Kohola – Whales in Hawaiian Culture

Unlike the indigenous cultures of the far north, the Polynesia cultures did not typically hunt whales, although they did greatly revere them and utilize any that were beached in the islands. Maori and Hawaiian legends both speak of being led to their island homes by whales. The Maori have many legends of whale riders – individuals who were saved from ship wreck, storm or attempted murder by whales. Both cultures traditionally view the whale as a manifestation of the sea god – Kanaloa in Hawaii, Tangaroa in Maori tradition.

Although not as common as the owl, hawk, turtle, shark, or gecko, the whale – kohola – is also a form of ‘aumakua, or family guide and guardian manifesting the spirit of a powerful ancestor. There were a number of terms for whale, some reflecting different species, but kohola was the most common, usually referring to the humpback whale, while palaoa was used to refer to the tooted whales, and also to whale teeth and whale ivory. Particularly prized were the teeth of the sperm whale, and beached whales were reserved for the ali’i.

The Hawaiian proverb, “`O luna, `o lalo, `o uka, `o kai, `o ka palaoa pae — no ke ali`i ia” translates to “Above, below, the upland, the lowland, the whale that washes ashore–all belong to the chief.” This refers to the absolute authority of the royal class. On rare occasions, the carcass of a toothed whale would wash ashore, and immediately became the possession of the chief.

Lei niho paloa
Lei niho palaoa

The ivory of the palaoa was removed and made into a niho palaoa, a whale-tooth pendant. The ivory was carved into the suggestive shape of a tongue, which may have signified someone who spoke with authority. It might also represent a container for the mana or spiritual power that the necklace represented. The niho palaoa was then strung through strands of braided human hair from an ancestor, and the entire piece was known as a whale-tooth necklace, or lei niho palaoa.

 

Ali'i wearing feather cloak and helmet and lei niho palaoa
Ali’i wearing feather cloak and helmet and lei niho palaoa

The lei niho palaoa could only be worn by the ali`i, or the high ruling chief or chiefess, and was the second most treasured possession after the feather cloak.

The lei niho palaoa represented strength and power, and the belief was that the mana, or spirit of the gods, would be passed on to the wearer of the lei niho palaoa, as would the mana from the ancestor whose hair was used, the carver who made the piece, and all those who wore it beforehand. The carved hook was strung on finely braided strands of human hair, up to 1,700 feet long, gathered into two large coils. Hair, coming from the head, the most supernaturally powerful and sacred part of the body, was a sacred substance that enhanced the mana of the necklace, and enhanced the power of the wearer. The places where the whales washed up – called wahi pana or sacred places, were considered important areas to control, and in some cases, the chief who controlled these spots, such as Kualoa on O’ahu, might also control the entire island.

 

Portrait of Boki and Liliha
Portrait of Boki and Liliha – two high ranking ali’i from the reign of Kamehameha II – she wears the lei niho palaoa, he the feathered cloak and helmet

It is not known why the Polynesians, unlike the native peoples of Alaska and the Northwest, never hunted whales nor, typically, ate whale meat, but it might be as simple as they felt that the meat lacked taste. It is also likely that the Hawaiians’ subsistence life-style, coupled with a benign climate did not create a need for the large food supply that could be obtained from a whale, and it could have been more trouble than it was worth to hunt, butcher, and preserve the meat when there were so many other food sources readily available.

It might also be that the animal was considered too sacred to exploit in this way, and, indeed, it was kapu (forbidden) for commoners to possess any part of a whale. The Hawaiian culture did view the whale as the animal form of their sea god, and knowledge of the whales’ place in the culture may have been reserved for the highest ranking chiefs and priests, as, certainly, the products of the whale that were evident in the culture were.

 

Makahiki

As is true in most traditional cultures, the native Hawaiians used the moon and the stars to demark their year. Their daily lives were lived in accordance to the moon calendar which indicated when planting, harvesting, fishing and hunting activities would occur. Each month was named for the typical weather conditions or for the effects of the lunar cycle on plants and animals. Each of the Hawaiian islands had slight variations in the months because of differing distances from the equator.

The seasonal calendar was divided into two – the dry and the wet. The dry season was called Kau, and the wet was Ho’oilo. Within the wet and dry seasons were roughly quarter markers – Kau begins in what wo

The Pleadies
The Pleadies

uld be the end of April through the end of May in the modern calendar, called Welo, marked by the setting of the constellation of the Pleiades – in Hawaiian Hu Hui Hoku – in the western skies at sunrise. Toward the end of Kau, Hu Hui Hoku appears in the eastern skies at sunset, and denotes the beginning of the Makahiki celebrations.

The Makahiki season is the time for the coming of Lono, the deity of agriculture, healing and peace. The Makahiki season arrives during the month of `Ikuwa (Oct. 24 through Nov. 22) and runs through roughly February on the modern calendar. It was during the previous month, Mahoe Hope (Sept. 25 through Oct. 23), that preparations were made for the four month Makahiki season. These preparations included harvesting, drying and storing both agricultural and aquatic foods for the celebrations.

In addition to the feasting and celebrations, it was also the time for the collecting of taxes and for processions of the ali’i around the islands. Today, the Makahiki is celebrated as a part of the Hawaiian cultural renaissance and traditional games and sports are practiced, typically by school children. The traditional sports were practiced largely by the warriors to demonstrate their strength and prowess and included various forms of wrestling, tugs of war – individual and group – spear throwing, and races. For a more in depth look and some pictures of the traditional and the contemporary practices, check out this link to an article from Kamehameha Schools:

https://apps.ksbe.edu/kaiwakiloumoku/node/603

Sharks!

We recently had our fourth shark attack in Hawaiian waters in the space of about a month – very unusual according to all the contemporary pundits, not so surprising if you look to traditional lore, though.  The ancient Hawaiians cautioned about being in the ocean during October and November for fear of shark attacks.  Turns out to be the ‘pupping’ season for tiger sharks, and that species accounts for the preponderance of shark attacks in Hawaii.   There are a number of shark species in local waters including some of the more aggressive ones like hammerheads and occasionally, the infamous “Jaws” shark, the Great White.  Probably the most common though are the reef sharks and tiger sharks, with the tigers being the most likely to be implicated in attacks on humans.

The conventional wisdom about sharks being more likely, for whatever reason, to attack in the fall months is borne out by extensive research carried out by the University of Hawaii.  Even more striking than the simple spike in numbers of attacks in those months is the relationship between the number of people in the ocean and the number of attacks.  One would anticipate that the number of attacks might rise with the numbers of people in the ocean available to be nibbled on, but such is not the case – in fact, the numbers of people of in the ocean drop in October and November, while the number of attacks goes up.

These charts illustrate the point quite clearly:

 

Courtesy of Division of Aquatic Resources, Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources

 

INCIDENTS BY MONTH – 1980-2014

This graphic depicts only confirmed unprovoked incidents, defined by the International Shark Attack File as “incidents where an attack on a live human by a shark occurs in its natural habitat without human provocation of the shark. Incidents involving…shark-inflicted scavenge damage to already dead humans (most often drowning victims), attacks on boats, and provoked incidents occurring in or out of the water are not considered unprovoked attacks.”

 

 

INCIDENTS VS. PEOPLE IN WATER

 

Month No. In Water
Jan 323339
Feb 324620
Mar 395156
Apr 367693
May 429794
Jun 487993
Jul 540008
Aug 547245
Sep 440906
Oct 391047
Nov 344158
Dec 340685

 

 

Month Non-fatal Fatal
Jan 7  
Feb 5 1
Mar 11  
Apr 10 1
May 6  
Jun 11  
Jul 8 1
Aug 9 1
Sep 4  
Oct 23  
Nov 13 2
Dec 9 1

 

In contrast to contemporary attitudes about sharks, the Hawaiians included them in the pantheon of forms that the gods could take and they also could serve as a family’s aumakua, or protector.  The aumakua were the spirits of ancestors who could, at need, inhabit the body of specific animals, often owls, sharks, and turtles, but almost any creature could be an aumakua and for the family, that particular species had special meaning even though it was well understood that not all sharks or turtles, etc were possessed of the spirits of the ancestors.  There are many tales about shark aumakua and, indeed, for a sea faring people who spent a great deal of time on and in the ocean, a shark aumakua was a very strong one to have.

Here is one of the better known legends:

THE SHARK THAT CAME FOR POI

“See that shark!”

“He’s a big one! What do you suppose he wants?”

As the men paddled toward the Kona coast they watched the great shark following their canoe. “What do you want, old shark?” one asked at last. “Do you know that we carry pa`i`ai to Kona to our relatives? Do you eat poi, O shark? Here then!” and the man threw a small bundle toward the shark.

The great fish did not catch and swallow the food but pushed it with his nose. The men saw him swimming toward shore, pushing the little bundle through the waves. They watched him as long as he was in sight. “That is a strange thing,” Aukai said. “He seemed to know we had a load of pa`i`ai.”

“But he did not eat it,” another answered. “Whoever saw a shark pushing food through the waves as that one did?” “And why did he want it?” Aukai asked again. “Where is he taking it?”

The next week these men again paddled from Kohala to Kona with pa`i`ai, the dry, pounded kalo from which poi is made. Again the shark followed and again swam toward the shore pushing before him the small bundle thrown to him. This happened many times.

Then one day Aukai said, “I mean to find out about that shark. You paddle toward Kona with the food and throw a bundle to the shark as you always do. I shall follow in a small canoe and see if I can learn what the shark does with the bundle.”

