Lo’i of Dreams
Local author’s latest work is poised to help keiki explore kalo’s roots in Hawaiian history, and the place it has in our islands’ future
Uncle Kawaiola’s Dream: A Hawaiian Story (2010)
Written by Victor C. Pellegrino
Illustrated by Linda Rowell Stevens
BOOK SIGNING SCHEDULE
Friday (August 6), 6-8:30pm, Wailuku First Friday, Native Intelligence
Thursday (August 13), 11am-4pm, Maui Ocean Center
Thursday (August 13), 7-9pm, Borders Books and Music
Friday (August 14), 12-2pm, Borders Express, Queen Kaahumanu Center
Friday (August 27), 4-6pm, Barnes and Noble
Saturday (September 25), 11am-2pm, Bailey House Museum
In his latest work, Uncle Kawaiola’s Dream: A Hawaiian Story, author Victor C. Pellegrino exemplifies how storytelling is an excellent vehicle to talk about complex topics from our past and present, while enacting a dialogue that can shape our future.
Like the bone colored roots that web from kalo corms into waterlogged earth, the book’s themes explore poignant sociopolitical topics woven to the restoration of ancient Hawaiian lo’i kalo. Appropriate for keiki (and kupuna) of all ages—but with its study guide geared toward fourth graders—this 32-page, historical fiction hardcover follows Uncle Kawaiola as he recounts to his niece and nephew a waking dream of revitalized kalo cultivation on their family’s land.
As Pellegrino explains in the book’s introduction, Uncle Kawaiola’s dream is—in real life—“a dream shared by a small but growing number of passionate, dedicated and hard-working people, [who] may or may not be ethnically Hawaiian,” and in the afterward says that those fervent few, “have made their dream more than just a passion or pastime. They have made it their way of life.”
However, as Uncle Kawaiola tells his tale, keiki readers discover that this way of life—a “story that began a long, long time ago”—has edged on extinction; threatened largely by the diversion of water from Na Wai ‘Eha, “Central Maui’s four major streams of Waikapu, Wailuku, Waiehu, and Waihe’e—[which] provided water for what was [in the mid 1800s] the largest contiguous kalo-growing region in all of ancient Hawaii.”
Seemingly a metaphor for the myriad cultural ramifications of kalo farming stunted by sapped resources, Uncle Kawaiola describes to young Ho’ala and Naupaka, how, “the ground cracked, and invasive weeds and koa haole trees grew all over the lo’i. Eventually, the ancient kipaa stone walls fell down.”
Yet in story—as in life—a challenged landscape is but a canvass waiting to be re-envisioned. In Pellegrino’s book, Uncle Kawaiola spurs revitalization, even when his own kupuna are unconvinced that change can be made. In this, values of laulima and `ohana (a “group of people working together,” and “family,” respectively) are defined, as Uncle Kawaiola rallies the forces of family, friends and neighbors to rebuild the lo’i and perpetuate time-honored farming practices.
It’s then that Ho’ala and Naupaka become a part of the waking dream—as they too are integral to continued restoration. For keiki readers comparing these young characters to their own lives, this can prove powerful imagery as they imagine their own potential for personal involvement in saving Hawaii’s ancient peoples’ cornerstone crop.
Uncle Kawaiola’s Dream is the thirteenth book penned and published by Pellegrino; a University of Hawaii Professor Emeritus of Eastern and Western literature—now Waikapu kalo farmer (thus the inspiration)—who has written a series of revered writer’s references, and authored books with subjects ranging from poetry to gastronomy.
For an educator, adding a study guide to the book came naturally; and in it Pellegrino poses questions like “Do you think the decline of kalo cultivation affected Hawaiians’ health and diet?” and “How did Hawaiians use and share water resources?” Plus, the guide encourages kids to do independent research about the “rise, decline and practice of diverting water,” related to the sugar industry, and to contact local kalo growers to acquire huli and care for their own kalo.
The book also features a two-page, 50-word glossary that makes for easy reference of Hawaiian words used in the text, but may not be readily known by the reader—words like pohaku ku’i ‘ai (poi pounder) and ‘auwai (a ditch or canal used to transport water from streams to the lo’i kalo).
But nearly tantamount to the story and its supplements are its captivating illustrations. Artist Linda Rowell Stevens, a Pahoa, Hawaii Island resident, seems to source every jeweled, natural hue and her work brims with an effervescent mystique mirroring that which Pellegrino pours into his words.
With all the ideas conveyed in Uncle Kawaiola’s Dream, the steadfast lesson connecting them all is that the path toward actualization is a patient one, wherein “taking small steps,” is the only means by which to accomplish big dreams. Pellegrino’s heartfelt new book is sure to inspire big things from even our smallest readers.