Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Hula as a New Year's Resolution

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!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Stories from Irmgard Aluli

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).

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Voice of a King

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!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Aloha in Scotland

Last week I was in Scotland, my main purpose being to attend the first screening of the documentary film for which I'm script writer, "Finding David Douglas." Douglas was a Scottish botanist who explored the flora and fauna of the Pacific Northwest in the 1820s before meeting an ignominious fate on the Big Island in 1834.

In February I went with my film cohorts to Hawai'i to see the site of Douglas's demise (a cattle pit on Mauna Kea) and I wrote about it then.

The Forestry Commission of Scotland, being one of the sponsors of the film, asked for the first screening, though we have lots to do before the film is ready for its official premiere in April. Six of us, including David Milholland, the head of the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission, went from Portland to the town of Pitlochry, where more than 200 people attended the film and gave it pretty high marks.

My other purpose was to write a travel article for Alaska Airlines Magazine called "A Tale of Two Cities," about my impressions of Edinburgh and Glasgow. I confess that I was particularly eager to visit Edinburgh because of its connection with Hawai'i, in that it is the birthplace of the writer Robert Louis Stevenson. Stevenson, who was always frail and prone to illness, spent the last years of his life seeking better health by sailing with his family around the Pacific.

In January 1889 Stevenson anchored at Honolulu. He went to 'Iolani Palace to introduce himself to King Kalâkaua and the two hit it off immediately. In Edinburgh I visited a lovely little museum devoted to the three most famous Scottish writers: Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. Most of the Stevenson exhibit was comprised of photographs and artifacts from his years in the Pacific. There were numerous photos of him and Kalâkaua, as well as group photos that included both Stevenson's and Kalâkaua's families.

Kalâkaua was eager to have the eminent Scottish writer meet his brother-in-law, a fellow Scot who also hailed from Edinburgh. Archibald Scott Cleghorn had married Likelike, the sister of Kalâkaua and Lili'uokalani. His wife had died in 1887 at age 36 and he was raising their daughter, Ka'iulani, who was expected to reign as queen of Hawai'i someday. At the time she met Stevenson, she was just 13. But in a few months she was to depart for England. Her father felt that she should have a European education in order to be an effective monarch in modern times. She was reluctant to leave her island home, so Stevenson tried to encourage her by telling her exciting tales of Scotland while the two sat under the banyan tree at her father's garden estate, 'Ainahau.

Stevenson wrote a poem for her, which begins: "Forth from her land to mine she goes, The Island maid, the Island rose; Light of heart and bright of face: The daughter of a double race."

Ka'iulani would never see her writer friend again. He and his family eventually settled in Samoa, where Stevenson was known as "Tusitala," teller of tales. In 1894, at age 44, Stevenson died suddenly (while opening a bottle of wine) of a brain hemorrhage. Ka'iulani died five years later, at age 23. She had returned to Honolulu after her aunt had been deposed and the monarchy abolished. It was said she died of a broken heart, though typhus was the more likely culprit.

Her father's estate, 'Ainahau, no longer exists, but its site in Waikiki is marked by two streets with familiar names: Cleghorn and Tusitala. Ka'iulani's memory is honored in the popular name of the Chinese jasmine flower, her favorite. Because she loved peacocks and kept many of them at 'Ainahau, the flower associated with her is known as pikake, the Hawaiian word for peacock.

A lasting memorial to Cleghorn, the father of the princess, is Kapiolani Park, which he planned and landscaped. It is fitting that Kapiolani Park is the site of the annual Scottish Festival and Highland Games, on the first weekend in April.

Since the late 1700s, many Scots came to Hawai'i and made lasting contributions. But I'm partial to one adventurous and imaginative Scot, the man known as Tusitala.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Ho'oponopono

My Fun Fact for this week's hula class was about an ancient Hawaiian ritual that has in recent years been adopted by the New Agers. It's ho'oponopono, which means "setting things right." The root of the word is pono, which means right, proper or correct.