Aukai’s canoe was some distance behind the larger one. He saw the men throw the bundle of food and watched the shark swim with it to a Kona beach. Then a strange thing happened. Aukai saw an old man come down the beach, leaning on a stick. Aukai watched as the old man picked up the bundle and hobbled to his house.

Very curious, the Kohala man beached his canoe beyond a point of land and walked along the shore. He came to the house the old man had entered. “O friend,” he called, “here is a thirsty one. Can you give me a drink?”

The old man hobbled to the door. “Come in, drink and eat. Our water is a bit brackish, but it will cure your thirst.” He brought a gourd of water. Then brought fish and poi. “Eat,” he repeated.

Aukai took the food. He had looked quickly about the little place and noticed that only the man and his wife lived there. Still he wondered. “This food tastes good to a hungry traveler,” he said. “I thank you, old man. But I wonder at the poi. Can one so old as you work in the kalo patch?”

“Alas no,” the old man answered. “And we have no relative in this village to bring food. But in the bay we have a friend. A good shark brings us fish. Of late, he brings poi too. Every few days he comes with a bundle of pa`i`ai for us. I pound it with fresh water and make the good poi which you taste.”

“Where does the shark get the pa`i`ai?” Aukai asked, wondering whether the man knew.

The old man answered simply, “The gods provide.”

Aukai paddled back to his Kohala village and told what he had seen and heard. The people were full of wonder and sympathy. “The poor old folks,” they said. “With no child to care for them!” And, “What a wise shark! After this he shall have a big bundle of food each week.”

A so he did. For many months the shark was given a big bundle of pa`i`ai whenever they went to Kona, and the bundle was dropped for him close to the beach where the old couple lived.

Then one day the shark did not come. The next week, still, he was not seen. “I shall take the food,” Aukai said, and paddled straight to the old man’s village. He found the little home empty. Not even mats or bowls were there. Aukai went to a neighbor. “I have come to see the old man who used to live in that house,” he told him pointing.

“He is dead,” the neighbor answered, “and his wife has gone to relatives in another village.”

Aukai paddled back to Kohala and told his friends. “The shark’s work is done,” he said. The shark was never seen again.

Told by Mary Kawena Puku`i
Taken from Hawai`i Island Legends, Pikoi, Pele and Others,
compiled by Mary Kawena Puku`i, retold by Caroline Curtis

If the shark was your family aumakua, you didn’t kill or eat shark, but for others, the shark provided many useful tools as well as being used as a food fish.  Another old Hawaiian legend tells of a woman who freed herself from a shark by telling it that he was her aumakua. The shark let her go and said he would recognize her in the future by the tooth marks he left on her ankle. Since then, it is said, some Hawaiian people tattoo their ankles to let sharks know that their aumakua is a shark.

In addition to tattoos, the shark tooth pattern is also a popular design element both in kapa, or barkcloth and in the elaborate feather cloaks.  One such example in the Bishop Museum, belonging to Kiwalaa`o, a fellow warrior of King Kamehameha, is decorated with five equilateral triangles — a motif depicting shark teeth. In battle, the fierceness of the shark  was associated with the wearer of the cloak or the cloth.

Sharks teeth were also used in tools and weapons. Tools utilized sharks teeth for cutting edges, functioning like a knife for cutting designs into bamboo stampers for kapa and for carving detailed designs into drums and gourds.  Wooden clubs and daggers lined with shark teeth were deadly in battle.  Shark skins were used for sandpaper and also for drum heads.  Shark tooth ornaments were also worn.

Whatever your relationship with sharks might be it is wise to stay out of the ocean at dawn and dusk, or when you have an open and bleeding wound, or when the water is ‘brown’ and murky, such as after a storm, and, if you believe the statistics AND the ancients, during October and November!

 

 

Pueo

We have a Pueo, a Hawaiian owl, who seems to have settled in the neighborhood. I’ve seen it almost every day for the last couple of weeks. The Pueo is one of two native raptors, the other being the ‘Io, a hawk. Both birds are much revered in Hawaiian culture and are often featured as strong protective ‘aumakua’ or family ancestral spirits, not unlike the totem animals among Native Americans.

The Pueo is an endangered species, as are many of the native birds, in part because it is a ground nester, like the Nene, and is subject to predation by introduced species such as domestic cats and mongoose, as well as to nest destruction by cattle and human development. While resistant to the avian malaria that has been so destructive of other native bird species, the Pueo is susceptible to poisoning by pesticides and secondary poisoning through the rodents that form the bulk of their diet.

Unlike most of the owl species, the Pueo is often active during the day, flying above open grassy areas. The Lain classification is asio flammeus sandwicensis, although not all ornithologists believe that the Pueo is a true subspecies of the North American Short-eared Owl. The Pueo is beween 13 and 17 inches tall, with the females being somewhat larger than the males. The eyes are large and yellow, surrounded by a dark mask and the body is feathered in streaks of brown and white.

In Hawaii as elsewhere, the owl has a special place in the mythology. The Pueo is a sacred animal and the word itself has many layers of meanings and connotations. Pueo can mean a particular variety of that staff of Polynesian life, taro; the name connotes ‘shortness’, is used to mean the shrouds of a sailing canoe, and the rocking of a child. There are numerous expressions in Hawaiian that contain the word pueo, such as ‘keiki a ka pueo’ – the child of the owl whose father is not known; ‘ka pueo kani kaua’ – the owl who sings of war, meaning the owl who is a a protector in battle; ‘a no lani, a no honua’ – a saying meaning that the guardian owl belongs to both the heaven and the earth.

The Pueo flew over the island well before the first Polynesians arrived and is among the oldest manifestations of the ancestral guardian spirits, the ‘aumakua.’ It was believed that after the death of an ancestor, their spirit could still protect and influence the remaining family members through taking the body of an animal. Common aumakua were the Honu, or turtle, Mano, or shark, Mo’o, or lizard, and the raptors, the Pueo and the ‘Io. Each species had unique attributes and strengths. The Pueo aumakua was specifically skilled in battle and was a powerful guardian and guide as well.

A famous legend is ‘The Battle of the Owls’ and it underscores the strength of the aumakua.

An Oahu man robbed an owl’s nest: After he slung the coveted bounty in his knapsack, the owl-parent shrieked with grief and complaint. The man felt sorry and quickly returned the eggs unharmed to the nest. Not only that, he took the owl as his god and built a temple in its honor. Naturally, the ruling chief thought this an act of rebellion against the prevalent gods, and ordered the man’s execution. The weapon was poised, the man feared his last breath, and the owls gathered, darkening the skies with their wings. Any further action of the king’s soldiers became impossible. The man walked free. Pueo-hulu-nui near Moanalua on Oahu is one of the alleged places where the awesome battle took place.

Another legend recounts the story of Hina, the mother of the demi-god Maui. She was said to have given birth to a second child who took the form of a Pueo. When Maui was taken prisoner by his enemies and held to be a sacrifice, his brother owl rescued him and led him to safety.

Another well known tale recounts the legend of Ka-hala-o-Puna, princess of Manoa:

Daughter of Manoa Wind, and Manoa Rain, Kahalaopuna grew up as the most beautiful girl in Hawaii at the time. She was given as bride, in infancy, to chief Kauhi of Kailua.
The fame of her beauty spread, and ill-meaning, envious men sowed rumors of shame. Despite his fiancée’s innocence, Kauhi became enraged with jealousy, and he killed her with a cone of hala nuts, then buried her body hastily. An owl unearthed the girl with his claws, rubbed his head against her bruised temple, and restored her to life. She followed Kauhi, trying to reconcile. He killed her three more times! The owl brought her back to life each time. The fifth time Kauhi buried her far away and deep under the roots of a large koa tree. Now the owl worked so hard yet was unable to scratch the earth away and finally had no other choice but to abandon the girl. However, there had been a witness to this last murder and failed rescue attempt! A little green bird named elepaio flew to Kahalaopuna’s parents and informed them. They prepared to visit the koa tree and find her remains.
Meanwhile, the girl’s apparition appeared for chief Mahana, who, as directed by his vision, also went to the koa tree and found her body still warm. With the help of his spirit sisters he brought her back to life and gradually she healed from the ordeal. Mahana loved her and cared for her. Kauhi, this time, didn’t know that she had returned to life. Yet when Mahana asked for her hand, Kahalaopuna still felt under the obligation to marry Kauhi! In secret, with his brother and her parents, Mahana planned to kill the murderous fiancé. The two rivals met in a trial, and Mahana, who knew the truth, won. Kauhi, as well as the two chiefs who had spread the disastrous rumors, were baked in ground ovens and Mahana received Kahalaopuna as his wife. They were happy for two years, till Kauhi, in the form of a shark, devoured her.

Such are the stories of the Hawaiian owl, a bird of power. When you hear the scream of silence, the rustle of soundless wings, an effortless shadow gliding by, look up in the high blue skies, follow the owl’s smooth dive. Pueo’s presence might be there for you.

Pueo
Pueo

Of Cows and Cowboys

 

images
Statute commissioned by Paniolo Preservation Society of Ikua Purdy, located at Parker Ranch Center in Waimea on the Big Island

We happen to live in a development that was created out of ranch land, and until we reach a specific level of density and build out (not likely to happen in my lifetime) our homeowner’s association still has a grazing contract with the original property owner. That means we have cows, and, due to the very canny ranch owner, the cows have the right of way, and they are ‘free range’ – which means that they get to go where they want, and it is the individual property owner’s responsibility to keep them out of whereever you don’t want them to go.

