My New Year's Resolution for 2013 is to post more frequently on my blog. I confess, I've been waylaid by another of my passions, Turkish language and culture.
But there's no reason why I can't continue to learn the Hawaiian language as I study Turkish, or to play the 'ukulele while I learn about the saz, a traditional stringed instrument played in Turkey.
But today my message is not a Turkish/Hawaiian mix, rather an Oregonian/Hawaiian mix. Pictured here are the Christmas shortbread cookies that I baked, frosted -- and ate. Yum!
As you can see, I had two themes in mind. There's the Christmas tree, looking very much like a Douglas fir. And there's an Oregon state map, complete with a heart. My daughter bought me this cookie cutter last summer at the gift shop in Oregon's Capitol in Salem.
But when I was last in Hawaii, in early October, I visited the Christmas shop at the Outrigger Reef in Waikiki. I bought four Hawaiian-themed cookie cutters: a honu, a mano, a palm tree and a pineapple. I chose just to use the two animals for my cookies. It's one way to bring 'aumakua, spirit animals, to life.
Anyone who has ever strolled along the beach at Waikiki has probably noticed that they shared the sand with a flock or two of pigeons. Meander down Kalakaua Avenue and you'll see many other flocks, some roosting in the nooks and crannies of the banyan trees, such as the tree near the Duke Kahanamoku statue.
I had noticed the pigeon population on earlier trips to Honolulu, but when I was staying last week at the Outrigger Waikiki I saw a photo which made me wonder who brought pigeons to O'ahu in the first place. The photo was of the Outrigger hotel chain's founder, the late Roy Kelley. His arms were full of white pigeons, the kind that are most prevalent in Waikiki. The caption noted that these were his "beloved pigeons."
Was Kelley the pigeon lover who introduced the now ubiquitous birds to Waikiki?
Not even close. I learned that pigeons first started strutting along Hawaii's beaches in the late 1700's, when Kamehameha was first rising to prominence on the island of Hawai'i.
White Kings roosting in a banyan tree
According to the Bishop Museum's Hawaii Biological Survey, which I found online, gray-colored rock pigeons are thought to have been introduced to Hawai'i in 1788, when a ship from China brought its cargo of wild turkeys and pigeons. Shipping records show that pigeons came from the other direction, from Europe, when a ship brought them to Hawai'i in 1796. Those were thought to be gray, as well. Rock pigeons, also known as rock doves (Columba livia) are native to the Mediterranean.
That accounts for the gray ones, but what about the white ones? They're everywhere. Known as White Kings, they're prized by pigeon fanciers. They are also prized for their meat and raised as squab.
Menus from 'Iolani Palace when Kalakaua was king (1874-1891) show that a popular tidbit at state dinners was pigeon on toast. Kalakaua was a man of prodigious appetites, but he also was a lover of beauty and nature. He loved birds and had his own exotic bird collection, located where the Honolulu Zoo is now.
In a 2004 article in the Honolulu Advertiser, a columnist tackled the subject of Waikiki's pigeons. He unearthed the fact that someone named S.Y. Chun brought four pairs of White Kings from Canada in 1876 for the dedication of the Kapi'olani Bird Park, which originated as Kalakaua's personal bird collection.
I found other articles about how the city of Honolulu has over the years tried to control the pigeon population, even by feeding the birds birth control grain. The fact is, plenty of other people feed them and accept them as part of the landscape. Whether you regard pigeons as flying rats or as doves of peace and beauty, they're in Waikiki to stay.
Due to popular demand (well, one person), I'm breathing new life into my blog after months of neglect.
I'm embarrassed that I even failed to remark on the death of the subject of my last post, Herb Kane. He died March 8, 2011, about eight months after my interview. So alas, I never got to collect on his kind offer of an adult beverage served on his lanai. But I was lucky to have a long phone conversation with the legendary artist, whose paintings grace so many rooms throughout the Hawaiian Islands.
Today, on the first day of the new year, I decided to start things out in a mellow manner by reporting on my visit to Portland's first and only kava bar, Bula Kava House. This was not my first experience with the tranquility-inducing drink, made from the powdered root of the kava, or 'awa, plant. I wrote a blog post about imbibing kava from a coconut shell at Portland State University's lu'au in May 2009. After sampling kava, I didn't mind a bit that the dancing part of the program kept getting delayed. I had all the time in the world.