I don't blame the New Agers for claiming this principle. Basically, its purpose is to prevent resentments, grudges, feuds or even unhealthy, negative thinking to fester or continue. The ritual was performed with whole families participating. It resembles an alcohol or drug intervention, or a court mediation, except that the focus is not on just one person. Everyone in ho'oponopono takes responsibility for whatever they contributed to the situation.

Typically, an elder of the family would lead the process. Or a kahuna, or ho'oponopono practitioner, would be called in. It would begin with a prayer. In pre-Christian days, the aumakua, or family gods, would be called on for assistance. And during the process there would be frequent pauses for silence, or ho'omalu, when participants could gather their thoughts and emotions, before proceeding with the discussion, just to keep everything on an even keel.

Everyone in the family conference would be required to admit their wrongdoing in contributing to the problem, and to ask for forgiveness. Everyone else would offer their forgiveness as each person would "come clean." The elder or kahuna might decide upon some action or chore that would constitute restitution. And then the problem, whatever it was, would be wiped away. No more angst. No more seething resentments. That sounds lovely!

One of my hula sisters told me that she had recently read on a New York Times blog about how ho'oponopono is being used in child abuse cases. A practitioner is sent to the child's home with the task of getting every member of the family to admit to, repent and do restitution for the harm they've done to the child. Talk about a knight in shining armor! There were times in my childhood I would have welcomed a ho'oponopono practitioner with open arms.

There are various self-help organizations that use a form of ho'oponopono. A recent book, Zero Limits, by Joe Vitale, offers a form of the practice. One group suggests frequent intonation of a mantra: "I love you. I'm sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you."

But my understanding of ho'oponopono is that dealing with a problem requires something deeper, more thoughtful and more active than reciting a mantra. In fact, ho'oponopono is meant to peel away the layers of an existing problem, get to its very root and then wipe it clean to make a family or group healthy and whole again. It takes full participation and responsibility by all who partake.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Bruddah Iz

Last night at hula class my Fun Fact was about Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, more commonly known as Iz or Bruddah Iz.

We are learning a new hula, to the tune of "Papalina Lahilahi" (Dainty Cheeks), as sung by the Makaha Sons of Ni'ihau. When I listened to the music I thought I recognized a certain angelic voice. Sure enough, it was Iz. He and his brother belonged to the Makaha Sons of Ni'ihau before Iz went solo in 1990. Of course, he is now best known for his rendition of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow/Wonderful World," which he recorded in one take one night in 1993. It catapulted him from local to international fame.

He was born on O'ahu in 1959. His family name, Kamakawiwo'ole, literally means fearless face or fearless eyes. He was named Israel for reasons I don't know. At first I thought perhaps his parents had given all their children biblical names. Then I learned that Iz's big brother was named Skippy.

There is no Book of Skippy in the Old Testament.

When Iz was about 10 the family moved to the town of Makaha, on the leeward side of O'ahu. Iz was sitting on the beach one day playing his 'uke when he met a few of the guys who would one day become members of the group he and Skippy formed when Iz was 17. The group was together for 15 years and during that time recorded 10 albums.

Iz and Skippy's mom was from Ni'ihau; hence the name of the group. Both brothers struggled with obesity. Iz kept vowing to drop a few hundred pounds or so, but he kept getting bigger and bigger. At his maximum weight, he tipped the scales at 757 pounds. He was 6'2". Complications of obesity claimed Skippy in 1982 when he died of a heart attack at age 28.

Iz lasted 10 years longer than that, dying at age 38 in 1997. Toward the end, he had to be raised on stage by a forklift and breathe oxygen from a tank. He left a wife and 14-year-old daughter. His body lay in state in a koa wood coffin in the State Capitol. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered in the Pacific Ocean.

In his earlier years he had been addicted to drugs, but he managed to beat that. In fact, for a while he toured schools to deliver a "Say No to Drugs" message. My 'ukulele teacher remembers seeing him when he visited Hilo High School, where she was a teacher. That was before he was famous and she didn't know anything about him. She said she took one look at him and said, "Ho! Dat guy really big, yeah!" She said he said to the students: "Hey, kids. You no do drugs, 'kay?" And then he began singing and playing his 'ukulele.

