Kapahu Living Farm

On Friday, June 27th, Karen, Colleen and I visited Kapahu Living Farm—an organic farm in Kipahulu on Maui. We were excited to look around the farm and to learn more about Kalo (Hawaiian name for “taro”), a nutrient-rich plant that has been harvested by Native Hawaiians for centuries, and is used to make popular Hawaiian foods, such as poi.

Kalo patches at Kapuhu Living Farm

Kalo patches at Kapuhu Living Farm

Kalo is grown in deep, watery mud patches like the ones shown above. Our guide, Scott Crawford told us that the Kalo patches on Kapahu Living Farm are hundreds of years old and were brought back after being filled in by ranchers. He also said that wherever you can find a water source and a flat piece of land, a kalo patch will be there. This means that there are hundreds of taro patches on the islands that are not being used, largely because of the land being taken from the Hawaiian people. Thankfully, although Kapahu Living Farm is within the limits of the Haleakala National Park, it is its own entity, which means that local staff controls the farm. This allows them to ensure that traditional methods of growing taro are used whenever possible. Kapahu Living Farm works to keep Hawaiian farming traditions alive, and it also largely contributes to the local community. For example, kalo harvested from Kapahu is distributed for many events such as graduation parties, birthday parties, and funerals, as well as for the East Maui Taro Festival.

We were thankful to have been given an opportunity to work in one of the kalo patches on the farm. It felt amazing to be able to care for a plant that Native Hawaiians have been using to sustain themselves for centuries, and that is sacred to the Hawaiian people. Because so much has been destroyed in Hawaii by colonialism, the tourism industry, and the military, it felt like we were able to give something back to the land, which is an incredible feeling. (It was also a lot of fun to play in the mud!)

Karen Stepping into MudMud Attire

It was a truly a memorable and inspiring experience 🙂

**Be sure to click on the links to learn more about the kalo plant and its history, as well as the East Maui Taro Festival!**

An added note on Aug. 18 from Karen: Our afternoon at the kalo farm was summed up nicely by our guide Scott, who told us that there’s a Hawaiian saying, “Ma ka hana ka ‘ike,” which means “one learns by doing” (“one gains insight/knowledge/learning through doing/working”). And it seems to me that this phrase could apply to OWU’s travel-learning experiences as a whole!

Learning about Hokule’a

While we were traveling, there was one subject that kept coming up: Hokule’a. I had never heard of it before coming to Hawai’i, but it was everywhere on the islands. In this post I’ll share some of what I learned in our travels.

Hokule’a is an ocean-going canoe that was built by members of the Polynesian Voyaging Society and lots of volunteers in the 1970s during the Hawaiian Renaissance, a resurgence of cultural practices and language and Native Hawai’ian pride. (There’s lots of information about the Polynesian Voyaging Society and their previous projects at this web site, and information about their current project here.)

Hokule’a is the Hawai’ian name for the star also called Arcturus, which you can find by arcing over from the handle of the Big Dipper; it’s part of the constellation The Herdsman. It’s very bright and noticeable, and has a reddish hue to it–even a non-astronomer person like me can find it! Here’s a link about its place in Anglo-European and other cosmologies. In Hawai’ian star knowledge, Hokule’a is the “Star of Gladness” or “Star of Joy,” an important guide for those traveling on the Pacific Ocean. In the planetarium and on O’ahu, looking at the sky at night, we were able to spot it pretty easily.

At the Bishop Museum’s planetarium show, the astronomers told a story of using the planetarium to help the navigators of Hokule’a learn about the night sky in Hawai’i, and across the Pacific Ocean; their first navigator, a man from Satawal (an island in Micronesia) named Pius Mau Piailug, or “Papa Mau,” knew the traditional methods of way-finding that had been passed down for generations. I loved that the project involved multiple ways of knowing–traditional, using oral stories and maps drawn on the ground, and western, using the latest technology in simulating the night sky. Both were useful and respected.

canoe replica at Imiloa

Replica of a double-hulled canoe, Imiloa Astronomy Center

The traditions of wayfinding through the Pacific were almost lost due to colonialism–as evidenced by the Hokule’a crew having to go outside Hawai’i to find a navigator. We learned from Craig Santos Perez, a poet from Guam/Guahan, that his ancestors’ canoes had all been burned by Spanish invaders so that the islanders could not leave. (He writes about this event and its aftermath in From Unincorporated Territory: Saina.) But in 1976, Hokule’a, a canoe of traditional design, sailed from Hawai’I to Tahiti and back again, the crew using the old ways of navigating, just as Pacific Islanders had been doing for hundreds of years before colonization.

