“I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment, while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance that I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn.”
Henry David Thoreau
“Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it onto future generations.”
George Bernard Shaw
Kolea in the Sun
"Never part without loving words to think of during your absence.
It may be that you will not meet again in life."
Jean Paul Richter
"Writing well mean never having to say, 'I guess you had to be there.' "
I used to read the Honolulu obituaries in my taxi.
Back then, every other deceased was foreign born:
China, Japan, Korea, Azores, Philippines.
Their brief stories spoke volumes about Hawaii,
what we're all about,
and how we got this way.
many obituaries mentioned birth
in places that no longer exist:
"Camp Number 7, Ewa Plantation"
That was the plantation-born generation.
What a tale those lives could tell!
Recently, I noticed an obit
for an old local woman born in China.
There was to be a Taoist Funeral,
so I went to pay my respects.
Not just to the lady and her family,
but to an entire generation.
And I longed to see, hear, and smell
a Taoist Funeral.
For some reason
I have always gravitated to things
When I was a child,
there was actually a pretty standard Halloween costume:
and I clamored to wear it
for many years.
An ethnicity as a Halloween costume!
But I was just a kid
and I wanted to be
When I got to Diamond Head Memorial Park
the viewing was taking place,
as was an outdoor gathering
of seemingly casual folks eating Dim Sum,
my favourite brunch.
I sat with some older women
who welcomed me simply.
I explained that I wanted to attend a Taoist Funeral,
and to honor the deceased, family, and generation.
They insisted that I eat.
Everything about the Chinese seems eminently sensible to me.
The ladies warmed up and talk-storied with me,
as local people will do.
I wasn't an outsider you see - being local.
One new friend said that she was glad that her ancestors
had settled in Hawaii, not San Francisco
(my other favorite town).
"There it was too ghettoized for us. Here we mix and move away from Chinatown. San Francisco too closed!"
We all agreed:
"Lucky we live Hawaii."
Then they started telling me about Hawaii Chinese funeral customs that they remembered growing up.
They spoke of keeping the deceased in the home overnight,
of burlap clothes,
and hired wailing mourners
making a racket in the house,
and parading down the (Honolulu) street.
These customs are growing attenuated today,
but for this honored decedent
there would be ancient ceremony,
the burning of spirit money,
and attendance by cardboard servants.
"Lots of people became Christian over here,"
my new friend explained.
Her own Goong Goong (grandmother)
had had the gift of physiognomy,
she read the truth in people's faces,
but gave it up
after Christian prayers had cured a serious illness.
Such was the tendency and pressure of those days.
The Benevolent Societies remain,
though less vital generation to generation.
And Chinatown is busy with new immigrants
from Southeast Asia, Oceania
But this family was holding a traditional funeral
to honor a woman born in the old country.
I didn't feel right taking pictures,
so my words will have to do.
The family stood attentively in two rows
facing the coffin, regalia,
and the priest with his chanting
Chanting was punctuated by the preparation of tea.
The acolyte told the family
when to drink,
when to bow.
The tea was offered to the woman's spirit
and poured into an urn
The acolyte also took articles right outside the chapel
a male and female-
were held like puppets,
raised up, and
bowed in unison to the deceased.
All very matter of fact,
all as the lady would have wanted it.
At last, Chinese music,
strings and cymbals,
to my delight.
All the while,
eating Dim Sum
I still have the ladies obit
and take it out
to pay her my respects.
Thank you for having me to your
last Honolulu party.
The food was delicious,
the conversation good,
your incense and music beguiled me.
Go with our respectful
A L O H A! cloudia