On YouTube videos of him I am always amazed to see him cradling that tiny instrument against his leviathan body and then making heavenly music, accompanied by his angelic voice.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Kumulipo

The Fun Fact I shared with my hula class last week was about the Kumulipo, the creation chant that has existed since about 1700 to explain the origin of species, the creation of the Hawaiian Islands and the Hawaiians themselves. Literally, it means the source of deep darkness.

Before the New England missionaries came in 1820 and made Hawaiian a written language, the Kumulipo was passed orally from generation to generation by chanters who were trained to memorize the 2,102-line account and to chant it properly. The presentation of the chant was reserved for very auspicious occasions, such as the birth of ali'i, or royalty.

The Kumulipo took three hours to recite. I learned that one of the auspicious occasions when it was recited was at the ceremony to greet Captain Cook, who the Hawaiians believed was a god.

This gives me a valuable insight into the disaster that followed. The survivors of the incident, British sailors who had served under Cook's command, reported that Cook, who had ordinarily taken great pains to be respectful of native cultures, turned quite crabby and irritable while in Hawaii. In fact, it was his temper tantrum over some stolen nails that really irritated the Hawaiians and caused them to fight back. God or no god, the rude dude had to die. Cook's tragic error was to have that temper tantrum, which was said to be quite out of character.

But now I understand. The poor guy had just sat through a 3-hour chant! After a while, his frozen smile probably started to ache. Then he may have begun to think about his to-do list back on the ship or a million other things he'd rather be doing than listening to the remaining 2 hours . . . or 1 hour . . . of the chant.

Fast forward 70 years or so to when Kalâkaua became king. When his right to the throne was questioned, he duly recited the Kumulipo, through which he could trace his genealogy back to the gods. That settled the argument. To make sure he could later point to chapter and verse to support his claim, he wrote down the entire Kumulipo for the first time, in Hawaiian. When he went on a world tour in 1881, he took along his copy, which he hoped would impress the Europeans. They were all in a tizzy over Charles Darwin's Origin of Species. Kalâkaua liked to point out that the Kumulipo, which was based on stories told for centuries, contained the same story of evolution. Which it does.

According to the Kumulipo, first came the walewale, the primordial slime, and then a succession of creatures. Man comes along after the god-like humans and the human-like gods. (I don't think Darwin mentioned those guys!)

The Kumulipo was translated into English by Kalâkaua's sister and successor, Queen Liliu'okalani. After the monarchy was overthrown and she was held under house arrest in 'Iolani Palace, she tackled the project. Her translation, published in 1897, is available online, at http://www.sacred-texts.com/pac/lku/index.htm

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

No Mac Salad!

It's not every day that a couple of top chefs from Hawai'i come to town and offer to prepare a feast for me. Well, it wasn't just me, but I was part of a lucky group of travel and food writers who attended this delicious event Monday night at the Lake Oswego branch of In Good Taste.

The Hawai'i Visitors and Convention Bureau sponsored the event, which featured Neil Murphy, chef at Merriman's Waimea, near Parker Ranch on the Big Island; and Faith Ogawa, a celebrity private chef also known as 'Olelo Pa'a.

There were a number of tasty appetizers waiting for us, but once we were all gathered around the kitchen we were served a starter by way of introducing Hawai'i's tea industry. Who knew? Of course, I'd heard of Kona coffee, but there are also some thriving artisan tea plantations on the Big Island. We were served a cup of organic green tea, along with a biscuit with diced taro baked in. Each little biscuit was cut in half and spread with macadamia nut butter and mango jam. The plate was garnished with the the three tender leaves that are picked from a tea bush for processing into tea leaves.

Neil and Faith just kept on cooking and plating small helpings to be passed out among us. There was fresh abalone cooked in butter and capers; filet mignon from the Parker Ranch, served with Maui sweet onions carmelized and cooked with bone marrow; pureed hearts of palm with lemon zest, milk and butter (move over, garlic mashed potatoes!); chili with tenderloin beef and Portugese sausage; kalua lamb wrapped in cabbage and served with a coffee BBQ sauce; fish; shrimp . . . and what have I forgotten? No, not mac salad. That didn't make it onto the menu.

