Happy Thanksgiving


For starters, I am filled with gratitude for all our friends and family scattered across the US and the world. We are so fortunate to be able to live here in Hawaii and also to be able to travel around the world, and we have had the opportunity, though those travels, to experience so much, learn so much and make such wonderful friends from so many places.

Today, we are lucky to have some of those friends staying here with us, and I’m in the midst of ‘doing’ the (mostly) traditional Thanksgiving dinner and we are having the nicest weather we’ve had all week that they have been here, with nice mild temperatures, a good trade wind breeze and clear skies. So, we’re grateful for that as well, since we’ve had less than stellar weather during their visit.

So, in the midst of all the strife and bad things that are happening in so much of the world, I’m taking a moment to be thankful that, at least so far, our little corner of the world is peaceful and safe, and that my friends and family are, too.

And what she said, too

I received this response from a friend in Edinburgh in response to my posting of Dave Cogwell’s thoughtful and well written piece, and wanted to share her thoughts as well, as they have deep relevance, I believe, for anyone who may be succumbing to the prevalent hysteria and paranoia that is sweeping, at the least, the media in the US in the wake of the Paris attack, and now the attack in Mali, and the wide-ranging man hunts and sweeps going on in Belgium and elsewhere.  Her last sentence is all too reminiscent of Anne Frank, and one can only hope that the US is NOT going to replay our shameful pre-war history with the refugees of this current conflict.

I am prompted to reply to your carefully and thoughtfully written post if only to give a “European perspective” on recent events in Paris, Brussels and Mali, which I know have made headlines around the world. As I do not know exactly how much awareness of European events and news your blog followers continue to have once the main stories broke, or where in the world some of them are located, I hesitated to add a comment directly to the blog although that was my initial intention.

We have always had terrorism in some form or another here in Europe, and even in my own lifetime I remember the terrorist acts of European groups such as ETA, The Red Brigade and Baader-Meinhof amongst others. The IRA of course were (and indeed to a very small degree still are) our very own. Most of these names are now only to be found in history books, but in their time many innocent civilians were also killed or severely injured by being “in the wrong place at the wrong time”.

What is happening now is however very very different as it is ordinary citizens who are being attacked and murdered simply because their way of life is not approved of by ISIS/ISIL or any of their affiliated groups, or because their governments are making decisions which may not be the wishes of ordinary people. So where do we go from here?

For ourselves, we can only carry on with our everyday lives as we have done in the past. For my own generation it should be second nature to be aware of the places and the people around us, and to remove ourselves from any situation in which our instincts tell us that it simply “doesn’t feel right” however foolish we may feel at the time. For younger people it is not something they would even consider before, now they too would be wise to follow the same guidelines. It is what we have always done both at home and when we travel, but even with a degree of alertness we could still at any time and anywhere become direct or indirect victims of a sudden or unforseen attack.

We ourselves have tickets for some public events in the centre of Edinburgh over the Christmas and New Year period. Will we still go? Of course. We really have no other choice if we value our freedom outside of our home.

Yesterday, Saturday, we went into the city centre. It was the first weekend of the city Christmas lights being switched on, the seasonal markets open, the fairground rides and ice rinks open to the public for their enjoyment, and the shops were busy with Christmas shoppers. It was also the Festival of Diwali.

Celebrated principally by Hindus but also by Jains and Sikhs, the festival of Diwali spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair.

It seemed especially appropriate yesterday that this event should continue as planned, particularly as the celebrations were being held for the very first time in the public area of the Ross Bandstand in Princes St Gardens, so that others of different religions or even of no religion could participate or simply enjoy the performances of singing and dancing followed by fireworks and lasers.

We noticed that many of the Hindu men and young boys were wearing kilts. Not only a kilt itself, but in many instances the full outfit. And many of the women and girls (those not performing in their “other ” ancestral national dress) were wearing tartan or checked skirts, trousers or jackets. Others had pinned on tartan sashes. We guessed what the answer would be, but still asked one of the men why so many were wearing tartan. His reply was this:

“We feel it is important to show that although our Hindu religion may be different from your own, we are not only Hindu but Scottish and proud to be Scottish. We want to show that our religion is only one of the religions practised in Scotland, and apart from our religion we are as Scottish and as integrated as anyone else living here”.

I was very touched by these words. So many people of different cultures and religions trying to show that we are all united in condemning evil.

The world is still (mostly) full of good people.

What he said….