This achievement in and of itself is fantastic and wonderful and exciting and inspiring. But when people revive an important piece of their culture, it’s not just about that one piece; all sorts of other things come along with it. Hokule’a brought with it the revival and resurgence of Native language and cultural practices, research into traditional methods of things like ship-building and carving and plant-growing and harvesting, the creation of new songs and learning of old chants, and the creation of new connections among people across the Pacific Islands as well as within Hawai’i. Hokule’a created a resurgence of pride and hope.

The story I heard repeatedly was that, after the first voyage of Hokule’a, Native Hawai’ians (and other indigenous Pacific Island people) knew that their ancestors, their kupuna, were not backward, primitive, savage people. They didn’t just reach Hawai’i by accident, by luck (as had been theorized). They were navigators and ocean voyagers with a sophisticated understanding of the sea and the land, and they knew what they were doing. They had developed technologies and fields of knowledge that enabled them to do something we still see as astounding. And their kupuna crossed the ocean again and again. As a film at the Bishop Museum put it, the Pacific Ocean was not a void that separated the people of the various islands from each other, but a path that connected all of them to each other. It was the means by which they traveled to each other.

canoe exhibit at Bishop

Pacific Island canoes, exhibit at the Bishop Museum

Hokule’a has traveled many times now, all over the Pacific; she is sailing, right now, all over the world. (More on that below.)

I became fascinated by Hokule’a, and at every island felt like the canoe “talked” to me in unexpected ways. The Hawai’ian Airlines in-flight magazine Hana Hou ran a cover story on Hokule’a while we were there. At the Airbnb place we rented on Maui, one man living in the house had sailed with Hokule’a and told us stories of how he and other crew members lived and traveled on the ocean. When we were invited to a family reunion on Maui, the band played a song that had been written by a crew member on Hokule’a on one of its journeys. (Here’s a version of it sung by Iz.)

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GWkKAQxe2mc]

On the big island, the woman who took care of the Airbnb place we rented was the daughter of a pastor who had blessed the canoe and the crew at the beginning and end of their journey. Her nephew is a canoe-carver who has worked with the Hokule’a crew, and in that same family, I met the daughter of one of the navigators who is on Hokule’a right now.

I kept getting reminders, little proddings to learn more, find out more, listen more. Everywhere we went, if I brought up Hokule’a, people knew where it was that day, and where it was going next. I plan to keep learning, and keep following where she is. Hokule’a is leading me forward.

Here’s a web site where you can track Hokule’a’s World Wide Voyage, her current project to bring awareness to the health of Mother Earth. (And here’s a film about that project.) On this journey, she is accompanied by Hikianalia, a second canoe outfitted with equipment the crew is using to make measurements and track data about the health of the ocean and air and the creatures that live in them. Young crew members and apprentice navigators are being trained on this journey, and will take over on its last leg.

Hokule’a is writing a new future, one in which the next generation practices and passes down the art of way-finding… and so many other important ways of understanding our place in the universe.


Visiting Pele

Our last few days in Hawaii were spent exploring the areas around two of the Big Island’s active volcanoes. There are five volcanoes that make up the island of Hawai’I, three of which are considered active, and a visit to Volcanoes National Park takes you past Mauna Loa, the world’s largest, and its neighbor Kilauea, the world’s most active. Volcanoes are extremely important to Hawaii’s history both as the force behind the islands’ creation as well as being some of the islands’ most spiritually important areas. Kilauea’s Halema’uma’u crater is even said to be the current home of Pele after her journey across the islands to find a suitable home.