We have fencing, but our driveway gate is broken, and two days this past week I have had the unenviable task of getting some fairly agressive cows to leave off munching my landscaping and leave. The dogs tried to help, but the cows don’t think too much of my little ten pounders, noisy though they are. “Our” cows are various breeds of beef cattle, mostly Angus, some Charlois, and recently some banded breed – I suspect they are Belted Galloways as they were bred to flourish under poor grazing conditions in the Scottish highlands. Still, moving cattle around isn’t something this city girl is all that used to doing, but I did ‘cowgirl up’ and get them to move out of the yard.

All of which started me thinking about cows and how they got here to begin with. It all started with Captain Vancouver in 1793. He picked up some cows in Monterey California, intending them as gifts for Kamehameha The Great. The first group didn’t fare too well, ending up quickly either dying of illness or being killed for food. A second batch was delivered in 1794, and Vancouver encouraged Kamehameha to put a 10 year kapu on the herd so that it had time to grow.

Kamehameha did this, and within a very few decades, the herd not only grew and flourished, like a lot of other introduced species, the cows became a nuisance and a hazard. By the time of Kamehameha III, in 1846, there were 25,000 feral cattle (and these were long horns with horn spreads upwards of 6 feet) and an additional 10,000 domesticated or semi-domesticated head. Vast herds disrupted traditional agricultural practices, knocked down houses and canoe sheds, ate the thatching off the roofs of homes, and even hurt or killed people.

After the kapu was lifted in 1830, the hunting of wild cattle was encouraged. The king hired bullock hunters from overseas to help in the effort. Many of these were former convicts from Botany Bay in Australia. Hunting sometimes ended in inadvertent tragedy. In 1834, the trampled dead body of Scottish botanist David Douglas – for whom the Douglas Fir is named – was discovered a bullock pit on Mauna Kea. Though suspicious head wounds and a quantity of missing cash also implied murder, bullock traps caught unsuspecting humans with alarming frequency.

Finally, in 1832, after being petitioned repeatedly by his people to do something about the ravages of the feral cattle, Kamehameha III sent one of his high chiefs to California to hire cowboys who could round up wild cattle and teach Hawaiians cattle and horse handling skills. Three Mexican-Spanish vaquero (cowboys) named Kossuth, Louzeida and Ramon came to Hawai’i Island, first breaking in horses to turn them into working animals, then rounding up and handling the hordes of cattle. They taught the skills of their trade to the Hawaiians, including horsemanship, roping, saddle making, braiding of leather for lariats and also playing the guitar – which the Hawaiians ultimately adapted into the unique ‘slack key’ style in use today.

The Hawaiians proved to be apt students, and became known as paniolo, a corruption of español, the language the vaqueros spoke. The term is still in use today, and there is a Paniolo Preservation Society on the Big Island devoted to maintaining these skills and traditions.  Hawaiians became paniolo before the territories of the American West had cowboy or ranch traditions. Cowboys in the Pacific Northwest got their start in 1846; in California and Texas it was 1848. Because Hawaiians began their work with cattle and horses more than a decade earlier, their paniolo traditions were strongly shaped by the Mexican vaquero heritage that stemmed originally from Spain. By 1836, Hawai’i had working cowboys. Whereas, what we consider “American” cowboys date back only to the 1870s, after Custer’s last stand at Little Big Horn. That’s when vaqueros from Mexico began teaching Texans to ride and rope. It was then that Wyoming, Oklahoma and Arizona – the “wild west” – became ranch country. (Though the Spanish had been running cattle for centuries before.)

Through the years, many paniolo proved themselves exceptional athletes, horse handlers and cattlemen. Three drew the attention of a wider audience when they competed in the 1908 Frontier Days celebration in Cheyenne, Wyoming, the top contest for cattlemen and ranchers of the day. Eben “Rawhide Ben” Low, owner and manager of Pu`uwa`awa`a Ranch, attended Frontier Days in 1907 and knew his ranch hands could do better than the mainland cowboys. In 1908, he paid for three of his top men – Ikua Purdy, Archie Ka`au`a (Eben’s half-brother) and Jack Low (Eben’s brother) – to go to the competition.

 

Purdy, Low, and Ka'au'a
Purdy, Low, and Ka’ua’a

 

Ikua was born on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1873 in Waimea. He was the second son – one of nine children – of William Purdy and Anna P. Waipa. As the Hawaiian-Irish offspring of Anna, he was a great-grandson of John Palmer Parker, founder of Parker Ranch, and Kipikane, granddaughter of Kamehameha the Great. Ikua learned to ride and rope on the grasslands and upland forests of Waimea and Mauna Kea. He was a working paniolo who competed in roping events on the Big Island, O’ahu & Maui. Hawai’i’s most famous singer/story teller, Clyde “Kindy” Sproat, speaks with great aloha for Purdy as well as Archie Ka’au’a – who took third in the world championships that same year – and their patron and promoter, Eben “Rawhide Ben” Low. He says he learned about Ikua “from the horse’s mouth – Eben Low,” when Kindy was a child. “Eben Low was a successful rancher and very proud of the skills of Hawai’i’s paniolo. So he secured the invitation to compete in the 1908 Frontier Days World Championship in Cheyenne, Wyoming,” said Sproat, who has shared stories about Hawai’i’s most famous paniolo on several occasions at the Smithsonian Institute. The invitation read: “Bring your saddle and lariat; horses will be provided at the rodeo.” Conditions in Cheyenne – especially the cold – were difficult for the Hawaiians. They were an instant curiosity with odd, slouched hats and colorful hat bands, peculiar saddles and bright clothes – an exotic blend of Hawaiian and vaquero influence and tradition. What’s more, they spoke a foreign language – native Hawaiian. Cheyenne didn’t know what to make of the paniolo. They believed these strangers didn’t stand a chance; they were riding borrowed mounts. But on the day of the competition, Ikua roped his steer in fifty-six seconds flat. The rest is history.

 

Kindy recalls Eben’s explanation about why Hawaiian cowboys were able to compete for the championship: “Our paniolo had to catch wild cattle. They would set up ropers at the edge of a kipuka (a densely overgrown piece of land entirely surrounded by newer lava). The cattle would run by on the fly and the cowboys had to be ready with horses in good condition. They’d only get one swing of the lasso to catch a longhorn or it would get away. Therefore, when Hawaiians first encountered rodeo-style roping of fast-running cattle, it was what they did everyday.”

The paniolo made a colorful entrance in Cheyenne, wearing their vaquero-inspired chaps and hats with flower lei. They wowed the spectators with their performances too. In the World Championship finals, Ikua Purdy won the steer-roping contest in 56 seconds. Archie Ka`au`a came in second and Jack Low, despite suffering an asthma attack during the competition, placed sixth. Against the best American cowboys, Hawaii’s paniolo proved their worth.

In 1999, Ikua Purdy was voted into the National Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame, the first Hawaiian ever to be nominated. That same year he was the first inductee to the Paniolo Hall of Fame established by the O`ahu Cattlemen’s Association. In 2003, a large bronze statue of Purdy roping a steer was placed in Waimea town on the Big Island, erected by the Paniolo Preservation Society.

Merrie Monarch Hula Festival

One of Hawaii’s most culturally significant events, the annual Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii, is scheduled for April 5 through 11 this year.  The Aloha State’s premiere hula competition, the weeklong series of events is dedicated to King David Kalakaua, the “Merrie Monarch” best remembered for his efforts to restore Hawaiian culture and traditions in the late 1800s.

The festival features free daily hula and musical performances, along with a popular arts and crafts festival. However, the true Merrie Monarch highlights are ticketed competitions for Miss Aloha Hula and the group kahiko (ancient) and auana (modern) hula specialties, danced by hula halau, or schools, from across the state, and from as far away as Japan, at Hilo’s Edith Kanaka‘ole Stadium.

The festivities started on Easter Sunday with a ho’olaulea – a celebration – at the stadium and in the days following, there were numerous free hula presentations, workshops and events such as lei making contests.  Tonight there will be a free Ho’ike Night – a sort of taste of the competition for those who were unable to get tickets to the real competition, together with the presentation of the Royal Court – a group chosen annually, initially in conjunction with the annual Aloha Festival, but who now serve throughout the year and grace events such as this one – representing the ancient Ali’i and honoring the spirit of King David Kalakaua.

The Royal Court Enters

A major craft fair, the Invitational Arts Fair, has developed around the Festival and there’s even the beginnings of a “Hilo Fashion Week” in the making.

7392898_G

Well known local designer Nita Pilago’s Wahine Toa line has been shown at the Fair for the last six years, and has become so popular that her booth has been given it’s own entrance and she sells out her collection nearly every day, restocking each night from the large trailer she and her family pack just for the Fair.  Nita, her husband and her children are all artists and the designs are all hand drawn by them.
“We are all artists — my husband, my two boys — we all draw. So all of the art is all original art. That was my vision to put our art on clothing and each of our art there’s a mana’o — there’s a story behind it — and I think that’s part of the spirit and the essence that we try to put into the clothing,” described Pilago in a recent television interview.
7392899_G

The Art Fair continues through Saturday.  Meanwhile, the hula competition commences on Thursday and will be televised locally.  First up on the competition schedule is the contest for Miss Aloha Hula on Thursday evening.  The Merrie Monarch Festival concludes with a parade through the town of Hilo on Saturday, April 11 beginning at 10:30 a.m.

