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)

Kapu image
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

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.

Auntie Abbie in her black holoku with Family Friend Helle Starke

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

Ha (Breath)

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)

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)”

Ekolu Makou (We Three)

My tutu, Abigail Kunane McMillen; Me; my mom, Kanoelani O’Connor

When my maternal grandparents left Wahiawa, Oahu in 1959 to come and live with their eldest daughter’s family in Maryland, our house became a multi-generational home. As I think back on the first home we shared, I can’t for the life of me figure out how we all fit into that little split-level: Mom, Dad, me and two brothers plus Gramps, Nana, and my mom’s youngest sister. I think people needed less space back in the 60’s. Somehow we made it work. My grandfather passed away a few years later and my grandmother stayed with us through another four re-locations. During this time, the three packs of cigarettes a day my dad smoked during his Navy career caught up with him and chronic lung and heart disease sidelined him from attending social events, so it became my job to step in as my mom’s escort. And thus, it became the three of us – Mom, known as Lani; Nana – who was called Auntie Abbie by the Hawaiian community; and me. Continue reading “Ekolu Makou (We Three)”

Na Pua Nani (Beautiful Flowers)

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Aloha oe, 1959 (me & mom)

As a child studying hula with my mother as teacher, one of the first things I learned to do was make a flower (pua) with my hands. I learned to pick a flower by pointing my hand downward and bringing my fingers together. And by turning this hand up counter-clockwise with my fingers still closed, I could show the beautiful flower (pua nani). Inevitably, the pretty flowers became a lei. I could hold out my arms to offer this garland of flowers, or bring both hands up, over my head and shoulders to place the lei around my neck. With both hands, I could lift the bottom of the lei to my nose, inhale, and share the fragrance of these flowers. By drawing my hands up into the air and gently lowering them with wiggling fingers, I could bring rain upon the flowers. And by whirling my arms and hands above my head I could conjure up the trade winds that would carry their intoxicating fragrance across Hawaii Nei. Continue reading “Na Pua Nani (Beautiful Flowers)”

Tutu (Grandmother)

Thomas Jonathan Schwartz in utero

The impending birth of my first grandchild – yes, a boy – is an unknown joy. New territory. Four more months of preparation and my thoughts turn to the wonder of having a boy-child in the family. My experience is with girls who are now women. Fierce, independent and loving. Married to good men. Working at their professions as Master Dog Trainer and writer. It’s the dog trainer’s pregnancy that has our family all a flutter with new feelings and more importantly, new future. Continue reading “Tutu (Grandmother)”