We’d seen volcanoes, or their remains, on Oahu and Maui, but visiting each of these sites is incredible. Starting from the top of Kilauea at Halema’uma’u (about 4000 ft above sea level) and seeing the steam billowing from the lava pool deep inside is a powerful experience and the otherworldliness of the landscape makes it easy to believe that Pele has made her permanent home here.



The Jaggar Museum, which marks the overlook to the crater, is quite informative as well– providing the science and history behind the active volcano as well as the story of Pele and her arrival. The exhibits make an effort to present the traditional beliefs of the indigenous peoples with the same sort of purpose and importance as that of the current science, showing that the two are not mutually exclusive.

We followed the trail of lava from Kilauea’s summit down the aptly named Chain of Craters road, stopping occasionally to admire the lava fields (the newest of them being only a few years old!). It’s obvious from viewing these miles of burnt landscape that not all lava is the same. The dried wave-like, reflective Pa’hoe’hoe is sharply contrasted by the crumbly, dark dirt-like texture of A’a.


Ropey Pa’hoe’hoe lava


At the oceanfront, the road ends, but you must get out of your car and walk the last stretch of the road to see why–a lava flow has covered the road towards Kalapana, a town which suffered the same fate as the road. It’s a reminder that even in this modern era, we are still no match for Pele’s destructive force.


The important thing to remember is that while Pele destroys, she also creates, and that the island of Hawai’i is still growing. Another volcano is slowly rising from the ocean floor 22 miles to the south and Kilauea adds new land to the island’s southern coast every year.


A new coastline

Saying mahalo to Makua Valley

(Edited on July 10, 2014. I’ve put brackets around the information I added after the original posting, on July 2.)

On Sunday, June 22nd, we had a very special opportunity to learn about a contested place on the island of O’ahu, and meet the people who are helping to take care of it.

John Martin, a friend of David Soliday’s (see the acknowledgements! yay!) from seminary, invited us to join him and a group called Malama Makua (taking care of Makua) who visit a site called Makua Valley twice a month. Visiting Makua Valley gave me some insights about the matrix of interests who have a stake in what happens to land in Hawai’i, and why.

Let me give you a sense of what’s in that matrix:

— The U.S. military. The military owns the site, and uses it for training. As you can see in the photos, the hills around the valley are steep; the footing can be challenging, and some of the vegetation gives soldiers the experience of working in a semi-tropical environment. [Because the site belongs to the military, entry is restricted, and the grounds are enclosed by high fences. Security is tight.]

— The tourism industry. The valley is on the leeward side of the island, which means the weather is less rainy than the windward side, which translates into more sunny days for tourists. There are major highways that go to the area, so it’s accessible from the airport in Honolulu. While there is no development at Makua Valley itself, when you travel to it you can see high-rise condos in the near distance on both sides. And there are expensive apartment/condo buildings that have been built in the area around Waianae, the main town near Makua Valley. All of this means that the residents of Waianae have a very difficult time finding affordable housing. John told us that lots of houses have two families in them because that’s the only way they can pay the rent. So, because of land values, which have gone up exponentially because of the tourism industry, the people who live there are financially pressed.

— The Native Hawaiian sovereignty movement. Native Hawaiian people have questioned the relationship between their kingdom and the U.S. government for a long, long time; in the 1970s, a groundswell of people became activists to reclaim their power over themselves and their land, and revitalize their language and cultural practices. Part of the movement’s focus was to reclaim lands that have been used by the military, and Makua Valley is one of those places.

Our visit

Our day started with a visit to a heiau–a structure built for ceremony–near Waianae [just east of Makua Valley]. There are heiaus all over Hawai’i, some of them noted by roadside markers, some of them in out-of-the-way places, some of them now in people’s back yards. Some are large, some are small. The one at Waianae is large, and what remains are low rock walls, built without mortar. It sits on a piece of land that juts out into the ocean between two beaches. It was easy to see why such a beautiful and awe-inspiring place would be perfect for ceremonies.

heiau panorama

panorama at the heiau, looking mauka–toward the mountain

heiau rocks

looking makai–toward the ocean–from the heiau

heiau wall

heiau wall

After a meal of local foods at a restaurant in Waianae (including lau lau pork, kalua pork, poi, rice, and macaroni salad, all YUM), we visited a cave between Waianae and Makua Valley. John told us that this was the site of the first human habitation on O’ahu; when people arrived here, they lived in the cave before they built places to live in the valley. It had access to fresh water, to fish (in the ocean) and plants, and served as a shelter. When we went into the cave, we saw that visitors have left offerings–including a braid of sweetgrass!