Saddle Road

Yesterday I had occasion to drive the Saddle Road – the new version, and it made me think back on what it used to be like. When we first started coming to the Big Island, driving Saddle Road was a bit of an illicit thrill. The rental car companies, for the most part, had as a part of their contracts that you were not to take the rental car over Saddle Road, and it was an exciting trip! There were huge pot holes, numerous one lane bridges, narrow lanes, huge dips and steep hills – almost like a roller coaster in spots – and hairpin turns. The road appeared to have been laid out by a drunken cowboy following a panic-stricken herd of cows, plus it ran right through the Pohakuloa Military Base and you could sometimes be driving by during live fire exercises.  Add to that that the high elevations of portions of the road (up to around 7,000 feet) frequently resulted in being in fog, mist, or rain – sometimes all three, and that the Dark Skies County ordinance forbade lighting of the road so as not to interfere with the telescopes atop Mauna Kea, and you had a recipe for one treacherous road, particularly at night.

I got curious, then, about the history of the Saddle Road, and here’s what I found out.

In May 1849, Minister of Finance Gerrit P. Judd proposed building a road directly between the two population centers of the Island of Hawaiʻi. Using prison labor, it started near Holualoa Bay at 19°35′57″N 155°58′26″W and proceeded in a straight line up to the plateau south of Hualālai. After ten years only about 12 miles (19 km) were completed, when work was abandoned at 19°38′38″N 155°45′12″W when the 1859 eruption of Mauna Loa blocked its path.[2] Although destroyed at lower elevations due to residential development, it can still be seen on maps as the “Judd Trail”.

While planning for the defense of the Hawaiian islands in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U. S. Army hastily built an access road in 1943 across the Humuʻula plateau[3] of Parker Ranch at 19°41′44″N 155°29′8″W.[4] Since it was not intended as a civilian road, the simple gravel path was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and the US Army Corps of Engineers in case of an invasion.[5] Military vehicles of all types and treads traversed the Island for the next three years.

Following the end of World War II in 1945, the Army turned over jurisdiction of the road to the Territory of Hawaiʻi and it was designated “State Route 20”. However, the territorial government had few funds to maintain the road, let alone upgrade it to civilian standards. Much of the paving dates from 1949.

About the same time, Tom Vance, who had earlier supervised building a highway up Mauna Loa named for Governor Ingram Stainback, secretly used his prison laborers to start a more direct Hilo-Kona road. He started at a camp 19°38′12″N 155°28′52″W (still called “Vance” on USGS maps) which was exactly midway between Hilo and Kealakekua. The road extended in a straight line, heading for the pass between Hualālai and Mauna Loa. In 1950, the camp caught fire after construction reached 19°37′17″N 155°35′57″W. The public refused to allocate more funding when they discovered about US$1 million had already been spent, so the project was also abandoned.[6]

After islands became the State of Hawaii in 1959, Saddle Road was handed to the County of Hawaiʻi and for many years only minimal maintenance was performed, leading to generally poor conditions and the source of the road’s notorious reputation.

Old poorly maintained Saddle Road
Old poorly maintained Saddle Road

 

 

Since 1992, there has been increased attention on the road, with efforts to rebuild and renovate the highway into a practical cross-island route. This resulted in repaving some sections and complete rebuilding of others.

Between 1992 and now, the road has been largely realigned, and it no longer goes through the base, but rather skirts around the back side and doesn’t cross the training area any more, either. It is, hands down, the nicest stretch of road on the island and about the only one where you can easily and comfortably maintain a ‘highway’ speed of 55 without worrying. The newer sections have guardrails, the ‘rollercoaster’ hills are gone, the hairpin turns smoothed out.  The only remaining issues are on the downhill portions on either end, where you have to be careful not to drift into too high speeds as the road reaches pretty steep grades and it is easy to have your speed get away from you. It isn’t the Saddle Road anymore, either, having recently been renamed for the late Senator Dan Inouye who was responsible for ‘bringing home the bacon’ that funded the realignment and repaving.

 

New Daniel Inouye Memorial Highway (Saddle Road)
New Daniel Inouye Memorial Highway (Saddle Road)

It is still a spectacular drive over some amazing terrain, but, for the most part, the thrill is gone.

 

 

Scenery along Saddle Road
Scenery along Saddle Road
Scenery along Saddle Road
Sunset Saddle Road

The Grande Dame of the Kohala Coast is 50 this year

The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, the first of the destination resorts on the Kohala (Gold) Coast of Hawaii Island opened for business 50 years ago this year. The resort was conceived in 1960 when Hawaii’s Governor William Quinn invited American venture capitalist Laurance S. Rockefeller to visit the Big Island and scout beachfront sites for potential resorts.

 

Mauna Kea Beach
Kauna’oa Beach 1960

 

 

Already known for his involvement with conservation causes and his love of the outdoors, Mr. Rockefeller believed that buildings should conform to, not intrude on, beautiful natural surroundings. As they flew over the white sand crescent of Kauna‘oa Beach, Mr. Rockefeller asked if he could go in for a swim. From the water, he looked upslope at the towering summit of Mauna Kea and was inspired to create a great hotel that reflected the spirit of this special place.

The property was part of the huge Parker Ranch, the largest land owner on Hawaii Island, and Mr. Rockefeller promptly signed a 99 year lease and set about hiring his team to create the Mauna Kea Hotel. He contracted Belt Collins, site planners and engineers, Skidmore Owings Merrill, building architects, Davis Allen, interior designer, and Robert Trent Jones, golf course architect, who pioneered a technique of creating soil from lava rock. The Mauna Kea Golf Course debuted with a televised “Big 3” match between Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player before the Hotel opened.

 

Opening of the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, 1965
Opening of the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, 1965

When it opened in 1965, The Mauna Kea was the most expensive hotel ever built at the time, at a cost of $15 million. Praised by travel writers and critics worldwide, the luxury resort hotel was named one of the “Three greatest hotels in the world” by Esquire magazine, one of “10 best buildings of 1966” by Fortune, and presented with an honors award by the American Institute of Architects.

A noted conservationist and lover of the outdoors, Mr. Rockefeller believed that buildings should conform to, not intrude on, the natural surroundings of a place. His original concept for The Mauna Kea luxury resort was a cluster of individual cottages along the beach-with no televisions or air-conditioning to interfere with the natural experience. SOM produced a dome-shaped model that was almost washed out by a tropical storm, so they literally went back to the drawing board for a single-building design by lead architect Charles Bassett. The resulting final design followed the topography with a pair of stepped back, open air galleries, surrounded by gardens. As the resort neared completion, Rockefeller took a motor boat offshore to look back at the bay, beach and hotel, backed by a snow capped Mauna Kea, and decided that the paint was too bright. He ordered a repainting of the building to make it more harmonious with the surrounding landscape. While air-conditioning proved to be a must in the warm South Kohala climate, the Hotel operated contentedly without guestroom televisions until 1995.

 

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel from the bay
Mauna Kea Beach Hotel from the bay

As the final touch, Rockefeller installed throughout the hotel and grounds a collection of museum-quality Asian and Oceanic art and artifacts. Typical are the 18th-century gilt bronze Thai Buddhist disciples that flank the entrance to the lobby; the 18th- and 19th-century Japanese tonsu chests; the New Guinea and Solomon Islands drums. Some 30 Hawaiian quilts commissioned by Rockefeller himself hang in the fifth- and sixth-floor corridors. The collection’s centerpiece is a several-ton 17th-century pink-granite Indian Buddha (its counterpart resides in the Art Institute of Chicago) that reposes on a plinth at the top of a flight of wooden stairs beneath a bodhi tree, his stomach blackened from good-luck rubs, folded hands invariably holding an orchid, the traditional offering. (Once a year, the sculpture is ritually bathed by the hotel’s Buddhist employees.) These treasures, displayed in the open as Rockefeller insisted rather than entombed in Plexiglas, are not labeled, but in each guestroom there is a scholarly book detailing the collection. According to Don Aanavi, art history professor at the University of Hawaii, “Rarely does one find such a large collection of significant art works in a resort hotel.”

 

One of the 1600 pieces in the art collection
One of the 1600 pieces in the art collection

All was not without controversy, however, as the developers of the property sought to keep access to the beautiful Kauna’oa Beach restricted to guests of the hotel. In 1973, a suit was filed by four plaintiffs, claiming that their traditional gathering rights as Native Hawaiians had been violated, due to the development of the resort. After eight years of litigation, public access was granted and a small parking area, and eventually, a trail, showers and rest rooms, were put in by the resort. Public access, while given, is still somewhat begrudging, with a maximum of 30 parking spaces set aside and access controlled by security at the resort gates.

The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel rapidly became one of the most celebrated hotels in the world, and developed a fiercely loyal clientele, now reaching into the second and third generations of returning guests. A recent attempt to replace the bright orange beach towels with something ‘less 70s’ was met with such a storm of protest from the guests, that the proposal was quickly dropped.  Even now, televisions are discretely hidden behind cabinetry so as not to intrude, should the guests prefer not to access them.

The hotel has had two major closures in its 50 year history. The first was for a renovation in 1994, which was undertaken following the opening of the neighboring Hapuna Prince Hotel (and where all the employees of the Mauna Kea were sent, pending the reopening) and included the placement of televisions in the rooms for the first time in the Mauna Kea’s history, and the second, a few years later, in 2006, as a result of damages sustained in a significant (6.7) earthquake whose epicenter was just a few miles from the hotel. This closure was for two years, and involved major structural repairs, as well as remodeling of guest rooms and updates and upgrades to bring the hotel closer to contemporary standards, but without losing the ‘look and feel’ of the original 1965 resort. In the process, the entire art collection was also cleaned and restored.  In total, the rennovation costs were ten times the original cost of building, at something over $150 million.

This year, many special events are planned for the property, including golf tournaments, and ’50 Acts of Aloha’ events to give back to Hawaii Island. We should all age as gracefully as this Grande Dame of the Kohala Coast!

The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel today
The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel today

Hawaii’s Poet Laureate

And You?