For a palate cleanser we got a dollop of mango sorbet drowned in a healthy dose of Ocean artisan vodka from Maui. Between the vodka and the wine, there was a lot of toasting going on. Faith's exuberant toast was "Ho'o kahe inu!" She said it means, "Never drink alone." I'd better look that up in my Hawaiian dictionary before I yell it in a crowd.

A member of the contingent from Hawai'i was Charmaine Tavares, Mayor of Maui, who was celebrating her birthday on October 5. Dessert was birthday cake, as well as a yummy little brownie made with chocolate grown and processed on Hawai'i Island, along with ice cream. A perfect dessert.

As we departed we were each given an apron and a copy of the Hawai'i Farmers Market Cookbook. A lot of the ingredients listed are easily found in Portland, although a special trip to Uwajimaya might be in order to find some of the more exotic items.

Events like that one remind me how lucky I am to be a freelance writer, with opportunities for fine meals and travel popping up here and there. Most of us freelancers aren't rich in financial terms, but our experiences can't be beat. As another writer said to me after finishing off her abalone, "Aren't you glad you aren't a checker at Costco?"

Friday, September 18, 2009

Got Poi?

When it came time for me to share my Fun Fact at hula class this week, I announced that I had diet news. It had nothing to do with the fact that I had just watched the season's premiere of "The Biggest Loser" a few days earlier. My Fun Fact really did have Hawaiian cultural significance.

In my reading I had come across a mention of the Wai'anae Diet, developed in 1989 by Dr. Terry Shintani for the Wai'anae Coast Comprehensive Health Center on O'ahu. In response to rising obesity and disease rates among native Hawaiians, he developed a new diet that he figured just might work.

The early explorers who came to Hawaii reported that the native people were trim and vigorous. But then along came Captain Cook in 1778 and ruined it all. After all, he paved the way for McDonald's, in a round about way.

Dr. Shintani decided to put a group of 20 obese native Hawaiians on a strict diet. Actually, he let them eat as much as they wanted. The only catch was that the food they ate was from the pre-contact (pre-Captain Cook) Hawaiian diet. On the menu each day was poi, poi and more poi. There were also sweet potatoes, breadfruit, greens, seaweed, fish and chicken.

The results: the average weight loss for the group was 17.1 pounds in 21 days. On top of that, they all experienced a lowering of their blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose.

My hula sisters gave this diet some serious thought. One confessed that she really loved poi and would find that part of the diet no hardship. As for the breadfruit, those who had tried it said that it was quite bland. But someone piped up and said, "It's not bad with butter!" Then she realized that butter would not be on the diet. "Yeah, the early Hawaiians couldn't milk the chickens," I noted.

But those diet results were quite impressive. Just the thought of dropping that many pounds in that short amount of time has me suddenly hungry for poi. For now, I'll settle for popcorn.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Baibala Hemolele

I got all religious on my hula sisters tonight. For my Fun Fact I preached about the Holy Bible, or, as it's called in Hawaiian, Ka Baibala Hemolele.

I stumbled across an interesting item recently about the Hawaiian Bible Project and the work to create a new Hawaiian translation of the Bible.

But I already knew that the Bible was the first book to be published in the Hawaiian language and that many Hawaiians learned to read their own language by studying the Bible.

In fact, before the Congregationalist missionaries from New England came to Hawaii in 1820, the Hawaiian language was strictly oral. Rather than having written histories and stories, the people transmitted information through chants that were memorized by generation after generation.

The missionaries set up a printing press at the Mission Houses, which still exist, now as a museum, in Honolulu. Almost immediately after their arrival in 1820 the missionaries began transcribing the spoken language and publishing religious tracts in Hawaiian. But their main goal was to put the Bible in the hands of the native people. To that end, they formed a committee of missionaries and Hawaiians who translated the Old Testament from Hebrew and the New Testament from Greek. It took 19 years. The first printing of the Bible was in 1839.