Kaneana cave

going into the cave

offerings at Kaneana cave

offerings inside the cave

looking out from Kaneana cave

looking out from the cave

There was a beach nearby, and lots of families were out, spending their Sunday having picnics and enjoying the ocean. It was wonderful to think of this place inviting humans to be here for many centuries.

After visiting the cave, we went on to the valley… and things got a little bit more complicated. Because it’s a military site, we had to go through a gate and gather at a pavilion where our IDs were checked and we signed release forms. We were given an orientation by three people representing three separate entities, all of which are involved in maintaining the site [and all of which are contractors hired by the army], noting archaeological artifacts and protecting them from people, and protecting visitors from UXO, unexploded ordnance. (From the 1940s to 2004, soldiers who were trained in the valley used live ammunition, which means that there are artillery shells, grenades, and bullets in the area; most of it has been removed, but there’s still a possibility something could be there. Here’s a link to a story from 2011 about live fire exercises being discontinued at Makua Valley. But that may be changing as well; more below.)

More visitors joined us, and things got simpler, more comfortable. There were “regulars” from Malama Makua who have been coming there for years, and people who joined more recently. There was a young Native Hawaiian woman visiting the site for the first time, though her family has been living in the area for a long, long time; her last name is Makua!

group at ahu Makua Valley

pausing at the ahu, after prayers

Leandra sang the chant asking permission to enter a place, and we walked to an ahu–an altar–and gave thanks and left offerings. [The ahu was built by people from Malama Makua who have been visiting the site and trying to honor it as a special place to Hawaiians despite the fact that it’s being used as a military training ground.] (The folks from Malama Makua had brought rain water–a special form of water for ceremony because it has not yet touched the ground–and a lei made of Spanish moss.)

Then the kapu was over and we could be more casual. We walked on the grounds, chatting and sharing stories (olelo) and taking pictures and being awed by the views. It felt especially appropriate that our group was a mix of ages and ethnicities. One of the army contractors accompanying our group joined in, walking with us and sharing olelo and telling us about growing up in Waianae.

walking and sharing olelo in Makua Valley

walking and sharing olelo

and sharing olelo with the official guy

sharing olelo with the archaeological officer!

walking in Makua Valley 2

walking and taking pictures

Leandra and Fred shared a lot of information about the history of the place, both ancient and recent. One of the highlights was a small cave where a spring once flowed.

But we were not able to go to some places on the grounds that the Malama Makua folks usually visit, including a site where there are ancient petroglyphs. (As you can imagine, I was especially disappointed about not being able to see them.) As it turns out, the agreement between the military and Malama Makua is under negotiation; as part of that agreement, the military mows the grass and maintains the roads in the valley. Malama Makua refused to sign the new agreement, as it [includes language that says the army may resume using live ammunition at the site in the future. Malama Makua does not want to open the door to that practice being resumed, so they won’t sign the agreement].

But because the agreement has not been signed, the military has not mowed the grass; and because the grass is tall, the ground is no longer visible; and because the ground is no longer visible, the danger of encountering UXO is too high; and because of this, visitors are not allowed to go to where the petroglyphs are.

looking mauka in Makua Valley

the valley, and my shadow

I have so many mixed feelings about this situation! Of course, it’s all logical and reasonable, on the surface. We don’t want visitors to be injured, of course. But it also feels like one side is sticking to the letter of the law so that the other side feels pressured to sign the agreement. And it also feels like Native Hawaiians are being denied access to a sacred site, important to the history of the land and its people, by a colonizing force that found a loophole that gives them a bit more power.