They tell me Hawaii has changed…it’s no longer the same.
Of course, it could not be the same, though it changed not at all.
Is the moon of heart of young spring the moon of late fall?
Same eye, same heart, same moon … but what of the flame?
Life, now a business of living, was then a bright game.
Passion, a whispering echo, was once a clear call.
The surf, once a maverick stallion, a challenge to tame
Is a maverick still, but my steed is a horse from the stall.
Am I the man of my youth, though I bear the same name?
Hawaii…and life…and I…ever-never the same.
And you? and you?

Don Blanding, born an Oklahoman, but a kama’aina in his heart, was, among other things, an ad-man, an artist, an author, an illustrator, a journalist, and, in, and above all these things, a poet, often referred to as the poet laureate of Hawaii.  He first came to Hawaii as a young man, struck by the romance of the islands as observed in a stage production he saw in his native Oklahoma, and stayed until his enlistment in the Army and service in World War I.  After the war, he returned, writing advertising copy, designing for a local pottery maker, illustrating brochures for a variety of local business enterprises, and, eventually, becoming a columnist for the Honolulu Star Bulletin.  It was in this role that Blanding probably had his most lasting impact – the invention of Lei Day – still celebrated on May 1 each year.  Here are his collected columns from 1928 as he introduced the idea:

10171742_772514389455577_1158926817077518436_n 
~ ~ ~ MAY DAY IS LEI DAY ~ ~ ~

Honolulu Star-Bulletin
February 13, 1928

LEI DAY HERE
SUGGESTION OF
LOCAL ARTIST

Blanding Proposes Happy,
Spontaneous Period To
Be Observed Each Year

Fete Would Be No Solemn
Anniversary; Would Not
Be a Propaganda Day

By DON BLANDING

It’s percolating in my mind for several years, this idea. Now that it has crystallized and formed into some degree of clarity, I must spring it. I want to see what you think of it. Here it is.
Honolulu should have a day that is distinctly, particularly and individually its own. A Honolulu day in flavor and gayety, in laughter and friendliness, in aloha and mirth. Not a solemn anniversary of some historical event. Not a seriously minded “eat a peach a day” day. No propaganda or commercial drive. Just a bubbly, happy, spontaneous expression of the joy of living in Hawaii, which is the essence of Honolulu.

What shall it be? LEI DAY!

Lei Day! A day when every man, woman and child wears a lei. A day on which leis are given and received. When hostesses may give Lei Day dances and dinners. When skilled lei women compete for prizes for the most beautiful leis. When amateurs spend their energy and skill creating beautiful flower garlands for friends.

Rest Our Active Lives

It would be a day in which we stop and think how delightful it is to live in Honolulu, when we really rest our active lives a moment and inhale the perfumes of Hawaii and are fully conscious of the sunshine and the blueness of Hawaiian skies and the friendliness and aloha of this enchanted spot.

We are too much inclined to take things for granted. With such lavish outpourings of nature’s generous gifts we are inclined to be spoiled and petulant, demanding more and more instead of appreciating the gorgeousness of what we have. We should stop and consciously realize the happiness that is immediately at hand in these islands.

When should it be? That’s for you to decide.

Shall it be in the flowering season when Honolulu is most beautiful. Should it not be a day followed by a full moon. Should it tie up with some day like Kamehameha Day or should it belong to itself and bear no national flavor, but be a day in which all nationalities have a part. Should it be during the tourist season? Perhaps they’d catch the infection of our joyousness and spread it broadcast throughout the world.

This is not Pollyanna-ism. We do live in one of the most contented, easy-happy places on the globe. Why not throw out our chests and declare to the universe that we know what a fortunate people we are.

As for leis! They are the first things that greet us and they are the last token of farewell. They are as much Honolulu as the very air. They lend fragrance and beauty to parties, luaus, dances. They are a summary of and symbol of the word aloha.

Leis for Everybody

How gay the streets would look. I defy anyone, unless he be a congenital sour-ball, to wear a lei without a degree of happiness. One would recall neglected friends to whom one might send a lei and resume old contacts. And for the stranger, unfortunate to have made no friends, let there be leis and lei givers to look after them.

The downtown stores could display the prize leis as incentives and inspiration to others. The poets would undoubtedly burble about leis. People would think “lei” and with the thought, enter more delightedly into the celebration of the day.

New Orleans has its Mardi Gras. There are Rose Festivals in other places. Honolulu can have a day which will win world-wide notice with its Lei Day. Don’t you think so?

I’m going to interview a lot of you and get your thoughts on the subject, so please collect your ideas.

Do you like the idea? When should it be? What suggestions have you for developing it? Think seriously about it . . . not too seriously, because we want to keep it frivolous.
Honolulu Star-Bulletin
February 16, 1928

Proposal For Lei Day In Hawaii
Meets With An Instant Response

Kamaainas and Malihinis Stop Blanding To Register Their
Approval and Kokua of Plan Which He Suggested; Might
Be Combined With May Day, Is the Suggestion of One

By DON BLANDING

Hurrah for Lei Day. It really looks as though we might be able to launch it judging from the enthusiastic response on all sides. Kamaainas and malihinis have stopped me to say that they like the idea and will kokua to put it across. It is interesting to hear the different slants on the time, manner and development.
In case you missed the Monday Star-Bulletin I’ll briefly outline the idea again. Lei Day is proposed as a typical individual day for Honolulu to celebrate as its very own; as a symbol of the day of festivity and happiness every one is to wear a lei; leis are to be given to friends; competitions for the most beautiful leis will be conducted and every person will stop for a bit to realize that he is mighty lucky to be living in Hawaii. Hostesses will give lei day parties and dances; old friends will be looked up, and every one will have a good aloha time.

Grace Tower Warren responded with the proposal that Lei Day be on May Day with leis instead of May baskets. And the idea is good because Honolulu is especially beautiful at that time. Lei Day May Day would be different and significant.

Col. R. M. Schofield, of the territorial fair, offers kokua in every way, suggesting that it might be tied up with the school children’s festival at the fair. This would tie up with the May Day idea. Lei dances and ceremonies could be colorfully incorporated into a beautiful pageant.

Melba Likes Idea

Dame Nellie Melba, to whom I outlined the idea, agreed that it was quite in line with the movement which should be conducted to bring more Hawaiian flavor to the outward dressing of Hawaii. She mentioned that almost every city of Europe has a celebration or festival which carries the flavor of the place.

Mrs. Marion Budd, of the Little China Gift Shop and who travels extensively in the Orient, thought the idea an excellent one and mentioned the Cherry Blossom time of Japan and the Firefly Viewing festival as examples of lovely “days” with charm and attractiveness.

She suggested that the Lei Day be during the tourist season so that others besides ourselves might enjoy it. Of course we still have tourists in May so that does not conflict with the May Day idea.

Mr. Thayer of Thayer Music Co. cheered the idea and thought it good and open to large development. he also emphasized the necessity for retaining something of the old time flavor of Hawaii.

I quote from a letter from “L. A. R. W.” of Waialua. Your idea of keeping keeping the leis in glory is appropriate. The old custom of giving and wearing leis is fast fading into obscurity. So vivid are the old days when I lived in Manoa valley in my mother’s garden of glorious bloom. In those days leis had prominent place in Hawaiian love making. Every maiden had a lei in anticipation of her lover and it was a crime to let him leave without his favorite flower.

“Then the fathers and brothers too had fresh leis tied around their hats each day.

“Grandmothers spent hours chatting and laughing over leis for their visitors. The art has almost been lost to the florists. It’s the flower without flaw that makes the perfect lei. L. A. R. W.”

Everyday Custom

Any number of people have hoped the launching of Lei Day may revive the wearing of leis for everyday custom. A lei on the hat or neck has decorative value and is a pleasant reminder that someone’s kindly thought is following one during the day.

Some have thought that Lei Day should not be a holiday. It shouldn’t in my opinion. The day could be made lovely with leis without making it an actual holiday and the evening would be gay with parties and dances and visiting and song. I still favor a day that is followed by a full moon which would make the actual date movable as in the case of Easter. Possibly the governor could declare the day each year.

Write in your opinions. Only by collecting all comments can we arrive at your ideas about Lei Day, and only by hearty kokua from all can it be made as beautiful and as “Honolulu” as it should be.
Honolulu Star-Bulletin
February 27, 1928

Lei Day Idea Growing In Favor;
Everyone Seems to Kokua Scheme

Not a Voice Raised In Protest To Proposal To Inaugurate
a Distinctive Honolulu Festival; More Suggestions and
Hints From the Public Are Desired Urgently

By DON BLANDING

Not a voice raised in protest; everyone seems to be in favor of Lei Day. Malihinis and kamaainas join in offering kokua to make Honolulu’s Lei Day a thing of joy and festivity. Hostesses have seized on the idea as a motif for gay parties and the school children are guaranteeing to proffer leis by the armload for the festival.
The general opinion seems to be that Lei Day should be during the flowering season, May or June preferably, and the opinion is about evenly divided between Kamehameha Day and May Day. I personally would like to see Lei Day happen at a time when people would be on the downtown streets and the leis would be in evidence wherever one looks. However, as I say, that’s for you to decide.

Mrs. James Castle writes a charming note of kokua:

“I think your idea of Lei Day is most alluring. It would give us a day which would be individual and distinctive. It could be made so much an expression of the islands, with its poetry and romance and develop a quality of appreciation which lies dormant in so many.

“I hope you will be able to create this day and give us an hour in the garden of the gods with the commercialism left out.”