The printing press didn't have characters for the diacritical marks now commonly used in Hawaiian, the 'okina and the kahakô. Subsequent editions, in 1868 and 1994, also did not have them. The American Bible Society, which had overseen those later editions, decided to stop printing the Baibala Hemolele after 1994 because at that time they deemed Hawaiian a dying language.

Of course, the situation changed rather rapidly after that, with widespread immersion schools creating a new generation of Hawaiian speakers. By 2002 the Hawaiian Bible Project was at work, not only creating a new translation complete with diacritical marks, but preparing to publish the new translation in digital form, complete with audio tracks. By the end of 2009 the full translation should be available at www.baibala.org. The previous editions of the Hawaiian Bible are already online at that site.

When I visited the Mission Houses in Honolulu last February, I saw the printing press, but I was told that it was not the original press. The original press had been replaced after about 20 years. A couple of months later I was researching an article about Forest Grove, Oregon, and I visited the museum in Old College Hall, built in 1851, at Pacific University. Pacific was founded by Congregationalist missionaries, the same denomination as those who went to spread Christianity in Hawaii.

A docent took me through the small museum, pointing out all sorts of odd artifacts that related to the history of the university. But in a dusty corner, there was an old printing press. That, he said, had originally been in Honolulu. But when the missionaries there got a new printing press, they sent the old one to what was then Tualatin Academy in Forest Grove.

It's rather amazing to realize that the printing press that completely altered the Hawaiian way of life by publishing a Hawaiian language Bible now sits in a little museum thousands of miles away in Oregon. The university, incidentally, has a large number of Hawaiian students. (See my post on their wonderful lû'au.) They might be surprised to learn that this forgotten treasure now sits under a layer of dust in their college museum.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Happy Birthday, Your Majesty!


In yesterday's hula class I shared the Fun Fact that the day before, September 2, would have been the 171st birthday of Hawaii's last reigning monarch, Queen Lili'uokalani. Ever gracious, my hula sisters remarked that she didn't look a day over 170.

Born Lydia Lili'u Loloku Walania Wewehi Kamaka'eha, she will not be soon forgotten in Hawai'i. Her slogan, Onipa'a ("Be Steadfast"), is remembered by the people engaged in the struggle for sovereignty, or those who are just plain unhappy at the disgraceful way her short reign ended.

She came to the throne after her brother, David Kalâkaua, died of illness in San Francisco during a state visit. She set out to undo some of the concessions he had made to the powerful American businessmen, who had sought legislation that would be favorable to their enterprises, such as sugar and pineapple. Kalâkaua had given in and signed the so-called Bayonet Constitution in 1887. It got its name because the king was, at least figuratively, at the point of a bayonet when he signed.

The businessmen, alarmed by the queen's intentions, quickly formed what they called the Committee of Safety, which was supposed to ensure the safety of Americans, who would be losing the vote if all went the queen's way. In 1893, after she'd been queen for a bit under two years, Lili'uokalani was overthrown by the Committee, with the armed support of 162 American sailors and Marines.

Grover Cleveland, who was president at the time, at first decried the overthrow and stated that it was patently illegal. He offered to restore the queen to her throne -- with one catch: that she absolve the Committee of any wrong doing. The Queen gave the wrong answer. She said she intended to execute them.

Sanford Dole, of Dole Pineapple fame, was declared president of the new Republic of Hawaii on the Fourth of July, 1894. The former queen was arrested Jan. 16, 1895, along with many of her supporters. She was held prisoner in an upstairs bedroom of the 'Iolani Palace.

Visiting that room is a heartbreaking experience. Her captors even covered the windows so she couldn't see the palm trees, the sky or the sea, or her own people. She was allowed one maid, who helped her make a quilt depicting events in her life that is on display in that room today. She also composed beautiful songs while she was held prisoner for eight months.

To save her followers from death sentences, the same sentences she had expected to mete out to those who overthrew her, she abdicated her claim to the throne.

She died at age 79 in 1917 in Washington Place, the Honolulu home where she had lived with her husband before becoming queen. Think of her the next time you hear her most famous song, Aloha Oe, and these haunting words: "One fond embrace before I now depart. Until we meet again."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Lu'au on the Island

I spent Sunday on the island, helping to prepare kalua pig for a lu'au.

