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?
One month in, I have found my answers. (Answers, I must admit, that 'Iokepa Hanalei 'Imaikalani never doubted.)
We've been in New York City; we've been in rural Appalachia. We've been in Blue states, in Red States, and in states that are still making up their political minds. The difference in audience response across the great political divide is invisible to us.
'Iokepa insisted that they would be. He also insisted that our message was profoundly tuned to 2017 ears and fears. I've come to agree.
To a group of writers in mid-town Manhattan; to a gathering of Unitarians (theist and not) in Southwest Virginia the ancient rhythms of the Native Hawaiian chants resonate. The chants - the oral transmission of culture for many thousands of years - speak still to hearts and to minds. 'Iokepa opens: "Ka'ua hele haupu ka wa ma mua. We come to remember the past...."
Our readers and supporters have heard 'Iokepa's message before. I've written it often. You've heard him speak of a matriarchal culture that refused hostility, hierarchy, and war for more than 12,000 years - and then describe the rituals those women devised to assure that peace. You've heard him celebrate the weave of all of Creation - the inseparability of the whale, the albatross, the ki leaf from the human family. It is what the Native Hawaiians lived (3,000 miles from any large land mass) to survive. You've heard him speak of community - of responsibility for those leaves, fish, birds and humans. All of us give and all of us take - no one gets to opt out of that circle.
Somehow, in the thick of this most ferociously divided America, the ancient Native Hawaiian culture - the gift of 'Iokepa's Grandmothers - resonates. It more than resonates; it soothes; it inspires; it reminds us of a path out of the morass that suffocates us in forgetfulness.