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 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."