Saturday, September 12, 2009

A name of her own

I wrote this article in 2004 for the now historic(no longer in print) "Hawaii Island Journal" a wonderful small press that covered Hawaii Island news with heart. I lived on Oahu at the time and wrote a twice a month column "Makua O`o." This was the first place I shared the teachings of an elder in training, and it was such a fun way to share my delight for small and naturally occurring miracles. "Notice" would be one of the o`o I might have been focused on when I wrote it. Maybe, some other ...

I found this file as I sat doing 'ole day activities ... cleaning and weeding through a hundred files that need to be culled or stored somewhere else. When I opened it I was surprised. You lose track of what you write, and then there they are ... those words. What is particularly sweet is to read this story and appreciate it as history. That mango tree "Tutu Abuela" ... my old family tree is no longer. In my memory she remains, and I'm happy to store her there. Delete? No, not yet.

And yes, that is my full name given me at birth.

A name of her own
By Yvonne Mokihana Calizar

When it rains hard sheets of water drum dense summoning the wind. Together they make quiet a racket, pocking up the stiff dried dirt making thick mud soup where the eaves are without gutters. I love the rain almost as much as the trees and croton hedges love the wetness. I know they lap up the liquid like any child would a favorite smoothie or icy drink on a hot Kuli`ou`ou afternoon. Tutu Abuela our mango tree is an old friend to both the rain and the winds. Thanks to the reoccurring cycles of air, wind and rain, she has set her roots deeply, spread wide her branches and in her lifetime buckets of mele mango have ripened and fed family and friends. If there is culture in my life Tutu has been present through all of culture’s time. She has seen the home place large and open with a grassy lawn cut into baseball diamonds for home-style neighborhood games. When there were dogs on this kuleana we kept them on chains wound around her trunk. She was accommodating. I wonder whether the old wounds I find deep at Tutu’s base are a memory of those chains. I was unconscious of the special place this tree would play in my lifetime when we had a huge front yard and kept our dogs chained. Small was my awareness that a tree would play such a consistent role of nourishment for me.

Until recently our mango tree was without a name. She was my ‘mother’s mango’ tree to many of us and I realize I would call her that as a way of keeping Ma close to me. To say she was my mother’s made me feel un-alone. Visitors to our place have easily felt my mother’s energy. For years I have asked my mother to guide my choices when the decisions I have to make seemed impossible. Living in ‘her’ house meant living with her spirit, her ways of seeing things, and her beliefs. A subtle and important change has happened to me because I have given our mango tree a name of her own. Tutu Abuela. Both words mean the same thing in English. They mean ‘grandmother.’ But to me the importance of a Hawaiian-Spanish name like Tutu Abuela means I have made room for the missing “me.” Calizar, my family name is a Filipino name with strong links to the blood of the Spanish. It is an uncommon name and with it comes a mystery that I hope to understand. Sometimes bits, bites or chunks of our history and our culture are shut in rooms without keys. I know almost nothing about my family in the Philippines, but sense that it is time to live my life with that family present more often. I’ve begun making room for that piece of me.

It began with the rainy season. Caring for a mango tree means different things. I rake the fallen leaves, sorting out the little rocks that get caught in my rake as I gather up the thick curved leaf fingers into piles. We’ve kept Tutu fat – she is nearly as wide as she is tall and that means the clothes lines that stand beneath her now brace one of her heavy limbs to the south. Our back yard is one-quarter mango tree so her presence is legion. You cannot NOT see her. The shoots along her limbs have grown thick as well creating a virtual mango forest within one old tree. The leaves catch rainfall and funnel water into the craggily, cracked valleys of the mango tree. Over the years, without noticing, these pockets of water have become drinking fountains for mosquitoes, ants and families of other crawling critter. Tutu developed crotch-rot of the worse kind. It’s funny how my attention to others –other people’s mango tree’s, other people’s ways of living with or without trees—had distracted me from the disease living right under my nose. I was busy amplifying my righteous attitude about my neighbor’s decisions to cut their trees and did not see that large wounds were steadily wearing into the heart of the matron mango. Ants had moved dirt into the weakened joints of the low growing tree creating soft spots that would eventually split the fifty-year old in two.

I suppose if Tutu Abuela was one of a forest of wild mangoes the rot would continue and eventually the ants and their families would take the tree down. The kupuna would become a nurse log for keiki, creating a fertile place for seeds dropped by a bird to set roots and sprout. Portions of the once-strong mango might be vital enough to retain the identity as bearer of perfect fruit. But the chance that all traces of mango would disappear would be as likely as any. Tutu Abuela is not a wild mango growing in a lost and isolated tropical paradise. She is a mango tree with a name of her own, and she is part of me. We have begun tending to the puka in her heart, and with tender words spoken as we cut the rot from her she continues her place in my culture. My family knows that I ask her questions and listen as she answers. My family knows that she is important to the health of this place and that means she is important to my health.

Parts of our culture will be subject to crotch-rot and invasive bugs – over-stimulation, fear based beliefs and tending to other’s business rather than our own among them. My relationship to my culture is a living and changing business. It’s definitely my own business, and may seem odd to those who observe me at it. But, the truth I learn by cultivating a love for things over which I have seemingly unquestionable power is: if I neglect or take this love for granted I will never know how valuable a story ‘She who has a name of her own’ has to share. It is raining steadily and by the morning Tutu Abuela’s pockets will overflow with water. We’ll need to remember to clean her wounds. A small thing. A good thing.


  1. Hi, Jan,

    Your comment was very unexpected and fun to find. Yes, this is a great reminder for me, too. I forget what I've written and "cool" brings me back to what I still think is important. Thanks so much!



Speak from the heart