No Propaganda, Ballyhoo

“With the commercialism left out.” Yes, indeed! Let’s keep Lei Day a day of blissful burbling and frivolity with an undertone of quiet appreciation of the beauty of Hawaii. No propaganda, no ballyhoo.

Another letter which brings an idea:

“Dear Don Blanding:

“After reading your letters in The Star-Bulletin last evening I do so wish that we shall have a Lei Day and that if we do, all the leis will be made of fresh flowers and positively no paper leis on that great day.

“Yours respectfully,

“(MISS) MIRIAM JEFFS.”

Certainly no paper leis. Those are for malihinis and tourists. Fresh flowers, heavy with the exquisite perfumes of the islands.

Of course Lei Day would offer hostesses a chance to have pre-Lei day parties at which all guests would join in the making of leis under the instruction of kamaainas who understand the art.

George Armitage writes for the tourist bureau:

“We couldn’t think of anything more peculiarly Hawaiian or more individual than some local ceremony which will feature the lei. We suggest that it be inaugurated in conjunction with the forthcoming festival of flowers and that it be used as a headliner to advertise our flowering trees. Each year the tourist bureau is giving more attention to our gorgeous springtime and some day we all should make a great carnival season out of it. We stand ready to feature Lei Day in any way possible in our publicity and advertising.”

Would Be a Festival

A festival! Of course Lei Day would be a festival. Honolulu will have decorated herself without our help in honor of the holiday. There will be golden shower, poinciana, jacaranda, pink shower, hibiscus everywhere. We should do our best to rival nature if possible.

Dawgone it, there’s color in the idea. Honolulu can make Lei Day a world known event if it will turn its mind to it.

Come on now. Speak up. Will all you people of Hawaiian blood respond to a day which is the very expression of your own generous hospitality and aloha. Of course you will. That means hundreds of leis in sight. Will all you school children turn your skillful, nimble fingers to lei making. Shuah! I can hear the hundreds of shrill voices raised in assurance. Will all you kamaainas join in with parties and visitings and lei gifts to old friends. I know you will.

Let me hear from a few more of you. When shall it be? That’s the question to decide. And it’s up to you.
Honolulu Star-Bulletin
March 17, 1928

May Day Seems To Be The Choice
Of Honolulu For Its ‘Lei Day’

Tuesday Is the Date and It’s To be Expected That Every-
one Will Be Seen Downtown Wearing a Lei; Also Plan
Surely To Give Lei To Some Friend; Everyone Helping

By DON BLANDING

“What’s become of LEI DAY?” A hundred people have asked me that question during the last week. Lei Day is not forgotten in the least. We’ve been waiting for you all to decide when it is to be. Now you’ve had your say, let’s go!
Out of the bushels of letters which poured in in response to the Lei Day idea fully 80 per cent seemed to favor May Day for Lei Day. You are the judges so, what do you say, let’s put May 1 down as the day for Lei Day. May the first is Tuesday so everyone will be percolating around the streets wearing leis and smiles and Honolulu will look like a moving garden of loveliness.

“May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii” — what a cheery colorful slogan. It behooves us to live up to it. There are going to be thousands of visitors of the fleet to carry the word throughout the world, telling of the joyous place that Honolulu is.

Things To Be Done

But let’s get down to details. here are the things that Honolulans should do to support the Lei Day idea and put it over big and glorious.

Every man, woman and child should wear a lei all day. Every one should give at least one lei to a friend. As many as have time and skill should make leis. But EVERYONE should wear a lei.

The school children are going to support the idea. I have their word for it in dozens of quaint, delightful letters. And what leis there will be when nimble happy fingers get to playing with bright petals and gay flowers.

The Hawaiians are not going to let their most loved symbol of aloha be slighted on that day. I can see the exquisite flower arrangements which will come from hands that are born with the skill of flower arrangement in their finger tips.

The stores should, and many have promised to display leis, offer prizes, decorate their clerks, and in some cases offer leis to friends and patrons.

There will be lei-decorated automobiles carrying color through the streets. The hotels are going to see that their guests wear leis.

Lei Day Social Affairs

A dozen prominent hostesses have declared themselves for Lei Day parties, teas, luncheons and dances. Three real kamaainas are having “before Lei Day” parties at which all guests will participate in lei making. Can’t you hear the reminiscences and “do-you-remembers” that will mingle with the flower garlands?

Various clubs and organizations are begining to speak of lei Day and are pushing the idea loyally and efficiently.

Oh, it’s going to be a great day, equalling if not surpassing any flower festival or rose carnival in the world for the lei is a different sort of thing, it has more significance and charm than any bouquet or wreath in any part of the world.

This is not sticky sentimentality. A lei brings with it an association of friendliness, and friendliness in these days of rush and hustle is needed badly in this old world.

Incidentally, now is not too soon to commence laying plans. Even with all the flowering trees and the thousands of flowers of the Honolulu gardens there may be a dearth of flowers to fill the bill, since there will be, not hundreds, but thousands of fragrant lovely leis lending their beauty to our beautiful city.

Enchanted By Scene

I can imagine myself as a visitor walking down these streets, enchanted by the spectacle. I think that we will all be so delighted with the idea that maybe every day will be lei day in Hawaii. Who knows? Here’s hoping.

Just to get a better check on what you’re planning to do, I wish you’d fill out the following blank with your name and your idea of what you can do to make LEI DAY the loveliest day in Honolulu.

Name …………………………………………
Address ……………………………………..
I will kokua with Lei Day by
…………………………………………………..
…………………………………………………..
…………………………………………………..
(Address the envelope LEI DAY, c/o The Star-Bulletin.)
Honolulu Star-Bulletin
March 21, 1928

Bank of Hawaii Gets Behind the
Plan For ‘Lei Day’ in Honolulu

Financial Institution Declares Its Approval and Intention
To Support the Proposal Heartily; Will Offer Prizes For
the Different Sorts of Leis Which May Be Displayed

By DON BLANDING

Spendid! Splendid! Just the sort of kokua that’s going to make Lei Day memorable in Honolulu. You saw the announcement made by the Bank of Hawaii in yesterday’s Star-Bulletin declaring its approval of Lei Day and its intention to support it heartily.
In case you missed the announcement I’m going to repeat it for you and you can realize what this help will mean to the Lei Day movement.

“Speaking of Lei Day,” says the Bank of Hawaii, “the Bank of Hawaii is heartily in favor of Lei Day and extends its kokua in assisting in the preservation of a beautiful Hawaiian custom.

“The choice of May Day for Lei Day is most appropriate and the bank is happy to have the opportunity of offering its banking room to the public on Lei Day for the display of leis — whether of flowers, feathers, shells or other materials. Many old-fashioned and original leis will undoubtedly be forthcoming.

“The bank is offering prizes for the different classes of leis which will be announced in the near future in our regular advertising space.

“Let us all make Lei Day the success it should be and everyone wear a lei on Lei Day.”

A Chance to Learn

That means that Honolulu is going to have the chance to learn about rare, unusual and precious leis which will come from the hands of oldtimers who know the beloved flowers of Hawaii which, in olden days, were used for aloha garlands, but which through disuse have faded from general knowledge.

There will be groups of Hawaiian fruits and flowers in colorful array. I know some of the bank’s plans for lei Day and can assure everyone that the display will be one of the most unusual imaginable.

Experts and authorities are being consulted and scouts sent out for the purpose of assembling leis which most of us have never seen.

When an institution of the importance of the Bank of Hawaii recognizes the value of a worthy and fine sentiment and supports it as a community asset, we may feel encouraged.

Now what are YOU going to do? You’re going to wear a lei, of course.

Merchants! You are going to display leis in your windows, aren’t you? And you’re going to see that your people have leis to brighten the stores and delight your patrons, both malihinis and kamaainas.

Teachers! You are going to encourage the children to turn their nimble, clever fingers toward lei-making, aren’t you. Those youngsters will respond, and it will plant the idea where it can grow and attain significance.

Hostesses! This is a rare opportunity to stage a beautiful festivity. Leis for your guests. If you are clever you will find the color of your guests’ frocks and pay them the nice compliment of having a matching lei for each one.

Kamaainas! You are going to help keep a lovely idea alive and preserve the old joyous charm of Honolulu. I’ve heard you express regret that many of the old friendly gestures were disappearing from the islands. Now is the time when your regrets should take active form and constructive direction.

Part of the Picture

Malihinis! You will enjoy being part of a novel and beautiful ceremony. It will be something which, in the telling, will entertain your friends on the mainland.

Clubs and organizations! Are you going to see that our fleet visitors, the defenders of our nation, are decorated with aloha welcomes on Lei Day? You should. Honolulu has a tradition of hospitality to uphold, and this is an excellent way and time to do it.

One phase of the idea which seems to please kamaainas is the gesture of giving leis to friends on that day. We realize guiltily that we have neglected some old friend, have forgotten to call or telephone or say hello for a long time. Lei day offers a chance to make amends, and how much lovelier a lei would be than a cold impersonal card of greeting.

BUT, let me give warning. Begin to make your lei arrangements now because, even with all the flowers of Hawaii, there’s going to be a heavy demand and if you want some particular kind you should order now.

Just visualize the streets as they can be on Lei Day. Hibiscus leis in red, yellows and pinks; ilima leis like necklaces of Hawaiian gold, gardenia leis heavily fragrant; pansy leis, rose leis, mamo, lehua, mokihana, lauhala, stephanotis leis.

There’s not been a dissenting voice raised. Now let’s see how many are going to join in. “May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii.”
Honolulu Star-Bulletin
March 24, 1928

Lei Day Plans Assuming More
Definite and Promising Form

Suggestions Come From All Sides; Girl Scouts To
Celebrate With an Elaborate Fete in Grounds of
Waterhouse Home in Keeaumoku St.

