I love-- and loathe a tiny bit-- the Local tradition of hugging and kissing. You hug and kiss people when you're introduced to them, people you see everyday, when you say hello and when you say goodbye... On one hand, it's comforting.

At a wedding, I ran into Aunty Ulu who I had met once briefly at church. She wrapped me in her arms and kissed me soundly on the cheek. I felt so comforted-- suddenly grounded in the strange setting of a fancified wedding with 100s of people I don't know, clinking their champagne glasses and balancing on high heels. And I loved the time consuming tradition of kissing everybody at church before the service started-- it would be unspeakably rude to just walk past all the kupunas and go to your pew. You have to stop and stoop to brush every dry soft cheek with your lips. Kissing down the line of tutus in their bright flowered muumuus made me feel warm and included-- part of the congregation, part of the family.

Kissing can also make me feel like a hopeless outsider. When local people I meet scrutinize me and then hesitate before leaning in to kiss me, or decide to simply shake my hand instead. Or when my kissing etiquette is off-- hugging and then kissing, or kissing and then hugging-- slightly mis-timing the approach or mis-aiming and kissing loudly onto an auntie's powdered ear.
And then what do you do with other malihini? We had dinner at a malihini couple's house, and afterwards, gave stilted and awkward hugs and kisses all around. Leaning up to kiss his cheek, I suddenly felt weird kissing my friend's husband. We've skipped it at every meeting since, to my relief.

It's one of those things that reminds me of my outsider malihini status. It's a local etiquette that I don't perform naturally and that people don't do naturally with me. The kiss is only comfortable when it comes from a real spirit of someone reaching out to me, to intentionally include me, and possibly even educate me, in the tradition of the honi. When that happens, it's intensely moving.

Here's from my journal-- my first experience with honi:

June 23, 2006
Well, the chant instructor. Kuuleialoha. He is like a sonic boom of mana. He just told us about honi, and then we shared one. I’m shaken. Like he said, it is so vulnerable and nurturing. I feel the need to retreat and weep after being so close and painful with someone. You surrender your vision, your breath, and share what comes out of you. It’s hard for me to divide the intimate and the sexual—all of my close, breathy, still contact with other people has been sexual. That’s too bad. I hope that I’m very kissy and lovey with my kids, so that they can be used to feeling physically close and safe with other people, and not have it be confused with sexuality.


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