The name of the island starts with an "S." Sorry, there's no "S" in the Hawaiian language, so where could this island be? Sauvie Island, in the middle of the Willamette River just north of the St. Johns Bridge in Portland, Oregon.

It was the annual summer picnic for Portland Culinary Alliance, for which I serve as president. When I learned that one of our member chefs, Mike Downing of Quimby's Restaurant in Newport (best clam chowder on the Oregon coast, if you ask me), used to be a lu'au chef on the island of Kaua'i, where he grew up, I began to think that this year's picnic would be more than just a potluck.

Mike was willing and eager. The next task on the list was to find a great location. Enter Don and Sandra Kruger, of Kruger's Farm Market on Sauvie Island, and we were all set.

On Saturday night, my daughter, Meriwether, and I packed a couple of shovels into the car and drove out to Kruger's. Digging the pit according to Mike's specifications (4' x 6' x 1-1/2') took us about an hour and a half. The sun had just set when we called it quits.

My other chore was to find the requisite banana and ti leaves. I found them at Uwajimaya, of course. But they were not cheap. I think Mike was used to picking them off a tree. I also lined up the wood delivery. I called a woman who'd advertised on Craig's List and when she called me back she said she was visiting her mother in Newport and was right next to Quimby's. So she personally arranged with Mike the type of wood (alder) and the quantity (1/3 cord).

On Sunday morning, Mike called me at 7:45 to say he was at the farm, after driving since 4 a.m. from Newport. Thirty minutes later, the wood lady called to say she was at the farm to deliver the wood. I showed up at 8:30, to help prepare everything before PCA members and guests began arriving at 3:30 p.m.

Mike's assistant, Tom, was already crouched in the pit, trying to light a teepee of kindling, with the help of some newspaper. The alder wood was stacked nearby. In time, Tom had every piece of wood in the pit, and the fire was roaring. Once the fire began to die down to coals, Tom put a layer of lava rock atop the wood.

Then it was time to prepare the pig. Our pig was about 80 pounds, nestled in a large cooler full of ice. Mike set it on a table and before he began I thought it was only fitting to sing an oli, or chant, to honor the pig. The only oli I know is the one we sing before we start hula class every week, but I figured it was better than nothing.

Mike sprinkled Hawaiian seasoning salt inside and outside the pig. Then he asked Tom to pick up a few of the smaller hot stones to put in the cavity of the pig, as well as in the armpits and groin, just to make sure it cooked through. The pig was laid on a bed of banana leaves and ti leaves, that in turn was laid atop a length of chicken wire. The leaves and then the wire were wrapped around the pig. Mike made similar packages of taro root, sweet potatoes and two turkeys, all wrapped in leaves and chicken wire.

The pig and the other packages of food were set atop banana leaves and corn stalks laid over the hot coals. Then we lay wet burlap over that and then a couple of tarps on top of that. Finally, we each grabbed a shovel and covered the pit with the dirt Meriwether and I had dug up the night before.

It was noon by the time we finished burying the food in the underground imu, oven. Mike and his assistants, Tom and Michael, should have taken a nap under the large oak tree that marked our picnic spot. But they kept going, getting other lu'au foods ready, such as lomi lomi salmon, ahi poke and, of course, macaroni salad.

We were just setting up the tables when the first guests arrived. As more people arrived, they drifted down the grassy hill toward the covered pig pit. At 4:30, Mike said he was ready to make the Big Reveal. He crossed himself -- privately he worried that we'd be having pork sashimi -- and began to shovel dirt off the tarps. Several men grabbed shovels and uncovered the tarp. It was pulled back to reveal . . . another tarp! That was pulled back to reveal a layer of burlap, then lots of banana leaves and corn stalks. Then Mike and Tom each grabbed an end of the bundle that contained our pig and brought it to the prep table.

The pig was perfectly cooked. It was, as the Hawaiians say, "ono." Delicious. The meat easily came off the bones and was piled high in a container that was moved to the group of tables that held our potluck feast.