By DON BLANDING

Every day now our Lei Day is assuming more definite form and promising to be as colorful and dekightful as we planned and hoped for it.
First, the Bank of Hawaii announces its plans for celebrating and although they have not been made public yet, they are on a scale which, if all else failed, will give Honolulu a rare treat in floral and lei display.

Now come the Girl Scouts with Miss Agnes Judd as councillor, announcing an elaborate Lei Day–May Day fete in the beautiful grounds of the Waterhouse home on Keeaumoku St. Mrs. Walter Nelson outlined some of the scheme and it includes floral dances and national dances by the various people of Hawaii. Lovely costumes, pretty girls, quaint folk dances, and flowers, flowers everywhere.

There will be a Lei pole dance which will be an Hawaiian version of the May Pole. Further announcements will keep the public informed of what it may expect in diversion for Lei Day.

Mr. Hyatt of the Hawaii Music Co. told me apropos of Lei Day, that each steamer day he provides the people in his music store with leis and that the malihini tourists are enchanted with the idea and wonder that it is not in more general use all over Honolulu.

Returned Many Times

If I were appealing to the commercial sense rather than the sentiment of merchants of this city I should offer the argument that the money spent for leis would be returned many times in the interest and delight of tourists who constantly pass news of “finds” from one to another and will be grateful for a bit of local color which Honolulu conspicuously lacks considering its possibilities.

Now comes the question. What organizations are going to see that the fleet visitors who are in town on that day are provided with leis. Ad club, Rotary club, Elks, what are you going to do about it? Are these visitors going to be made welcome. Leis are going to carry the message of aloha better than banners and placards.

From a publicity standpoint Lei Day offers chances for local writers to get stories off to the magazines and papers all over the world.

The Polynesian version of May Day is certain to interest readers who are already curious about Hawaii.

Miss Lorraine Kuck, the society editor of The Star-Bulletin, tells me that many hostesses are seizing on the idea of Lei Day parties eagerly and are developing plans for unique festivities.

Grace Tower Warren, who was born on May Day, is going to celebrate with a Lei Day birthday party. I doubt if she’ll be able to wear all of her leis at one time, but will have to relay them through the day.

I know that a good many people are beginning to check lists of friends to whom they intend sending leis. And I know this, too, that you should begin making your arrangements for ordering leis now. The lei makers are going to be busy people providing loyal Honolulans with leis.

Would Be Well Spent

The hotels have promised to provide all guests with beautiful leis for Lei Day. The money would be well spent if they had a daily lei for those who showed any inclination to wear them.

Kamaainas who have real regard for the time-honored customs of Honolulu are hoping that Lei Day will so emphasize the charm of lei wearing and lei giving that the general use of leis will be increased throughout the year and not be confined to May Day alone.

Let us hear what your plans are. Everything you do will encourage others to follow on. We can’t foozle the job. And the news is spreading. Miss Jean Hobbs of the West Coast Banker magazine writes in congratulation and cheering of the idea. She promises to wear a lei in San Francisco on that day. That’s loyalty, isn’t it, and she was only a malihini, who became kamaaina in a short time.

Certainly we who live here cannot fall short of such example.
Honolulu Star-Bulletin
March 26, 1928

Whole Territory Getting Behind
Plan to Observe ‘Lei Day’ Here

Hundreds of Orders Already Given To Florists For Leis of
Unusual Sorts; Intermediate Teachers Lay Plans For a
Pre-Lei Day Luncheon at Waialae

By DON BLANDING

Any lingering doubts about he success of Lei Day are dissipated like clouds before the bright Hawaiian sun. From every part of Hawaii and from every nationality come assurances that Hawaii is going to celebrate her symbol of aloha in a manner worthy of the lei.
Roxor Damon, of the Bank of Hawaii, tells me that in addition to the beautiful display in their own lobby here in Honolulu, the Hilo branch will represent Lai Day in Hilo and that kamaainas are welcoming the opportunity to revive old lei customs which have fallen into neglect. Maui and probably Kauai will take up the idea and on May 1 all Hawaii will be gay with leis and flowers.

Swamped With Orders

One prominent florist reports that kamaainas are swamping him with orders for leis of the most unusual sort, leis for friends and relatives and guests. They are asking for leis of flowers which he had almost forgotten existed. Mamo, gardenia, orchid, pansy and many varieties of the fragrant leis are in favor. All of those who work in flowers are going to strive to create unusually lovely leis and feature them in their shops and windows.

Which brings up an important point. You must make your lei arrangements now if you expect to have the sort of lei you want on Lei Day. Even with all the wealth of floral beauty in Hawaii there will be a scarcity on that day because, apparently, every one in Honolulu is going to be decorated.

Miss Palmyra Reis, speaking for the intermediate teachers’ association, tells me that there is to be a pre-Lei Day luncheon at the Waialae Golf club April 28 at which plans will be perfected for the celebration of Lei Day with the school children.

Gosh, I wish I could be a malihini arriving in Honolulu on that day. Think of it, what it must mean to people who have never seen leis. As far as that is concerned we who live in Hawaii are going to be amazed at the beauty of the leis which will be forthcoming then.

Display at Academy

Mrs. Cooke has offered the Honolulu Academy of Arts with its beautiful [text missing from original article] . . . There, too, the loveliest and most exotic as well as historically interesting leis will be featured.

In response to the Lei Day questionnaire which was sent out last week, I have had a bushel basket of slips which say, “I will wear a lei and say aloha to friends on Lei Day” (this one from Thomas A. Kelii); “I will give a friend a lei” (Fuji Yamoto); “I will make leis and give them” (Manuel Rigo). Of course Lei Day will appeal to everyone because friendliness is part of every one.

One of the encouraging things is the frequency with which old timers say “Count on us for Lei Day.”

And the lei women — God bless them — are going to be frantically busy for days beforehand assembling flowers for all of us to wear.
Honolulu Star-Bulletin
March 28, 1928

Leis For Personnel of Fleet On
‘Lei Day’ Looms As Big Problem

Suggestion Has Been Made That School Children, Making
Extra Lei Each, Can Fill the Bill Giving Welcome Which
No Other City In the World Would Be Able To Duplicate

By DON BLANDING

Every day adds to the promise that Lei Day is going to be rather memorable in Honolulu. One after another of the firms, schools and individuals promise to come forth with lei displays which will be a revelation to all who view them.
One charming person in Honolulu known for lavish and splendid gestures of entertainment has ordered 300 leis for the party which she is giving on that day. Which reminds me, hostesses who plan parties for that night had better start asking their guests now or they’ll find them hard to get, because invitations are going broadcast all over town.

Honolulu is well known for doing things in a large way. As yet no organization has solved the problem of giving our fleet visitors leis on Lei Day. It’s a big order, but it can be done.

Possibly the schools can manage it. If each child makes an extra lei and all the leis are gathered it will make a magnificent number. No other port will offer just such a welcome to the fleet.

The display at the Honolulu Academy of Arts will be unusually lovely since, I believe, the leis are to be entirely from Hawaiian sources. It’s going to be fun browsing about seeing the infinite variety of flower combinations and colors.

Plans are developing rapidly for the Bank of Hawaii’s display, which will be on a lavish scale. Rare old historical leis, curious and unusual leis, fragrant leis, shell leis, feather leis, all varieties of leis will be grouped with cards explaining their meaning and association.

Anyone who has any brilliant ideas and will send them in will be given full credit for their ideas. They all help the common cause of creating a day which will beautifully express that word which means Hawaii to all the world, “Aloha.”

Copyright © 2001 Cadia Los – Revised April 30, 2001

Poli’ahu and Pele

 

Since we have a lot of snow on the mountains at the moment, it seems a good time to post the main legend about the snow goddess of Mauna Kea, and her rivalry with Pele, the fire goddess.  This is a particularly interesting retelling, as it also links the story with geological science and speculates about the origins of the legend.

Poli’ahu,Poli`ahu and Pele: Legend as information science
by Keawe Vredenburg

Myths and legends
One of the first things we have to do when we discuss storytelling, is distinguish between myths and legends. Often we use the terms interchangeably. I’ve heard different definitions, so I will just say how I define myth and legend. A myth is a story with a religious basis describing events, creatures, places whose description and existence at a particular time cannot be known for certain. For example, the origin of the earth or a particular custom. A series of myths may have their own relative time frame — people were created after the world was created, and so forth. All myths are sacred and are equally true, whether Estonian, Christian, Navaho, Jewish or Korean. Further, all cultures and religions are based on myths.

A legend concerns an event, person, or place that was, or is considered to be, historical. The basic story in a legend is true although details may be added over time. Pele is both myth and legend. She is part of the creation mythology of Hawai’i, but she is also a historical personage whose genealogy extends to people in the present day.

Both myths and legends are used to teach and both have a place in storytelling — whether for children or adults. Stories of any kind are intended to be easy to listen to, so they can be good teaching tools.

The story of Pele and Poli`ahu
I am now going to talk about geology through a story that involves mythology. When I first heard this legend, I did not know it was about geology. I thought it was just a nice story for kids about Pele and Poli’ahu having a battle.

Pele and Poli’ahu are kupua. That word, kupua, is roughly equal to Moslem and Christian angels — a being that is human with supernatural powers, but is not God. I use the Hawaiian term because English words are “loaded” with false impressions — angel, demigod, goddess, spirit, etc.