Negotiation of the new agreement is likely to take a long time. Everything has to be reviewed by people in the Pentagon–a place that feels impossibly far away from here, and so separated from the concerns and values of the local people–the people who belong to this ‘aina (land), and who have been sustained and fed and nurtured by it for so long, and who continue to take care of it as best they can [given their limited access to it].

sunset light on the valley

evening light at Makua Valley

sunset on the valley 2

sunset light on the mountains, Makua Valley

This is just one tiny piece of the larger picture of places in the Pacific Islands being used by U.S. and European military forces, which we found reflected in much of the literature we read in our independent study. Here’s a link to a recent article written by Craig Santos Perez, a Chamorran poet living in Hawai’i whom we met on our second day of the trip.His home island of Guahan (Guam) is being considered for major military buildup, including using a sacred site for exercises.

I’m not sure how to end this post except to say that Makua Valley was so beautiful and felt very special, a place where people have been taken care of by the land for so long. It’s hard for me to imagine setting off bombs in that place.

Coming to Hawai’i

For me, it’s already been a year of travel. Prior to arriving in Hawaii, I spent 4 months studying abroad in Japan and, even though I was there to learn Japanese and immerse myself in Japanese culture, I found myself meeting and befriending people from all over the world who had come to the university for the same purpose. Just in the suite I lived in, there were girls from Germany, Canada, Argentina, Italy, Morocco, South Korea, and Thailand. It’s through these people that I was able to learn the most and also share information I had learned.

Last summer was the first opportunity I had to travel with Karen and Taylor through the Native American Literature Travel Learning course and it was the things I saw on that trip that I enjoyed sharing the most with my roommates. Many of them had no idea of the state of the American Indian people in the present and were surprised to hear how much of the language and cultural practices had been lost. My Korean friend was able to relate it to the state of her country during the Japanese occupation–an event that I also knew very little about. It was this kind of exchange of information that became one of the most important and enjoyable parts of my trip.

What I also noticed while I was abroad was the impact that American media has all over the world. American Hollywood movies are shown in theaters everywhere and the Internet makes American-made TV shows easily accessible. In Japan, baseball is the most popular sport and merchandise with American team logos are like fashion statements–so there were no shortage of Cleveland Indian ball caps and t-shirts. Even on advertisements and signs in Osaka I saw fake headdresses and, in Japanese clothing stores, Indian heads on t-shirts (learn more about native appropriation here at nativeappropriations.com). I’d come to expect seeing things like this in America but being abroad and seeing it in a country different from my own came as a shock.

For me, seeing these images and having these conversations made me feel a kind of responsibility. Through our American media we portray indigenous cultures–as well as many other cultures–with many of the stereotypes and misconceptions that have been present throughout history. Not only does this misinform many of the American viewers but it also misinforms the worldwide audience as American media reaches more and more people. As someone who wants to go into a career in the area of commercial art and pop culture, it became even more important to me to learn as much as I can and, in turn, to portray things as accurately as I can.

Tea and Tour

On Thursday afternoon we joined a lovely group of people for the “Tea and Tour” at the Honolulu Museum of Art.

Tea and Tour 1

Basically, we took a tour of an exhibit at the museum that featured Indigenous arts from all over the world, including Africa, North America, and Polynesia.

Tea and Tour 5 Tea and Tour 6

Afterwards, our group met in a little cafe at the museum to discuss the tour and the artwork that we had seen in the exhibit. (There were also cookies!)

Tea and Tour 2 Tea and Tour 3

While we were excited about the artwork in the exhibit, Karen, Colleen, and myself had joined a group of people who regularly attend the Tea and Tour. For roughly five minutes we talked about art, and then for about half an hour or so the three of us listened in on a conversation concerning travel and senior living in Oahu. Although it wasn’t quite the conversation we had expected, the dialogue was surprisingly thought-provoking. Oahu (as well as Hawai’i in general) is an extremely popular tourist destination, attracting visitors from all over the world. With such an emphasis placed on bringing in tourism, many populations of people who actually live in Hawai’i are rarely recognized by the general public. For senior citizens, this means poor public transportation, narrow sidewalks, and therefore limited mobility. Hearing about the difficulties they have going to the grocery store or getting to a doctor’s appointment helped me to see further beyond the stereotypes of Hawai’i as a “paradise” and to recognize that issues that exist on the mainland exist even in places that promote such a beautiful and luxurious representation. I feel like this message is fairly obvious, but actually meeting with senior citizens from Oahu and getting to hear them speak on these issues resonated strongly with me. Much like the impact getting to see for myself the affects of the tourist industry in Hawai’i, being able to personally connect with people in Hawai’i is incredibly compelling as well.

