Lei (Garland)

My initial experience with lei pua (flower lei) was a frightening one. As a child of five, visiting my Maui cousins for the first time, I was unacquainted with the custom of lei giving and became overwhelmed as cousin after cousin placed lei after lei over my head. Overcome by the fragrance and the weight of the flowers I simply sank to my knees. Continue reading “Lei (Garland)”

Kapu (Set Apart)

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Kapu placed at Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site, Kohala, Hawai’i Island

On the GoVisitHawaii site, there is a warning, “Honor Kapu Symbols When You Visit Hawaii”. Kapu means that something is set apart from other things. Usually, this has something to do with separating the sacred from the profane. Continue reading “Kapu (Set Apart)”

Finally, My Ship Has Come In

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Hokulea in NY shot by Na’Alehu Anthony, Oiwi TV

Finally, my ship has come in. Well, not a ship exactly. A wa’a. A wa’a kaulua. A Hawaiian ocean-going canoe. Her name is derived from a celestial light, Arcturis, which Hawaiians call Hokule’a, the Star of Gladness. When a Hawaiian voyager sees this star, she knows she is almost home, and as we all learned from Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, there’s no place like home. Continue reading “Finally, My Ship Has Come In”

The King and The Navigator

Hokule‘a is in the water now, sailing up the coast from the Capitol in Washington, D.C. to New York City. She is a Hawaiian  wa‘a kaulua (ocean canoe), the guiding light of a nation, the Hawaiian nation, called the people of the wa‘a. Continue reading “The King and The Navigator”

Holoku ‘Ele ‘ele (Black Holoku)

My grandmother, Abigail McMillen, “Auntie Abbie” to almost everyone who knew her, was a big woman. Big heart. Big soul. Big body. She came to me from Hawaii the year of Statehood and became a fixture at every gathering of local Hawaiians in the Washington, D.C. area. If there was a meal, she would pray the Benediction. If there was hula, she would strum her guitar or tenor ukulele. If there was a luau – that meant one thing – get out the Black Holoku.

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Auntie Abbie in her black holoku with Family Friend Helle Starke

Continue reading “Holoku ‘Ele ‘ele (Black Holoku)”

Ha (Breath)

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Thomas James O’Connor, my Dad.

As a teen, my asthma would often send me to the TV room in the middle of the night, where I would sit in a chair with two or three pillows piled onto my lap to support my hunched shoulders as I willed myself to breathe. Reruns of McHale’s Navy and Combat and the late night movie provided some companionship as I bargained my way through an attack, begging God to make it stop and finally cursing God for the lungs that have failed me my entire life.

Continue reading “Ha (Breath)”

Ipu (Gourd/Percussion Instrument)

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My mother, Kanoelani O’Connor with her ipu.

Waiting on a subway platform was part of my daily commute for almost 10 years. Expressing down to 14th Street from Times Square to pick up the local to Canal and Varick. Waiting on the platform, listening to the number 2 wiz by on its way to Brooklyn. The sound of train connecting with track. A New York City rhythm beckoning a more primal rhythm. The slap, tap, tap of the ipu beating out the footsteps of the first hula I ever learned – Kawika. Continue reading “Ipu (Gourd/Percussion Instrument)”