At Bula, I was served by Jamie Campa, the bartender, or shell tender. I had my choice of two varieties of kava: borogu, which is spicy and energizing ($3.50 per shell); and fu'u, which is more potent and would leave me feeling really mellow ($3.75). I chose fu'u and Jamie ladled the brown liquid from a large glass container into a half coconut shell.
Jamie didn't want me to have to drink alone. After all, kava is a social libation. So she poured a shell for herself and led me through the proper ritual.
Before drinking, we each clapped once. That action would invite positive energy and even friendly ancestors to witness our imbibing. We lifted the shells to our lips and drank without stopping, until the shells were empty. Then we each clapped our hands twice, dispelling any bad energy that managed to sneak in. Finally, we each ate a chunk of fresh pineapple to refresh our palates.
I felt the effects of the kava almost immediately. My lips began to tingle. Warmth spread down my limbs and through my body. I felt -- yeah, real mellow. And I still do.
Jamie told me that although kava's physiological effects are obvious, we were certainly not intoxicated. "There's no foggy thinking, no poor judgment," she informed me. She said I'd feel relaxed, perhaps a tad euphoric. As for her, she said kava makes her feel meditative.
In fact, she said kava is an effective hangover cure. She was surprised there weren't more customers on New Year's Day.
Bula is a multi-purpose word like aloha. In Fijian it means cheers, hello and goodbye. Bula Kava House fits in snugly with some of the hip new eateries on Division Street, including Wafu and Sunshine Tavern. Jamie says the place is hopping every Thursday night, when there's live music, and the first Friday of each month, which is open mic night.
It's an attractive space, with Polynesian masks and local art on the walls. There's even a small library of books about the featured beverage. Titles include "Kava: Nature's Relaxant," "The Pacific Elixir" and "Hawaiian 'Awa: Views of an Ethnobotanical Treasure."
I've had a bit of a hula hiatus. In fact, I bid adieu to my halau at the first of the year. Since then I've just been struggling with more immediate things, like trying to make a living. Hula and all things Hawaiian got put on the back burner.
But about two weeks ago I got a response to a story proposal I had sent to a magazine nearly a year ago. My idea was to profile the great Hawaiian artist Herb Kane for the University of Chicago magazine. I had read that he got his M.A. there in 1953, back when the UC gave degrees to graduates of the Art Institute of Chicago. My clever plan was that I'd get the assignment from the alumni magazine and then work some freelance-writer magic to finagle a free trip to the Big Island.
It didn't work out that way. As so often happens when editors give assignments, she wanted the story wikiwiki. (See? My Hawaiian is coming back to me already!)
Months earlier I had emailed Herb to ask if I could do a story, assuming I'd get an assignment. Now I had to email him and ask him to sit on the phone with me for an hour or so. I got the answer right back: "Let's do it tonight!"
When I called I first expressed my disappointment that I couldn't interview him in person. No worries. He said I'll always be welcome to stop by, sit with him on his lanai and consume some "adult beverages." I wished I were there right then, especially when he described his view -- 1200 feet above Kealakekua Bay. He said he had just done some pruning to keep his view clear, "in case Captain Cook comes back."
I learned some surprising things about a man who is considered a father of the Hawaiian Renaissance. For starters, his mother is Danish and he spent most of his childhood in Wisconsin. But his dad was from a family of taro farmers from the Waipi'o Valley and young Herb spent enough time there to be intrigued by family stories about kings and goddesses and Polynesian voyagers who crossed the ocean before settling the Hawaiian Islands.
After he got out of the Navy and returned to the Midwest, Herb entered the School of the Chicago Art Institute on the GI Bill. Herb spent his free time researching ancient canoes in the libraries of the University of Chicago and at the Field Museum. When he wasn't poring over books he was on the water, trying to imagine what Polynesian sailors experienced on the Pacific Ocean by sailing his racing catamaran along the choppy waves of Lake Michigan.