Tea and Tour 4

I hope you can see the beauty of this group from the photos. They were wonderful–very talkative and intelligent–not to mention funny and kind. (And obviously the cutest! 🙂 )

Tourism in Hawai’i

When one thinks about Hawai’i, words such as “paradise”, “nirvana”, and “Heaven on Earth” typically come to mind. While many who visit Hawai’i gush about its beauty and vivacity, we rarely hear about the sharp contrast between the rich mountains and beaches with the concrete buildings and sidewalks. Because Hawai’i has been labeled a major vacation destination, millions of tourists flock to Hawai’i yearly from all over the world. Furthermore, many have moved to Hawai’i, creating issues of overcrowding and immense poverty for Hawai’ians (particularly for the indigenous Hawai’ian population).

Before we even landed in Honolulu issues of overcrowding became glaringly obvious:


Although we frequently discussed the effects of the tourism industry in islands like Hawai’i in Fall 2013, having this as one of my initial sights in Oahu has strongly stuck with me throughout our week here. In a land that has so much beauty and such a rich history, it’s heartbreaking to see how much of it has been destroyed.

On top of tourist industries demolishing the land, there are several military bases that use sacred Native Hawai’ian sites for target and bombing practice, furthering and encouraging the destruction and desecration of the land and of Native Hawai’ian traditions.

On Wednesday morning we got to meet for coffee with poets Brandi Nalani McDougall (Hawaii) and Craig Santos Perez (Guam) (along with their new baby! 🙂 )


 Both focus heavily on these issues in their writing, in which they provide insightful and thought provoking perspectives on these issues, so I encourage you to check out some of their work by clicking on the links below. (Also, be sure to take a look at Craig’s new book of poems: From Unincorporated Territory [Guma’]which he gave us each a copy of at our meeting. Very sweet! 🙂 )

Brandy’s TedTalk

Craig’s Website

Oahu, Day One: A Photo Essay

 Colleen and Karen looking in the DistanceWe began our first day in Oahu with a hike up to Manoa Falls. It was absolutely incredible.

Red Trees and Karen 1908018_10203803017621017_3941984001746646375_n


Waterfall from a DistanceTop of waterfall 2 (use this one)Bottom of WaterfallKaren and Taylor Waterfall Karen and Colleen Waterfall




After our hike to the waterfall, we stopped in at Lyon Arboretum (which is something similar to a botanical garden). Below is a picture of two Banyan trees. Although not native to Hawaii (they are from India) these amazing trees can be found all over Oahu.

Beautiful Banyans

(All photo credits in this post go to Taylor Johnson.)

Karen chiming in here for a brief comment! Going up to Manoa Falls was a great way to start our trip by experiencing the ‘aina–the land. Later in the day we briefly visited the ocean at Waikiki Beach, just to dip our toes in the water. By seeing the land from the source of the water at Manoa Falls to where it goes into the ocean, we were seeing an ahupua’a: a segment of land as it was conceived of before colonization. Brandy Nalani McDougall explained the next day that an ahupua’a followed the water, and everyone living in that ahupua’a had access to the water as an important resource that sustained life. We’ll be learning more about this concept later in the trip, but I think it was kind of cool that we experienced it on our first day on Oahu, kind of accidentally!

Doing research in “Paradise”

I’ve been busy running errands, making lists, adding things to our itinerary, and trying to think of what we’ll need—all the usual things that a person does before a big trip. But I’ve also been thinking about how to explain, to our friends and family what we’re going to do on our trip.

