I ran into an aqcuaintance in the Costco eatery the other day (finest 1$ dining on island!) and she invited me to come learn a hula with her church group for their upcoming luau. I really want to learn hula-- those slow-moving women of all sizes, eyes following their hands, the steady rocking rhythm, back and forth. But I've been too shy to just call a halau and sign up. So I was eager to give it a try last night.

On the way there I had the weirdest sensation that I should just turn around and go home. But I felt obligated-- I had told this girl I was coming, she'd asked me several times. I didn't have anywhere else to be-- no legitimate excuse for turning around. So obligation and guilt won out over my intuition.

Will I never learn?

I got there and a large group of people were preparing food. I saw my aqcuaintance--Meghan-- she seemed to be in the middle of high-level negotiations about the state of the chopped onions for the lomi lomi salmon. I sauntered up to one chopping station and offered to help, but the girl there shrugged me away, with a gesture of, "I don't know what's going on any more than you!"

So I shadowed Meghan into another room where she was battling with Auntie Nani, the hula teacher, about who was going to make the ti leaf leis and how. I helped fold up the chairs and said hello to Auntie Nani when Meghan had to run to another crisis. I gave her a hug and kiss and complimented her Ipu playing-- I had heard her once before.

"So Becky, what's your daughter's name?" I tell her, wincing at "Becky" a bit.
"That's a Hawaiian name. Is your husband Hawaiian?" Eyeing my blond girl doubtfully. I try to be blythe. "Well, he's a local boy."

(This may or may not be technically true, depending on your definitions and the shaded gradations of a life story. Growing up on the mainland, the child of a Hawaii-born parent who was more than happy to run from backwater island provincial ways, certainly never inculcated with Local culture, returning as an adult to investigate a nostalgic connection to his family... I've met plenty of "local boys" with similar stories, but usually with a more definite self-definition than my man, who is at equilibrium being a bit in this world, a bit in that one. His equilibrium can translate into others' distress when they can't peg him in one category or another.)

"Oh really?" eyebrows up. "What's his name." I tell her. "That's not a Hawaiian name." A crowd has gathered, the other aunties twitter. I'm feeling a bit grilled now.
"He's haole." A death sentence.
"Hapa." I correct, in a little rabbit voice.
"Then what. is. his. Hawaiian. name."
me: "He doesn't have one."

End of interview.

Maybe she really did want his life history. A tallying of all the competing forces and events that would lead a person without a Hawaiian name to give one to their kid. But I don't think I can deliver a summary like that on demand, to demonstrate my legitimacy. I'm not sure I would recognize a soundbyte version of my husband, anyway.

Luckily my carefully named toddler dashed for the door-- she HAD to go see a group of big 8 year old boys hooting and playing soccer in the hall. When we made it back to the rehearsal room, a group of dancers had gathered. I kicked off my slippers and joined in, watching the girls next to me and trying to think lovely thoughts and parse the Hawaiian words:

Aloha kaua’i

Aloha Kaua'i by Maiki Aiu

Aloha mokihana, pua o Kaua'i

Wili 'ia me ka maile lau li'ili'i

Maile li'ili'i

He u'I, onaona, he aloha wau ia 'oe

Me a'u, me 'oe I ka pu'uwai

Aloha no o Kaua'i

Luana ho'okipa malihini

Puana kaulana, ka inoa o Kaua'i

Ha'aheo he nani, hiwahiwa

Aloha no o Kaua'i

Luana ho'okipa malihini

Puana kaulana, ka inoa o Kaua'i

Ha'aheo he nani, hiwahiwa

Kaua'i he nani no 'oe

Kaua'i he nani no 'oe

Aloha kaua’iBeloved is the Mokihana, flower of Kaua'i
Entwined with the small-leaf maile
Beauty and subtle fragrance, my love
You are ever in my heart.
Great is my affection for Kaua'i

Luana, a home where hospitality awaits the Visitor
My songs ends with praise and honor for you, o Kaua’i
Proud of your precious beauty.

After one run-through, my kid has had enough, and bolts again. I pick up my slippers and sneak out. This is not the loose learning session I thought it would be-- the other girls are serious and they know the dance already-- staring straight ahead, or watching their gestures: aloha from the heart, fragrant maile leis tumbling over one shoulder then another. I follow my kid out, we find the stars on the way to the car, and we go home.


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