Our slice of the Earth has plunged into the belly of night; and if the compound deadline were at all literal, I’m but bones, nails and hair six feet under. Nothing new, but it hurts like hell all the same. The weight of this week’s cover story is suffocating—too much mis/information and competing passions to be a sieve for. So I do what I do whenever I hit a wall: turn the ignition and wield my lead foot. (It’s an Upcountry syndrome, me thinks.)
I find myself at the top of Waihe`e Valley Road, the first point at which access to Swinging Bridges et al has been barred. Cerebrally, I don’t believe in (so-called) spiritual signs—but I (seem to) get them all the time. So I’m not looking for anything—but I am.
Cutting the engine as Dubkonscious’s “Promised Land” strikes it’s chorus, I hear the lyric “Behold…”
It’s dark. A clear sky makes for a cold breeze, flavored with the bite of bracken and mountain citrus, and it whips from my duct a hot, tired tear. And too, the wind’s scourged the la`i stalks’ leaves to shreds, hanging threads where they’ve been woven into the wires of the locked gate. My thin jacket’s lack tells me I’ve tarried too long—so I leave, wanting, too.
Solenoid. Distributor. Flywheel. Alternator. Firing order; and my cruiser’s feral purr.
And, the CD resumes, “… The Promised Land, within the living man / Heaven is within your hearts / Love is within your hands… / All shall be revealed in time…”
These vocals remind me of a story (bear with me, I’ll get to it in a bit) that Johanna Kamaunu told me during our talk story-style interview at the Sept. 3 gathering at Waihe`e Ball Park, a show of support against the recently restricted access.
Truth be told, that meeting was the very first time I’ve ever been around so many fellow indigenous Hawaiians, sharing mana`o. And for that fact, I was scared.
But anxiety abated because though I arrived as a stranger, I departed a sistah.
I did not expect this.
See, I was half-adopted. Growing up, I never really knew my kanaka kin. Fair, flaxen Mom’s burnished blue eyes had shed too many tears over my native biological father. (But how can you blame a Hollywood-born but Hawaii-via-Samoa-raised stunner for falling in love with a gregarious M.H.S. classmate whose hearty laugh once cockled like bright waves under a keen sun? And in ways, can you really blame said guy for falling victim to drugs, which like ignorance, can be bliss, after all?)
I was the plumeria girl in ‘Iao Valley, where Mom remarried an austere, Okinawan Paia boy. Soon, I called him Dad—and about him, I oft and only wax poetic. And so it was we became a family; first in Kuau, then Waikapu where little Jayson was born, and not long after planted our foursome in fertile Kula.
Being blessed in this way has always seemed fair trade for my kanaka-disconnect. So, no matter if I felt a lonely ache of displacement—even when raised in my aboriginal homeland. I still knew myself to be a modern local girl with local parents, through and through. What more did I need? What more did I deserve?
But Kamaunu, maybe reading my thoughts (if it was not painted on my countenance) shared with me a story of how she’d “always wondered if [she] was really Hawaiian.”
This struck me. I mean, here’s this clearly Hawaiian woman who’s certainly my senior, wearing a navy-collared mu`umu`u with hair tied high in a bun. How could she of all people question her authenticity?
Kamaunu said, if I may succinctly paraphrase, that she’s long admired people who’ve spent their lives becoming master artisans and practitioners, but laments that, “in [her] advanced age,” and even before, she did not accomplish such things and so never felt as entitled to being Hawaiian as others perhaps were.
Everything changed just a few years ago, she says. It was on a workshop-trip to Hawaii Island, with a group of fellow educators, that Kamaunu says she glimpsed a glorious valley that she’s longed to see her whole life. The awe she felt at the sight made her feel, for the first time, truly Hawaiian.
The day of her and her group’s departure, the valley was ensconced with clouds. She looked out at the thick cloud bank, begging for it to break—so that she might see that inspiration once more and burn it into her mind as the visual representation of what it meant her to be Hawaiian.
Lo and behold, the sun parted the clouds.
But Kamaunu said that as soon as she saw that image she’d longed for, she realized she didn’t need to see it at all.
“It was here all the time,” she said, tapping her forearm.
Wait. So this lonely feeling of displacement is not, in fact, so lonely after all? And perhaps, this feeling might even be universal and speak to a larger truth about the effects of oppression?
As I’ve open my ears to the idea (while beginning to be bold enough to think myself worthy of cultural inheritance, and therefore seek it) I’m hearing more of this shared sentiment—and all from kanaka maoli who by looks and whatnot I might remark as being more invested in Hawaiiana than I.
Really? You, too?! It’s enough to weep over, and so I did.
Later, I looked at my own forearm. I traced the thin blue vein and counted the track marks from my bout with blood cancer. I’ve still got more questions than answers, but wherever and however this journey to find meaning might take me—for the first time I know I’m not alone.
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