We’re not going there on vacation! We’re going to Hawai’i on a legitimate learning trip, with legitimate research goals! We’ll be doing work! It’s been a little hard to convince people we’re not just going there to relax on the beach and let our cares drift away.

Maybe it’s in part because people in the U.S.—and a lot of other places—think of the Pacific Islands as “Paradise.” This idea has been in circulation since the period when European kings and queens sent ships around the world to explore and conquer and seize for their own the remote places that held the promise of land and resources—strategic advantages as they built their own empires.


Resolution and Adventure in Matavai Bay, by William Hodges (a 1776 painting of Captain Cook and his crew exploring Tahiti)

In the afterword to Vilsoni Hereniko and Teresia Teaiwa’s play Last Virgin in Paradise: A Serious Comedy, Robert Nicole describes the myth that preceded the discovery of Tahiti (and other Pacific Islands), when Europeans imagined a place where happiness was possible, far away from the complexities and materialism of their own cultures. When Europeans came to the islands, they already had an idea of what they were hoping to find: an escape from their problems, a refuge from the world. They saw the islands as Paradise—and the cultures they found as simple and unspoiled—because that’s what they wanted to see.

We (Colleen and Taylor and I) spent the Fall 2013 semester thinking about the issues of identity, colonialism, culture, and literary expression when we did our Independent Study on literature by Indigenous Pacific Island writers. We learned about issues that are important to these writers, like relationships to particular places, keeping stories and tracing genealogies, negotiating identity in a complex world, and resisting the erasure of their languages and cultures even as they embrace change and claim new forms of expression.

We’re really excited about the opportunity Ohio Wesleyan University has given us to go to Hawai’i to see and experience the place, to meet with people who can talk to us about their ideas of what it means to live there and engage in their cultures. We plan to learn a lot—absorb lots of information, listen and look and ask questions.

I suspect we’ll also have some quiet time, some down time to process what we’re learning and write a blog post or two, a journal entry (every day, I hope). And maybe this will happen, at least sometimes, on a beach. I think we might have fun and relax… Oh my!

In the past couple weeks, I’ve realized that perhaps my defensive reaction—to try to emphasize only the hard part of what we’ll do there, and ignore the fact that Hawai’i is a beautiful place with cultures I’ve never experienced before—is just as bad as being the worst kind of tourist. Perhaps it would be just as sad to try to put on blinders to the beauty we’ll see, and the things we’ll enjoy. That seems wrong-headed, too.

I hope we’ll be good travelers, good visitors, and appreciate and honor and show respect to the people we meet and the places we go. I’m looking forward to the work, and to being in such a beautiful place.

And I hope you’ll follow along with us as we travel and learn. To start with, I’d like to share two pieces with you. First, a poem that I think beautifully expresses the continuation of an ancient practice into today, and what it still means to people in the islands. The poem uses vernacular language, helping us to hear what it sounds like in the voices of people living in Hawai’i. Here it is:

“Tatz,” by Ku’ualoha Ho’omanawanui
Da bois write tatz
all up dea ahm
down da thigh
across dea backz
tappin experience
into dea skin
like genealogy
dea personal history
names of dead ancestors
tapped into skin
inoa po mix wit blood
invisible dna
made visible
dey cahv images of ancestahs
like kalo
hahts wit dea ipo’s namez
love an ancestry tapped
tru tutu’s sewing needle
wrapped in cotton tred
dey no moa pepa in da house
dey scade fo’get something
who dey are
wea dey come from
wea dey stay
wea dey goin
mo’olelo fade wit memory
mix ink wit blood wit pain
no fo’get

— from the collection Mauri Ola: Contemporary Polynesian Poems in English, edited by Albert Wendt, Reina Whaitiri, and Robert Sullivan

When I read the poem in my head, I hear it in the voice of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (also known as Iz), the famous Hawai’ian singer; here’s my favorite song of his, which also expresses links between the present and the past, and resistance to cultural erasure:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqNkWa1KlAY]

We’ll have another post coming soon! Next up: Taylor and Colleen providing some of their thoughts on our upcoming trip…