You might say, then, that the Hawaiian Renaissance was born in Chicago, on Lake Michigan. After the director of the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts flew to Chicago to buy from Herb his series of canoe paintings, Herb decided he needed to continue his research in Hawaii. In 1970 he left Chicago and moved to Honolulu, where he and two friends founded the Polynesian Voyaging Society. Herb designed and helped build a replica of one of the large voyaging canoes with which the Polynesians explored the Pacific. The name came to him in a dream. He called it Hokule'a.
The pride Hawaiians felt when they were able to take the Hokule'a on long ocean voyages without navigational instruments, just as their ancestors did, helped the Hawaiian Renaissance take root in a land that was thirsty for self-knowledge. Herb's historically accurate paintings depicting people and places from Hawaii's past helped build interest and pride. The native language was rescued from the brink of extinction. People who now have the opportunity to learn Hawaii's language, its folk arts, music and history owe Herb Kawainui Kane their great thanks. Check out his paintings at his Online Retrospective, here.
As we all sit down to draw up our New Year's Resolution before the beginning of 2010, I wonder how many among us are once again hoping to drop some pounds and finally achieve that stunning, slim figure. To that end, I'd like to share information about a wonderful device that allows you to partake in a vigorous hula, without even leaving the comfort of your chair.
Enjoy the "Hawaii Chair," as demonstrated by Ellen deGeneres. And while you're at it, have a Happy New Year!
Last February I attended the annual Maui media luncheon, when various tourist representatives inform mainland travel writers of great story ideas over a sumptuous lunch at a top restaurant. When the group came to Portland, I had the pleasure of sitting next to Candy Aluli, who does public relations for resorts on Maui.
As we chatted, I learned that she was a California girl who came to Maui and fell in love with a local boy. His mother, as it turned out, was one of the legends of Hawaiian music, Imgard Aluli. I was familiar with one of her most famous compositions, "Puamana." Candy told me that before her wedding, her new Hawaiian family taught her to hula to that song. On her wedding day, Candy danced solo, as a tribute to her new mother-in-law. Irmgard, who was considered the most prolific Hawaiian song writer since Queen Liliu'okalani, passed away in 2001 at age 89.
I remembered that Candy told me that Irmgard was of the generation of Hawaiians who were not allowed to learn their native language. Her command of the language was rudimentary, at best. So Irmgard would compose the music and develop the idea of the song in English. Then she would ask a girlfriend, who knew Hawaiian pretty well, to write the lyrics in Hawaiian.
After the lunch, Candy said she'd email me some background information about Irmgard's most famous compositions, "Puamana" and "Laupahoehoe Boy." Fast forward 10 months to when my hula class started learning the dance for "Puamana." I suddenly remembered that Candy was going to send me some information. I had never followed up and it had slipped her mind. I gave her a call and reminded her. The result was my receipt today of a couple of charming stories that Irmgard herself had written.
By the way, Laupahoehoe is a town on the north shore of the Big Island that gets its name from a type of lava that has a braided appearance.
And Irmgard's girlfriend who knew Hawaiian? It turns out that her friend was the foremost authority on the Hawaiian language, Mary Kawena Pukui, who with Samuel Elbert wrote the definitive Hawaiian dictionary.
Here are Irmgard's stories. Thank you, Candy!
Background on the “Laupahoehoe Hula” (Boy from Laupahoehoe), in Irmgard’s words. (Composed in the 1970s. Lyrics by Mary Kawena Pukui; music by Irmgard Farden Aluli. Mary Kawena Pukui collaborated with Irmgard on a number of songs, providing the Hawaiian lyrics and translations, as Irmgard was not fluent in the Hawaiian language):
At the time, I was living in Punalu’u (Oahu). While doing my housework one day, the word “Laupahoehoe” flashed across my mind, and along with it a beat for a hula. I mentioned it on a later occasion to Kawena. I said, “Do you think it would do well for a song?” She said, “Oh, yes, it should!” Well, then I forgot about it.