Poli`ahu is one of the four female kupua on Mauna Kea — she is associated with, and controls, snow. Another is Lilinoe, who is the mist that comes from the mountain. Waiau is the kupua of the underground reservoir of water that comes from Mauna Kea. Finally, there is Ka Houpo o Käne (“bosom of Käne”), who represents the springs of the island of Hawai’i.

Poli`ahu and her three friends went one day to an area above where Laupähoehoe now is, to go hölua sledding. At that time, the cliff was a lot lower and there was no “lau” in Laupähoehoe — no leaf of lava extending into the ocean. There was nothing down below the cliff but deep water.

The hölua slide started way up on the mountain. Such a slide is perhaps eight feet wide and shaped like a shallow trough. It was made by clearing the big rocks off the slide area, putting smaller rocks and gravel down instead. Over that went a layer of pili grass to make it slippery. You pick up your six-inch wide, seven-foot long hölua, run a few steps, then throw it down and jump on it full length, holding on with your fingers tucked under your chest. You hope you can keep your fingers and toes off the rocks, and that you have good balance or you will die. You can get up to maybe 50 miles an hour on a good hill and when you get to the end, you and the hölua go off into space. You shove the hölua away quickly and both it and you dive into the water.

The four ladies were having a good time that day, racing each other, diving into the cool water, and climbing back up for another ride. There were a number of local farmers and fishermen watching, talking to the four women, and all trying to decide who was faster. After perhaps an hour, a woman came up to the top of the slide, a stranger, and talked with the ladies. She said she was visiting from the southern part of the island, had not brought her hölua with her and asked if she could borrow one. Lilinoe said, “Of course, use mine. What name may we call you by? You are so beautiful.”

“Some call me Keahilele,” replied the stranger with a little smile. Keahilele went to the top of the slide, ran, and dropped onto the hölua. They all watched in admiration as she expertly guided the sled up onto the sides of the slide when there were curves. So fast was she going that they could clearly see wisps of smoke coming from the runners when she went off the end of the slide.

Poli’ahu could hardly wait for her turn. She loved competition, and this Keahilele lived up to her name, “flying fire.” The five women decided to pick two judges who would separately decide who was fastest on the next two runs. Poli’ahu would go first, then Keahilele. Poli’ahu flew down the course as though it were solid ice, with a thin layer of water to make it slippery. The judges made a mark in the dirt to indicate their counting. Keahilele went next. So fast did she go that the two sled runners trailed sparks when she reached the end of the course.

The women all gathered around the two judges. They sat, looked at their timing numbers; first one, then the other, pointed to Poli’ahu as the fastest. Keahilele was furious. She stamped her feet, saying, “She was not faster than me! I won! I am much better than she was.” She glared at Poli’ahu. “You cheated!” she cried. Everyone was shocked — the woman had been so lovely and friendly earlier, now she was furious for no good reason. Keahilele stamped her foot again and the ground shook — an earthquake. Keahilele hurled Lilinoe’s hölua to the ground and, where the tips of the runners struck the ground, cracks appeared and smoke emerged from within the earth.

Poli’ahu realized now who “Keahilele” really was — she was Pele. Mauna Kea had been free of volcanoes for many years by this time and Poli’ahu’s soft blankets of snow slept silently on the high peaks, melting their water into Lake Waiau during the summer heat. Pele pointed at the snow-capped hills and said, “I will destroy you and your mountain!”

The four women began to run back up Mauna Kea, followed by Pele, who screamed at them and hurled burning chunks of lava. They wrapped themselves in their soft kïkepa of fine white kapa to ward off the burning cinders that blistered their skin. Pele’s fingers grasped a corner of Waiau’s garment and flames spurted from the kapa; Waiau tore it from Pele’s fingers and ran faster. Poli’ahu reached the top of Mauna Kea and immediately called forth the snow.

By the time all four women were on Pu’u Poli’ahu, thick snow blanketed the ground and more was falling, so much snow they could barely see each other. But then, just a few hundred yards away, Pu’u Hau Kea began to erupt hot red lava. A little later, Pu’u Lilinoe also erupted. Below Lake Waiau, cracks appeared and rift eruptions began, lines of lava fountains spilled fiery streams that melted the snow.

Pele decided to destroy the hölua slide at Laupähoehoe, knowing Poli’ahu would be unable to stop her. Eruptions began along the eastern side of Mauna Kea and a broad wave of ‘a’ä raced down toward the coast. The lava poured over the edge of the cliff into the ocean, piling up higher cliffs along the edge. At Laupähoehoe, where the hölua slide was, Pele forced an enormous amount of lava into the ocean. So much rock went down that a peninsula about a hundred feet high formed above the waves. The hölua slide was never seen again.

Poli’ahu called on Lilinoe to create a thick blanket of mist that stayed close to the ground. Then Waiau and Ka Houpo o Käne brought forth their waters. The icy mist froze the water as it spread out on the ground. Meanwhile Poli’ahu continued to cause the snow to fall. Soon the water from Waiau and Ka Houpo o Käne and the snow from Poli’ahu, all frozen together by Lilinoe, began to get thicker. It was two miles wide, four miles long and twenty, then sixty feet thick, a huge mass of hard ice. Pele continued her lava eruptions that blazed and flowed from Pu’u Lilinoe to Lake Waiau, but the upper edges of her lava army hardened and turned black where it met the block of ice.

Pele did not suspect that the heat of her own lava would soon defeat her. The ground under the thick ice sheet was warm and the heat caused a very thin layer of ice to melt into water. With the great weight of ice above, the entire mass of ice, now a glacier, began to move downward toward Pele’s rift fountains and vents. With more ice and snow filling in behind it, the glacier gained speed and – too late – Pele saw that the ice was sliding over all her sources of hot lava. She poured out lava as fast as she could, but the ice merely hardened it with icy cold water. Pele could not move the ice away and in a little while, the lava had forced itself upward against the bottom of the glacier. Unable to gain release, the hot gases that make lava liquid were dissolved, leaving only very hard stone pressing up against the glacier.

Pele had no more lava to bring to this battle; without liquid rock, she had no means of fighting. Pele was defeated. Whatever remained in her underground reservoir was turned away from Mauna Kea forever, and used to fill the lava pools of Kïlauea.

That is the end of the story.

Hawaiian legend as information science

A few years after I rewrote this story, I decided to research Mauna Kea, Laupähoehoe and the volcanoes on Mauna Kea. I found this quote:

“The cones and flows at the summit are part of the Laupahoehoe Volcanic series. The Laupahoehoe volcanism occurred both during and after the late Pleistocene Makanaka glacial episode at the summit. In addition, a few Laupahoehoe cones have been glacially eroded as evidenced by oversteepened slopes, which suggests that they predate the Makanaka glacial period (16-20,000 yrs). Two notable examples of possible preglacial cones are Puu Waiau and Puu Poliahu. These two cones are also significantly altered, most likely by hydrothermal activity that has weakly cemented the materials on the cones.” [1]

[1] Mapping Lithologic Units Exposed on the Summit of Mauna Kea Using AVIRIS Hyperspectral Reflectance Data – Dept of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Washington University, St Louis, MO; and NASA-Johnson Space Center, Houston TX

The geologist’s interpretation is that the volcanoes started on Mauna Kea, first, to build the Laupähoehoe Point. Then came the glaciers. Meanwhile the volcanoes continued to erupt until the glaciers covered them (“hydrothermal” = water and heat).

That’s where the adze quarry basalt came from, directly from this battle between Poli`ahu and Pele. A thousand years ago, Hawaiians knew all about the geological history of Laupähoehoe, the glaciers, and the forces that made adze rocks. They created that story to teach their children this science of geology.

The story of Pele and Poli’ahu illustrates just how important storytelling can be.

Recently, storytelling has received considerable recognition from information scientists. Information Science is not really new, except for the name. People have handled information for centuries. However, what is new is that information is now a commodity, much like beef, tomatoes, or shoes. People buy and sell information. The entire Internet is for, about, and by information. Information is what propels TV networks, publishing, stock exchanges.

The biggest problem in Information Science is what to do with the information: how to classify it, store it, retrieve it, and do all those things quickly and accurately. Some of the concepts used in Information Science are so complex they cannot be adequately explained without producing both textual and graphic explanations in books and journals, each of which explains a small part of the problem, solution, or concepts involved in the solution. Then other explanations may integrate or unite some of these small pieces and eventually we may have the entire set, of problem definitions, solution concepts, and solutions down to just a few thousand pages of explanation. Most people have trouble understanding a dozen pages, let alone a thousand pages, of detailed explanation. There is a famous saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Both academic and business professionals have taken that to heart. In order to make complex information understandable, the books and journals are converted to graphic presentations – charts, cartoons, briefing slides. The success of these efforts has been brutally summarized by a term, “Death by Powerpoint” where a speaker will “brief” complex ideas for hours using brightly colored slide projections.

The most recent proposed solution? Storytelling! That’s right, scientists are turning to stories to get their point across because charts, graphs, briefing slides – all of those tools of the modern age – cannot make complex information as understandable as it needs to be. While pictures may seem helpful for adding descriptive detail, they also disconnect the listener’s imagination from the tasks of reflection and interpretation. Listener interaction during and after the storytelling is vital to understanding complex ideas – the more a listener’s own experience is tied to the explanation, the more likely he is to internalize the ideas into his own knowledge base. Stories can compress information in the telling, allowing the listener’s mind to expand it later on. A good story, in other words, will use the listener’s background to provide much of the necessary information, reducing the need to spell all that out in detail.

Hawaiians of ancient times knew the difference between types of lava – some lavas had air (or gas) holes, the hard rocks did not. Why would lava not have air in it? Only if it never reached the air. I will leave you to discover what else is unsaid in the story, that you probably already know.