My journey as makua o'o began deliberately when I met and apprenticed with Kupuna Aunty Betty Kawohiokalani Jenkins. She introduced me to the practice, sharing her Momma's definitions of an adult on the path to becoming an elder. I was already well along the chronological road when I met Aunty Betty, already fifty. The structure of makua o'o the nine tools listed on the tool-bar to the right is something a Scorpio-sun woman with lots of Saturn in her signature thrives upon. I see the value in knotting threads together and routinely break knots that confine only to rethread my needle to string again. The years of practice with the makua o'o's tools have been fruitful, serving me to keep on when maluhiluhi.
The weekend just passed reunited me with a kumu who inspired a spark of exploration decades before my meeting with Aunty Betty. During my years as a student at the University of Hawaii in Manoa, at a time when all the knots of investigating and becoming were loose, I sat in one history class with the only Hawaiian professor I would meet as an undergraduate. Young in my understanding of my own history, Rubellitte Kawena Johnson spoke with a clear, strong voice and challenged knowingly the tentativeness of my mind. This weekend I found that role model back in my life again. She probably in her eighties, and me sixty-two. Once again, she has changed me for the good, stirring me to assume I can climb the coconut tree. Have you climbed a coconut tree with bare feet? I have not.
Among the teachings of Kumu Kawena I listened and watched her tell the story of her Puna grandmother to whom Rubellitte Johnson credits with her strength of character and determination. The gist of this wonderful story is this:
At age 5, young Rubellitte was told to climb the coconut tree at her tutu's house. The 10 or 15 foot tall coconut tree seemed an impossible challenge to the girl. She told her tutu, "I cannot. I'll fall down." Her tutu said, "You can. Just .... (she talked the girl through the process)." At 4 feet tall, her tutu was shorter than young "Ruby." Without benefit of pants to protect her legs and body from climbing, the girl climbed only to reach the crown of the tree and have to balance and then pick, how many coconuts? "8 coconuts for all the aunties and uncles coming." "I cannot," The girl told her tutu. "Yes, you can. Just ... and again her tutu showed her how to twist the coconut to loosen its hold. 5 year old Ruby did that. Bam! Down the coconut came. Before she was 8 years old Ruby could climb trees 20 feet tall. To watch Kumu Kawena tell that story, join our Malama I Ka Ha workshop and join in the story-telling.
Niu Ola, coconut tree, tree of life, kinolau of the God Ku. Straight, up-right and sustaining the story of young Ruby is life-giving inspiration. I drink it like the electrolyte rich water of niu ola. The story, the reunion, the value beyond rational thinking cultivates my nature and I pass it along.
Who are the role models in your life? Are you the role model for the life you wish to live?