About a month later, again I was doing housework and the word “Laupahoehoe” flashed across my mind, and this time it really was bothering me. I dropped the housework, got on the phone, and called Kawena. I said, “You know, Kawena, that word “Laupahoehoe” is bothering me. I think we’d better write our song.” She said, “Fine. But you know I have never been to Laupahoehoe. Have you?” I said, “No.” She said, “Well then I think what you’d better do is get some information about Laupahoehoe, then call me and I’ll write the lyrics.” This was all by telephone. I was in Punalu’u. She was in Honolulu.
So I gathered the information, and gave it to her over the telephone. She wrote the words, then she phones me back, gives me the Hawaiian lyrics and the translations. I take them, set them down in front of me. I look at the words. The music comes very easily. In about 15, 20 minutes I finished the song. I called her back and played it over the phone. So this song was composed entirely by telephone.”
Background on “Puamana” in Irmgard’s words. (Composed in 1937. Hawaiian lyrics by Charles K. Farden; music by Irmgard Farden Aluli.)
My father [Charles Farden] had bought a piece of property [situated oceanfront on Front Street in Lahaina], and on the deed appeared the name “Puamana.” Dad, knowing the Hawaiian language well, said, “Well, that is a good name for our place.” He built our home, which was a large six bedroom, two bath home, and he called it “Puamana.” That name was chiseled into the stone wall leading to the house. We moved into Puamana in 1916. I was four years old. One of the things I remember so well is that my father took the nine of us children and gave each of us a sprouting coconut tree. He had some holes dug along the stone wall near the ocean. And he said, “Children, each one of you are to plant your coconut tree, and as that tree grows, so will you grow.” Well, we planted them. Later, there were two more children and the youngest two were taken by mother and dad, each given a sprouting coconut and they were planted. Now the trees are tall, bending toward the ocean, and they are still on the land of Puamana, though the home is no longer there. This home was such a happy one for me. Later, I wrote a song about it, and in it I mention the coconut trees.
It was in 1937 that I composed “Puamana.” I was home on a visit (I was teaching on Moloka’i), and suddenly—I was just sitting at the piano playing—and this tune came. I said to my sister Emma [Emma Farden Sharpe, who later became a beloved kumu hula on Maui], “Come, do a few steps of the hula to this song that I am just composing.” She asked, “What song is it?” I said, “It’s going to be for Puamana” with no hesitation, although I didn’t even know that yet—I hadn’t planned it. But it must have been the love for this place that brought this all about. I got the tune, and my sisters gathered ‘round with their instruments—we had the bass, the piano, the ‘ukulele, the guitar. And we started to hum it in harmony. Then Dad came home for lunch. I said (before he even had a chance to eat), “Dad, come sit down and help us with Hawaiian words for this song for Puamana.” As we threw him phrases, he would translate them into Hawaiian. Because we had planted those coconut trees as youngsters and watched them grow over the years, I had to include them in the second verse of the song.
Puamana has since become the “family song” for the Fardens, and although Irmgard composed more than 200 songs in her lifetime, it is “Puamana”--telling the story of her beloved childhood home in Lahaina--that is always sung and danced at every family occasion (including her funeral).
Last week I gave my hula class a book review as a new form of my usual Fun Fact presentation. The book was "Bird of Another Heaven," by James D. Houston. The novel has a Hawaiian theme and was written by a man who made Hawaiian culture his passion.
Actually, I didn't know about James Houston until after he died from cancer at age 75, in April 2009. I came across an obituary which portrayed him as a fascinating figure. He and his wife lived in Santa Cruz, California, but made frequent trips to Hawai'i, where he had made numerous friends. For more than 20 years he was a close friend of Eddie Kamae, one of the original musicians in the seminal "Sons of Hawai'i" group. The group, which featured the singing and slack key guitar playing of the legendary Gabby Pahinui, was given much credit for the Hawaiian Renaissance of the 1970s and 80s. Eddie Kamae, in particular, did extensive research and field work in order to find and revive the songs and music of Old Hawai'i.
Kamae also made a number of documentary films about Hawaiian culture, and Houston was his partner in the film making by helping to write the scripts. I have seen their film, "Sons of Hawai'i," about the musical group, which was fascinating.
Houston wrote a biography of Kamae, as well as a book about surfing. But as far as I know, "Bird of Another Heaven," was his only Hawai'i-themed work of fiction.