Beyond Paris and Beyond Fear

Naturally, in the wake of a horrifying and chillingly coordinated series of murderous attacks as we saw in Paris last week, a wave of panic and dread passes through the human community. Everyone with normal human reactions is going to experience an immediate impulse for self protection, to take cover, to shield yourself and get out of harm’s way.

And then there is the wave of anguish from watching the aftermath, seeing the suffering of all the people directly affected by the senseless tragedy.

Then, somewhere down the line, when the fear of immediate threat has subsided and some sense of normal life has returned, it is time to consider the implications of the events from as rational perspective as you can muster at that point.

The mass killings in Paris give us every reason to be frightened. But they give us even more reason not to give in to fear.

Claiming no expertise, but just as a shoot-from-the-hip layman’s analysis, it seems the moments just after an incident of terrorism are the least likely to be dangerous. At that point, everyone is hyper alert. Anyone planning a terror attack is likely to lie low at that time and wait for vigilance to subside.

If that supposition holds any water, one could then ask where we might rationally expect terrorists to attack next? Then you have bumped up against the great unknown.
Certainly there are criteria for educated guesses. Some places are more likely targets for terrorism than others, because of their visibility, their familiarity to people or the density of their populations. The World Trade Center for example.

There are intelligence agencies tracking movements of money and people who may be planning terrorist activity — but ultimately, it is impossible to perfectly predict the activity of these rogue elements of the population. It is impossible to completely eliminate risk.
Inside the United States, we have proved to be fairly effective at blocking terrorist activity from the Middle East, but we have proven ourselves unable to stop our own local breed of unpredictable, insane violence in the form of random mass shootings.

If I am sitting in New York, I have every rational reason for fearing that New York is a more likely target right now in the aftermath of the Paris attacks than is Paris.

So how do I stay safe? And if I am in Paris, or New York for that matter, what is and what isn’t a safe place to go?

As horrendous as the attacks were, the vast majority of people in the city only learned about the incidents from their TVs, as did other people around the world. Ultimately there is no logical, rational way to change your behavior in such a way that you are no longer at risk.  You can lessen or increase your risk, for example by driving to the middle of Death Valley all by yourself where no one can get you (you hope). But you can never completely eliminate risk.

If you start trying to consider all the rational possibilities during the time you are in a state of fear, there is no end to them. The mind can just keep generating possibilities, because in the actual field of activity, the possibilities are endless.

Paranoia, by the way, is not a failure of logic, but a loss of faith. When one is under the spell of fear, the mind can generate plenty of paranoid plots that are based on fairly sound logic, but are still fantastic and unrealistic. When there is a loss of faith, there is nothing to ground our fantasies in. They can go wild.

Paul Krugman writing in the New York Times Monday, pointed out that the whole purpose of terrorism is to spread fear, and this incident has effectively done that. But the incident is not a sign that Western Civilization is about to collapse under the force of such terrorist attacks.

Krugman said the fact that the perpetrators are using this kind of tactic — bombings at public places — shows their weakness, not their strength. If you assign to them some massive power that is beyond what they are really capable of, you have given them too much power.

That is the purpose of terrorism, and that is the biggest reason we cannot give in to fear. That is the one thing that people on the scale of ISIS — who are looked upon with horror and loathing by almost all civilized people no matter what side of the conflicts in the Middle East they may be on — can achieve.

We have the power to deny them that. Each of us in our own lives can refuse to give them the power to destroy our lives.
Krugman says, and I agree with him, that “the biggest danger terrorism poses to our society comes not from the direct harm inflicted, but from the wrong-headed responses it can inspire.”

I hate to bring up bad memories, but after 9/11, there was an attack on a country that demonstrably had nothing to do with the attacks and posed no threat to the U.S. The mess we made there helped set the stage for a band of lunatics like ISIS to gain a footing.
Letting ourselves be ruled by fear, hiding away, trying to avoid the risk one incurs by moving around, is to make ourselves prisoners. For us as individuals, it is important that we resist the tendency to get carried away in the wave of fear. By letting fear take over our thinking, we have the power to destroy our own quality of life right now.

The justification I hear for unplugging life support and letting people pass on is because the person has lost “quality of life.” And if those of us fortunate to still be of sound mind and body give into fear, we are giving up our own quality of life voluntarily.

Not me. I won’t do it.


Me neither, David.  And thank you for this eloquent statement.


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



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.”





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:


“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!