sonia Trepetin attended our Return Voyage event in Reisterstown, Maryland a few nights ago. She wrote this afterwards.
At this very moment in time - yesterday, today - the Native people of Hawai'i are choosing their course. These inveterate ocean voyagers are: summoning the strength of their ancestors; owning the cultural practices that were outlawed for a century; and reclaiming their birthright connection to the land, the ocean, and to every living bit of creation, Churning in, around, andamong the original inhabitants of these tiny Islands is a veritable ocean of potential change. It has caused many of our friends to scratch their well-meaning heads in confusion; ask for an explanation; beg for understanding.
This is the one story that I've been struggling to tell, More to the point, it's the one piece that I've been painfully trying to shrink to website-size. It is the incredibly exciting story of the Native Hawaiians cohering into a formidable traditional nation - and reclaiming the culture (the world) that was stolen first by Calvinist missionaries, next by their sugar cane baron sons, and finally by Capitalism and it's off-spring tourism - the rape of indigenous peoples across this earth. And now, the kanaka maoli - the aboriginal Hawaiian people - are re-discovering that which unites them.
Is it possible that indigenous peoples - Native Americans from the tip of Chile to the North Pole - and yes, the Native Hawaiian people out in the middle of the Pacific as well - still pose a threat to the rest of us immigrants, settlers and colonizers? Is it possible that these indigenous peoples, who have, by this point in time, been dispossessed of every conceivable cultural, economic, and political strength, still manage to pose a threat to our non-indigenous lives and livelihood? Whew, I wouldn't have thought it. I have lived on Hawai'i among the Kanaka Maoli (aboriginal people) for eighteen years.
In these nineteen years together, 'Iokepa and I have made a practice of crossing the Pacific Ocean twice annually. It's something we do alone as a couple. We fly to the continent to speak the words of the Native Hawaiian ancestors - and after some months, we fly back home. We visit with our family and friends in both places, but we don't cross the Pacific Ocean with them. Yet, there seems to have been an omnipresent someone who has shadowed our airplane's jet trail over these many years. Madi Kertonegoro is an accomplished visual artist from the Island of Bali.
A dear friend, who graciously hosts us when our work takes us to New York City, posed this semi-sardonic question. She'd read our post announcing that - after eighteen years sleeping in tents, car seats, and rapidly shifting house-sits - we'd been gifted a home of our own. Her question prodded me. Clearlywe owe our readers a bit more of the story. Snug in an actual "home of our own" (and no, we neither own it, nor do we pay the expenses involved in owning); we have been gifted its permanence and its comforts. We chose it, no strings attached.
I am not young. I have lived long enough to know something about massive throngs of mostly young people marching shoulder to shoulder down city streets, adrenaline pumping, boisterous chanting, punctuated with fists and V-signs - protesting. I have marched; I have protested. My first memory: the University of Wisconsin, 1967, assembling under a shower of tear-gas, when, ironically, Napalm and Agent Orange manufacturer, Dow Chemical, stepped on campus to recruit their future scientists-researchers. Chemicals heaped on chemical protesters.
Let me begin with an acknowledgement: Almost eighteen years ago, I arrived on Kaua'i for a ten-day vacation from Portland, Oregon. I journeyed here for much the same reason that almost every other visitor flocked to the Hawaiian Islands - sun, beach and respite. Two days later I met, a handsome Native Hawaiian, 'Iokepa Hanalei 'Imaikalani. Six months later I packed up home and family and joined lives with this man. So the ground that I stand on to deliver this passionate diatribe is neither higher nor more holy than any other. I truly cringe at the "close the barn door behind me" defense.