There was well deserved applause for Mike and his helpers. As the party died down, they loaded up their SUV and began their 3-hour return trip to Newport. The lu'au had come to an end.

It wasn't Hawaii and we were under an oak tree, rather than palm trees. But we were on an island and the food was ono. All in all, a perfect day.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Dem Bones

Nâ iwi kûpuna was the topic of my Fun Fact for this week's hula class. Literally, it means the bones of ancestors. I'd been curious about the significance of bones since sharing with my class what I'd learned about the death of Captain Cook, who met his end on the Big Island in 1799 after answering the islanders' hospitality with hostility. Not the best of manners for an Englishman, especially when his life was at stake, and all over some pilfered nails.

Anyway, when I told what happened to him -- he got roasted, after being killed in a skirmish -- one of my hula sisters asked, "Did they eat him?"

In all my reading on Hawaiian matters, I've never come across any anecdotes about cannibalism. In fact, from what I've learned, after death the flesh on a body was of little interest. It was the bones that held all significance. The traditional belief was that a person's bones were the repository for mana, spiritual power. The greater the chief, the greater the mana, and hence, the greater the importance of the bones.

In the case of a great chief, which is how the Hawaiians viewed Captain Cook, it was important to preserve the mana by taking care of his bones shortly after death. His body was roasted, which made it easier to remove the flesh, and once the bones were stripped they were distributed among important or significant people. The meat from the bones was deposited into the sea. It was usual that the bones of a chief were buried at a secret place, sometimes in a cave or lava tube. That way, the chief's enemies wouldn't be able to benefit from the mana still residing in the bones. The mana was meant to reside in the 'âina, the land, and be received by subsequent generations in the family.

The thigh bones were thought to be particularly powerful. And now I understand why the Hawaiians delivered Captain Cook's thigh to his horrified crew. Surely the Hawaiians thought they were doing the crew a great honor by bestowing the mana-ful thigh upon Cook's ohana, family of sailors. And surely the sailors thought the Hawaiians were performing a grisly and barbaric act.

But the topic of bones has modern significance in Hawai'i. Probably the most significant occurrence was in 1988 when Hawaiians managed to stop construction of the Ritz Carlton on Maui after the ancient bones of about 1,100 people were dug up during construction. This sort of thing had happened time and time again during earlier major construction projects on other islands, but the protests had little effect. However, in the Ritz Carlton case, the hotel heeded the protests and ended up building far from the beach where the burial site was. The site, pictured above and to the right, is once again sacred ground.

Today there are Burial Councils on each island, to make sure any ancient bones disturbed during construction are returned to the earth where they can continue to spread their mana.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Aloha Tower

My hula class has been dancing to a fun tune called "Aloha Tower," as sung by the Brothers Cazimero. With our hand and arm movements and by making 180-degree turns, we tell the story of the tower, which has a huge clock on each of its four sides and at one time performed duty as a lighthouse.

Aloha Tower opened on Sept. 11, 1926 as sort of the Statue of Liberty of Honolulu, because it was the landmark that cruise ship passengers saw as they arrived. Locals referred to the day that cruise ships arrived as Boat Day and it was a festive occasion. The Royal Hawaiian Band Played, hula dancers danced and there were fragrant leis for all the newcomers. Colorful streamers rained down on the ship and from the decks passengers tossed coins into the water to watch the native boys dive for money.

At 10 stories high, Aloha Tower was the tallest structure in all of the Hawaiian Islands. It held that claim to fame for about 40 years. You can still take the elevator to the 10th floor and step out on to the observation deck, which sits above the four clocks. Each clock weighs 7 tons. Made in Boston, the clocks were among the largest in the United States.

In the early days the Aloha Tower also served as a lighthouse. Its beam was visible 16 miles out to sea.

By the 1960s there were taller buildings in Honolulu and fewer cruise ships, as more travelers chose air travel. Just for fun, here's a clip from the 1939 film, "Honolulu," showing Gracie Allen and Eleanor Powell anticipating fun in Honolulu while on their cruise to Hawaii.