Monday, May 18, 2009

My Town Monday: Lei of Love

Aloha! Come In! Duke Kahanamoku,
Father of Modern Surfing &
Ambassador of Aloha
(Multi-Olympic Champ)

“A day without Aloha is just another mainland day.”
Buck Buchanan

We Remember You

“If it seems a childish thing to do, do it in remembrance that you are a child.”
Frederick Buechner

Full Flower

“You may chisel a boy into shape, as you would a rock, or hammer him into it, if he be of a better kind, as you would a piece of bronze. But you cannot hammer a girl into anything. She grows as a flower does.”
John Ruskin

Happy Girl

“I don't want to be stinky poo poo girl, I want to be happy flower child.”
Drew Barrymore

A Great Man

A Great Smile

A Loving Remembrance

A loving Friend. . .
ALL wearing lei!

I've always been someone who needs my "space."

Perhaps growing up in tumultuous surroundings (Seinfeld fans think : "The Costanzas") partly explains it. Or maybe it's the natural space of attention that growing creativity & understanding require? We are so steamrollered with input everyday that merely retreating inward seems a truly revolutionary, transgressive act.

But I do love my neighbors - no, not the visitors of Waikiki. I love them too, but today we're talking about my real neighbors: the "Local" Hawaii mix of Hawaiian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Portuguese, Korean, & Pan-European. All this DNA, food, cultures and characteristics percolate together here in da sun, stirred by the trade winds, liberally seasoned with sweat labor. Today it is Samoans, Tongans, Micronesians who daily come. . .

I really should try to take more pictures of us for you, but nevah like boddah no one, eh? ("Never like to bother anyone, eh?"). Besides, the people of Hawaii are the unseen presence in every picture I take. From the fallen lei, to the magnificent sunset with flowers that is a piece of each soul here.

Kaulana Na Pua, "Famous are the flowers" of Hawaii, goes the song. The flowers are our people. Riding the subway in New York in the year 2000 (has it been that long?!) I looked about me at the peoples of the world.
I didn't see our special local blend of humanity.

But Polynesian Power is not just for the NFL anymore. According to the U.S. Census, more Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders are living in the North American Continental States, than in their own homelands. California is the largest home to these transplants with 282,000, gaining 6,000 since July 2008. Las Vegas and Utah are other "new islands." (Mormon missionaries extensively proselytized, er, "missionaried" in the South Pacific - hence the Utah connection.)

Above the fold in Friday's Honolulu Star Bulletin was this headline:

"Cold wet season puts damper on fragrant lei"

Do you know what this story is about? Lei greetings of visitors at the airport?

That's only a small part of it. Every local person knows that this season of Proms & Graduations requires LOTS of lei. The plural is "Lei" by the way, but "Leis" is acceptable if you don't know any better. Now where was I?

Most Hawaii graduates wear multiple lei from family and friends, many even seem to be peering out of a multi-floral "collar" that comes up almost to the eyes! There is an entire genealogy, typology, and history of lei, books have been written! But this is not so much about rules, as it is a generally understood living-language of appropriateness. The Japanese contributed paper folding and so we have (paper)money lei (popular for broke graduates). There are simple, keiki-strung lei that are a child's first gift to mom, usually plumeria from da yard. There are fragrant Maile lei for a Governor, a VIP, or to untie as a ceremonial opening of a new building. A Hapai (pregnant) woman must NEVER wear a closed lei, just perhaps a "boa" of flowers hanging off of her shoulders, lest there be obstruction in birthing!

There are candy lei to give the kids! Haku lei to wear like a headband of rainbows; Hulu (feather) lei of extinct native birds in the Bishop Museum, fragrant green Ti lei, like a green rope around my neck, cure for headache and chaser of bad energies, my favorite & signature lei. (Also favored by Kahuna: priests, or experts in various arts and sciences: healing, navigating, celestial observation, chanting, blog-writing ;-)
There are shell lei. And a Lei Momi is a lei of pearls. You might call it a necklace.

Every birthday boy or girl receives lei, as do guest speakers. Of course, Aloha Friday (post here:
is reason enough to treat yourself, or a friend to a floral gift!

It seems rather fitting to me that in black & white news footage of Dr. King's many marches he is oft seen wearing a lei, a gift from Hawaii people. As were those seen at Ground Zero in the days after 9-11. Boxes and boxes of them where flown across an ocean and a continent, moist and fragrant "hugs" of Aloha that I wept to see worn by firefighters and others as they performed their sad duties. A world away, but part of our Ohana (family). That's what a lei means: Aloha.

Now it's that time of year when the City sends out the call for thousands upon thousands of lei to decorate the vast grave-fields of military veterans (including President Obama's grandpa, Stanley, who raised him a mile from here). School children, scouts, senior clubs, and just plain neighborhood folks will drop off the thousands of blossoms & prepared lei in time for Memorial Day. They never fail those who didn't fail all of us.

Yes, lei mean a lot to us; Love, respect, appreciation, celebration and remembrance.

Now you will understand these things, when you see the multi-colored celluloid lei at the party shop.

How wise we are becoming together!
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