SAY ALOHA TO ALOHA
It’s not every day you wake up and find out that everything you knew about the Hawaiian word “aloha” is wrong.
Okay, maybe not everything. Back in 2006, while speaking at Seabury Hall, writer Paul Wood said that “aloha” was, as an idea, far more complex than most of us in the audience understood–and certainly more complex than anything put out by the state’s many salesmen and tourism gurus (of which, Wood admitted with great humility, he was one).
Here’s the thing. As things stand today, the word “aloha” is a greeting and a goodbye. It’s what we tell families as they’re getting off the plane, or when the show’s about to begin.
“Aloha!” the host will tell the audience, who will mutter “aloha” back.
“Alo-o-oha!” he will say again in mock disgust, to which the audience will “alo-o-oha!” right back.
And that’s all wrong, wrong, wrong. But don’t take my word for it–Queen Lili‘uokalani is a far better teacher on this matter. In 1910, after returning to Hawaii from a disappointing trip to the mainland, a crowd gathered at the wharf met Lili‘uokalani with a hearty “Alo-o-oha!” Her response, according to the slim, new book Aloha: Traditions of Love and Affection (the latest volume in UH’s Ka Wana Series on Hawaiian philosophy and culture) by University of Hawaii cultural specialist Malcolm Naea Chun, was cold and whithering.
“Never… never say alo-o-oha,” the queen told the crowd. “It is a haole word. Aloha is ours, as is its meaning.”
According to Chun, “aloha” as a mere greeting came about in post-contact times. Before Captain Cook, the Hawaiians used the word “aloha” to express “my love to you,” but even that definition doesn’t convey the word’s personal and profound nature. Pre-contact Hawaiians, Chun wrote, used the word sparingly, and with great meaning and emotion.
This is kind of a big deal. “Aloha” is the first and most discrete package of Hawaiian culture handed to tourists when they arrive, and it’s pretty much guaranteed to be the one thing everyone remembers when they leave. It is, to put it in the vulgar terms of modern advertising, an extremely marketable “brand” that is worth incalculable riches to Hawaii’s visitor industry.
This makes Chun, and myself (and Wood) feel, well, icky.
“[A]loha is special because it upholds, reaffirms, and binds relationships,” Chun wrote. “Aloha should not be taken lightly. It should not be used casually or frivolously.”
It’s good advice, but a bit late, considering that “Aloha” already appears on license plates, a bankrupt airline, restaurants, organic medicinal mushrooms, a credit union, a Honolulu landmark and sports stadium, furniture sales, software, car dealerships, cans of juice, gas stations, a style of men’s shirts and garbage trucks.
EMILY LIKES TULSI
With 2nd District Congressmember Mazie Hirono running for the U.S. Senate, the 2012 election to see who gets to represent all of Hawaii except Honolulu in the U.S. House of Representatives is wide open and, to be honest, kind of confusing.
Do we vote for Mufi Hannemann, the former Mayor of Honolulu? How about Tulsi Gabbard, the young Honolulu Councilmember and daughter of state Senator Mike Gabbard? And what about Office of Hawaiian Affairs Chief Advocate Esther Kiaaina? Then there are candidates with a bit lower name recognition, attorneys Rafael del Castillo and Bob Marx. And that’s the Democrats (no Republicans have, as yet, stepped forward to run).
But last Friday, the 900,000-member political action committee (PAC) EMILY’s List–which donates money exclusively to pro-choice Democratic women running in House and Senate races–announced that Gabbard was now “on the list,” so to speak.
“Tulsi is a leader in her community and a prime example of what a strong woman can accomplish in office,” said Stephanie Schriock, President of EMILY’s List, in a Dec. 16 press release.
“Throughout her career, Tulsi has promoted progressive environmental policies and worked with at-risk youth to create better opportunities for their future. As an Iraq war veteran, Tulsi brings an important perspective to Washington. Voters are eager for leadership that works on behalf of their communities–and they know that a candidate like Tulsi has their best interests in mind. Tulsi will help lead Democrats to take back the House in 2012, and EMILY’s List is thrilled to support her campaign.”
This doesn’t mean the race is over, but it does complicate things for Hanneman, et al. EMILY’s List is famous for doing their research before tying their name to a candidate, and they don’t often lose.
Seriously, Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie has a dark sense of humor that we should all be encouraging.
I first realized this when the big state Department of Taxation scandal broke last week. Long story short (the long story hasn’t actually been made public yet, so the short one is all we have), there have been “incidents of internal security breaches of the Department’s computer tax database” going back at least to 2008, according to a Dec. 15 press release from the governor’s office. The state Attorney General is investigating, and “a number of people” are now on “administrative leave without pay.”
It sounds bad, but Abercrombie’s official statement on the matter was a masterpiece of dry wit: “To the extent that any wrongful activity has taken place, anyone who has participated in or has had knowledge of these activities that date back to at least 2008 will be brought to account.”
Brought to account! That’s funny!
See, it’s the Department of Taxation we’re talking about, and it’s staffed by a bunch of accountants!
What, too soon?