Bucket of Crabs: Mele the Crab and a Local Parable

There's this cute little children's books that circulates among the local preschools and libraries. Mele the Crab is an uppity young crustacean. She's the biggest and the fastest and mocks the slower, lower crabs as she scrambles over them. One day, a beach goer captures Mele and a pile of other crabs in a bucket. Mele is such a good climber, she can easily get free, but the other crabs drag her down: if we can't get out, you can't either! She has a change of heart, and decides to lift the others first, and they are all able to escape.

This is a cute story-- cute illustrations, a charmingly askew rhyme scheme, and peppered with local terminology. But it's more than that, too.

It's a pretty incisive description of two competing local cultural norms, and the way that they rub against each other and spark. The story also describes neatly the culturally appropriate solution to the contradiction in normative behavior.

Mele at first is a perfect negative example. She is better, smarter, faster. But she lacks humility. She rubs her superiority in the eye-stalks of her crabby buddies. In human terms, she is the one who graduates from Kapaa high school and has the gaul to apply to out state colleges. She studies french and plays the violin. She "ack." She leaves. She's unapolagetically outta there. Not too nice about it, but.

The other crabs react badly to her upward mobility. Given the chance, they make sure that she stays stuck. Her success is offensive and they'd rather all be trapped than allow someone to escape.

It is only when Mele adjusts her attitude-- becomes humble-- that she becomes an acceptable protagonist. She allows the other crabs to stand on her head. Only once they are out, because of her lent strength, is she morally able to save herself.

Where to even start?

Local culture despises and punishes people who try to leave. Would-be leaders are ostracized for proud or loud behavior. New or innovative would-be solutions are dismissed.

The local standard for appropriate behavior can be described with a Hawaiian proverb or 'Olelo No'eau: Nana ka maka, ho'olohe ka pepeiau. Watch with your eyes, listen with your ears. This is often conflated with: Paha ka waha, hana ka lima. Shut your mouth and work with your hands. Local culture includes major Japanese influence, and Mele the crab might recognize herself in the Japanese saying, Deru kugi ga utareru. The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.

Culturally, Mele is sticking out. So the moral responsibility for being trapped with her sadistic crab-mates is her own fault. Basically she was too good: she had it coming.

The crabmates who drag her down are not exactly guiltless, but ultimately the responsibility to save everyone rests on Mele-- even people-- I mean crabs-- who are actively trying to harm her.

In terms of local culture, the only acceptable way to be excellent is as a support to the community. Anything else is selfish and disloyal.


  1. I'm suddenly somewhat grateful for our family culture of pushy overachievement.

    1. Yeah... What was our family message? Of course you should be the smartest. Obviously. Anyone who dislikes you is an idiot and you should discard their tiny little opinion.

      Haaaaa, ha. So funny it's sad, so sad it's funny?


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