The story is based on historical fact, dealing partly with the final voyage by Hawai'i's last king, Kalâkaua. While staying at San Francisco's beautiful Palace Hotel (still standing and still beautiful), the king fell ill. One day he felt well enough to welcome a visitor from Thomas Edison's lab, who wanted to record the king's voice on the new-fangled recording device Edison had invented, a wax cylinder that could be played on a gramophone. The actual cylinder is at Honolulu's Bishop Museum.
Kalâkaua made the recording, a greeting to his people in the Hawaiian language, but just a few days later, on January 20, 1891, died in his hotel suite. He was 54. The circumstances of his rather sudden death are still questioned, and, in fact, Houston depicts a murder scene in his novel, showing a villain delivering poisoned tea, while greedy American businessmen in Honolulu wring their hands in happy anticipation of freedom from the king's trade restraints.
Houston creates a half Hawaiian-half American Indian character as Kalâkaua's young lover. The novel moves forward in time to introduce a young man who discovers a side of his family that was hidden from him. When he finally meets his grandmother, she gives him her mother's journal, all about her affair with the king and the final days they spent together before his death. She also gives him a wax cylinder that her mother had kept, a second recording that no one else knew about.
In the novel an archivist at the Bishop Museum advises him to take the cylinder to a lab in California that would have the appropriate technology in order to retrieve the king's voice. At the lab, the scientists do their darnedest, but are unable to retrieve more than a few indecipherable sounds, not even entire words.
As I gathered my facts for my Fun Fact presentation, I quickly Googled the book title, just to make sure I hadn't missed anything really important. Down the page, my eye caught a small news item.
In May 2009, one month after the death of James Houston, Hawaiian Airlines gave the Bishop Museum a grant to cover the cost of taking the Edison wax cylinder bearing the king's message, which had been in the museum since 1918, to a lab in California in order to recover the spoken words. Life imitates art! I was blown away. This sounded almost exactly like the scene Houston had created in his mind when he wrote the novel, which was published in 2007. But this episode actually occurred in real life one month after the author's death. The existence of a second cylinder was pure fiction, but in describing the analysis of the one existing cylinder, Houston seemed to be a fortune teller.
I Googled and Googled and Googled and could find no follow-up story. According to the article, having the cylinder tested with laser technology and retrieving the recording would take no more than five months. So the results should have been available by October.
There were just a few hours before I had to leave for my hula class. My hula sisters had to know! I picked up the phone and called the public affairs office of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California. The director told me he'd been at his job only two months; he had never heard of this project. He asked me to email him and he'd reply when he found an answer.
I was so impatient for information. It was two hours earlier in Honolulu. The archivists at the Bishop Museum would still be on the job. I called the museum and asked for the head archivist, a man with a name that is one step up from Indiana Jones. His name is DeSoto Brown.
Mr. Brown's phone message stated that trying to reach him by phone was futile; he left his email address. I wrote him a message, asking for information about the cylinder. He never replied.
A few days passed and I heard back from Berkeley Lab. A woman wrote and said that a team from the Bishop Museum had come and gone. The results were disappointing: the 118-year-old wax cylinder had deteriorated so much that no discernible word could be retrieved, just a few disparate sounds.
She referred me to the vice president of public operations at the Bishop Museum. He has a less interesting name than DeSoto Brown, but I was hoping the Blair Collis would take my call or answer my email. I was so curious and had so many questions. But alas. Apparently the Bishop Museum doesn't want to talk about it. I never heard back from anybody.
Still, it is pretty amazing that almost identical circumstances occurred in a novel written a couple of years before the cylinder made its futile journey to the Berkeley Lab. And by the way, I highly recommend "Bird of Another Heaven." It's quite a convincing story!
I studied hula for three years in Aloha, Oregon, and along the way developed a passion for all things Hawaiian. I also studied 'ukulele and the Hawaiian language.
When I'm not hula'ing, 'uking or practicing 'olelo Hawai'i, I am a professional writer with years of experience writing for local, regional and national publications. Most notably, I was a regular for The Wall Street Journal for 17 years.
Someday I hope to write a book about my obsession with Hawaiian culture.