Thursday, June 27, 2013

Moon and Sun, Earth and Sea: The importance of their stories

"Entering the world of ancestral memory requires a certain mindset...To understand the many levels of mele, one must digest, believe in, invest in, defend and commit to Hawaiian cultural practices and Hawaiian language arts. The Hawaiian cultural knowledge one possesses, along with the clues presented in chants, creates a stage for enlightenment--a junction where memory and na'au meet and produce instantaneous moments when ancestral knowledge is reborn again.

Know your culture and language well enough so these special moments do not flee without recognition."

-Pualani Kanaka'ole Kanahele

"The shadows always intrigued her, even as a girl child the patterns that happened onto her skin caused something different. Through the screened window the moon did not ask permission to tattoo her. While everyone else slept, this child made room for the moon and the shadows and grew the voice.
 The wind's silent breezes changed the markings that floated onto her small brown arms. In the night 'brown' might have been any number of colors. The ink of moon's stains were always the same and wore itself on all pallets. But, it was the wind that made the tattooed dancers sway and change shape like hula changed the bodies of her aunties when they moved. She watched and let the shapes bathe their way into her blood, carried as messengers to the place where memories swam.

The snoring was such wonderful company for the shadows dancing now across her skin, on the tops of the pillowcases, and the punee filled with the rising and falling of sleeping bodies. When the moon bright light filled the night, her thoughts quieted. She rested that part of herself and came loose. No one watched her. No one wondered out loud why she never talked. And, the shadows loved the way she could be still while all the night through her smile was broad across her full face.

"Will she remember?" the Silence asked as all there watched her. No voices necessary, among the Shadowed Ones, the Wind teased the etched patterns.

"Her comfort with the moon will be constant, but words will distract her from time to time." The Wind knew of such things and gathered himself into a gust.

"When there is no light for shadows she will find the light that lives just under her skin," the Moon whispered. "Then, her distractions will play with her broad face and tickle smiles and laughter from her."

As if to shake them from their speculations, the punee rocked with thunder, sending the quiet away like flies from a pot of stew. The girl laughed out loud with a sound unfamiliar to the family sleeping. Roused from sleep the man lifted his face from his pillowed nest, "Baby girl?" Pretending to be fast asleep, she pulled her thumb back to her mouth and kept her secrets."- "Moon Tattoos" A Poem Copyright 2012 by Yvonne Mokihana Calizar
 "... So it wasn't our outer lives that Grimms' tales addressed: it was our inner ones. These stories have survived as stories, over so many centuries and in so many variations, because they do make such an appeal to the inner life -- you could say 'the dreaming self' and not be far wrong, because they are both the stuff of nightmare and magical thinking. As Margaret Drabble says, there is a mystery in such stories which is beyond the rational mind."- Margaret Atwood
The challenge and the gift of living life as makua o'o comes at many times, and throughout the whole of life. Not until I was 48 years old did I meet the kumu teacher who would introduce me to cultural practices fit for one no longer young but in need of clues. That kumu fit the image and the level of knowledge that would prepare me for the journey ahead. Aunty Betty Kawohikalani Jenkins would affirm the value of the poi bowl; the stories from that vessel would waken my na'au my innards. Eighteen years later I am slowly reading and digesting Pualani Kanaka'ole Kanahele's book Ka Honua Ola. Slowly reading and digesting as Kanahele suggests, knowledge grows on the back of real life. "E Ho'a no i pau kuhi hewa" Do the thing, and illusions disappear; life has done this for me again and again. One of life's great challenge has been to make peace with the time and circumstance of my birth: Was I born too late, or born too early? Funny. I was born prematurely, and born purple. At least that was the story I've believed since I was a girl. A small purple girl. Hmmm ... that was really my first clue that I may not so easily fit in. Admittedly, this is an old woman's perspective on a child's beginnings and I have had more than sixty years to hone by imagination.

The poem "Moon Tattoos" is one that I love at the marrow. In it the night life of small children who still see the world of shadows as more real than the world created by grown ups is secreted away. Out of wisdom from a time before birthing, the girl child uses her thumb to plug the gap and keeps her power. The writing of poetry or stories is the power that bridges logical and limited knowing with "-a junction where memory and na'au meet and produce instantaneous moments when ancestral knowledge is reborn again" that Pualani describes. When I write with a voice fed by the stories of Mahina, Moon, the language of ancestral memory interlaces meanings and the solidity buoys me, and the vulnerable purple baby girl is less lonely, more empowered. Together she and I, the purple girl and the aging woman bond like lava we are born again.

Kanahele's "intimate understanding of Hawaiian ritual and ceremony," as Hawaiian cultural expert Kalei Nu'uhiwa describes in testimony, "has not been articulated since the publication of nineteenth-century Hawaiian language newspapers." That I can read the language of my ancestors with English translations given through a Hawaiian screen is precious. To rebirth connection with moon, sun, earth and sea is a human birthright. To reconnect with mahina, la, papanohuamea e ke kai is to know language is the story. Measurement of success in the contemporary world are swiftly imploding, capitalism is, at best, shaky and replacement systems based on that premise will not hold while the planets align as they are. Uranus (quick and quirky), square off with Pluto (deep) as Saturn in Scorpio demands slow and steady learning of lessons.

I think about the role and the practice of story and storytelling all the time. Translation and navigation are my kuleana, my work. Learning to work within my limits determined by health, I look to astrology and the Ancients. To measure success I find in Kanahele's first chapter  "Mo'oku'auhau Genealogies", several clues. "The family line," Kanahele begins, "may include humans, elements of nature, sharks, or other forms of life. If important enough in the mythological framework of the social structure, the name is recorded..." First an introduction to the first mele or chant, and then the mele in both Hawaiian, then English. An interpretation follows, and here is where the revelation comes for me: "A footprint, especially the instep of a foot, is known as kapua'i, a measuring device. Another measuring device, pi'a, is the distance from the thumb to the little finger. Two pi'a equal one kapua'i..." The flow of measurements continues and without thinking my thumb and finger measure and the words, become meaningful. My body is involved, my na'au remembers that my mother, a lei maker, strung lengths of string measure with an outstretched arm to opposite shoulder.

Ah, the common magic of uncommon necessity. Born before time was measured by a western standard, I recall the Ancient and pin it to a tale that can be written for today. It's all magic, and we are part of it. I am a very lucky woman.

Thanks to Terri Windling for the inspiring blog series "Into the Forest" where I found Margaret Atwood's quote included above.

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