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Mano the Shark

Book Review — part one

A Shark Going Inland is My Chief: The Island Civilization of Ancient Hawai’i, by Patrick Vinton Kirch

Learning about spirituality the Hawaiian way. When I was of age to learn and ask questions about Religions and Spirituality I was in Hawaii going to a Fundamentalist church right in the middle of a solid Native Hawaiian population center. I was a haole (white) kid so I learned from the church school teachers about the Bible stories. I remember one very old Kupuna wahine telling stories from Genesis — she deviated from the “official” written lesson of the day when she questioned the grand genealogy listed in Genesis. “No wahine” — not one guy got wahine for make babies — must be poor translation of the old words to leave out all the wahine. In this case Grandmothers/Grandmas are Kupuna or the gray hair older wiser one of a community. Kupuna wahine being the Hawaiian words for Grandparent, wahine = female, Kupuna = elder. My lesson — don’t forget the females when history is written.

Little did my strict Christian Fundamentalist mother know that I was getting early training as a budding Anthropologist. That tutu wahine often questioned the “holy word” based on her old knowledge of Hawaiian spirituality.  She was a lot of fun — only she would tell us the really old scary stories that her grand parents told her. The very old Hawaiians living in that community had memories and stories from before the time of the Missionary boy’s club take over of the islands. These stores were collected and recorded — because the ones who weren trained in the haole Missionary schools knew that the old Hawaiian era was over that the haole would take over and try to suppress the old ways. (The Missionaries banned many things Hawaii — like the hula.) In those olden times when people still lived who remembered Queen Liliuokalani in that Native Hawaiian community a few blocks from the beach, on a dirt road lived people who did not speak English. My best friend spoke in Hawaiian to these old folk giving the reason why we were knocking on doors — collecting for the UN’s children’s fund. At that point I didn’t know my friend was fluent in Hawaiian — as were most of the people in the church I attended every weekend. The grandparents in the church had grandparents and parents who spoke only Hawaiian. This was in the time after WWII and before Jet travel to the Islands became cheaper. The Cane fields covered most of the low lands and the Pineapple fields surrounded the upland Army base.

When I read the Bible for myself many years later — I was reading in the same critical way that was taught by the Kupuna wahine who did not believe that the Bible was complete because women were left out of Genesis (Eve does NOT count). Elizabeth Cady Stanton makes the same argument in her book — “The Women’s Bible”. When you forget the women — you don’t get the full history or understand a culture.

Every ten years I take time to review the latest archaeological finding from Hawaii and other Polynesian Islands. I know from my own research that Hawaii’s pre Captain Cook Civilization was very complex. My thesis for my Cultural Anthropology class was on ancient Hawaii and I used the resources of one of the largest university libraries in California to write that paper, I also returned to my childhood church and the kupuna who knew me to learn about the time before — when Hawaii had a Queen. When I was a kid I thought that the Queen was still alive — that’s how much she was loved among the Native Hawaiians who served her — they never let her memory die. Through the years I’ve added to my own library books about ancient Hawaii. This review is about the newest addition to library of books about Hawaii and the Pacific Island cultures.

For anyone who is interested in Hawaii — the real Hawaii — there is a new book out there written by a local haole guy who went on to get degrees in Archaeology and then put his training to work to trace the path the ancients took to get to Hawaii.

A Shark Going Inland is My Chief: The Island Civilization of Ancient Hawai’i, by Patrick Vinton Kirch

The Missionaries tried their best to re-educate the Hawaiians and turn them into something they are not and never can be — White Europeans. Hawaiians already had a Civilization when Captain Cook arrive. The Hawaiians already had a deeply spiritual world — far more complex than found in the Christian Bible.

Those of us who know about ancient Hawaii are well aware that this was not a peaceful world — there was a time dedicated to war — or the war god KU and there was a time dedicated to the god Lono the time to work the fields and grow the food.

Kirch’s begins at the beginning — when Captain Cook “discovers” one Island — Kauai and is welcomed as the god Lono. Captain Cook was on his way to find the Northwest passage when he stumbled onto the Hawaiian island chain which he arrogantly named the Sandwich Islands after some European nobody.

Kirch grew up in Hawaii — a local haole guy who speaks da Pidgin English better than I do — but I can understand and hear the various Pidgin dialects — so there is that bit of pride for my Pidgin knowledge.

In my previous blog on Hawaiian mythology I quoted this bit from “A Shark Going Inland” —

“This island civilization in many respects mirrored early states that arose in other favorable zone in both the Old World and the New. . . . [Captain] Cook and his crew had unwittingly stumbled upon one of the last “pristine states” to have arisen in the course of world history. In total isolation from the outside world, over the course of centuries the Hawaiians had developed a unique civilization. Displaying many similarities with earlier archaic states that had developed in the Near East, Egypt, China, Mesoamerica, and the Andes, Hawaiian civilization at the time of Cook’s arrival was based on principles of divine kingship. Hawaiian society was divided into two great classes–a vast majority of commoners who worked the land and provided the economic underpinnings of society, and a smaller cadre of elites who included warriors, priests, and chiefs. At the pinnacle of society was the divine king, the ali’i nui.

School children and Hawaiians sing the State Song — which is an anthem to the first King of Hawaii — who united the Islands under one Ali’i. Hawai’i Pono’i  —

Hawaiian English
Hawaiʻi ponoʻī, Hawaiʻi’s own true sons,
Nānā i kou moʻī, Be loyal to your king,
Kalani aliʻi, Your country’s liege and lord
Ke aliʻi. The chief.
Hawaiʻi ponoʻī, Hawaiʻi’s own true sons,
Nānā i nā aliʻi, Look to your chiefs,
Nā pua muli kou, The children after you,
Nā pōkiʻi. The young.
Hawaiʻi ponoʻī, Hawaiʻi’s own true sons,
E ka lāhui ē, People of loyal heart,
ʻO kāu hana nui The only duty lies
E ui ē. List and abide.
Hui: Chorus:
Makua lani ē, Father above us all,
Kamehameha ē, Kamehameha e,
Na kaua e pale, Who guarded in the war,
Me ka ihe. With his spear.

The kupuna trained me well — whenever I hear that song — I’m on my feet instantly standing at attention. Respect for the ali’i, respect for the elders Kupunu and protect the children — all messages in that song.

Children were and are important to the old time Hawaiians and the ones who carry on the traditions — it is the the future — the children who are important. The Kupunu wanted us to think for ourselves — so they would tell us stories of the old days — stories which made us think and learn.

Also part of this book review is, “Illustrated Hawaiian Dictionary” by Kahikahealani Wight. Hawaiian is an oral language — still is — and that’s how I learned the Hawaiian words I know. Spelling is a whole other game — and Wight’s dictionary has a Kindle edition. I do have the huge official Hawaiian dictionaries as well.

Kirch writes:

“The academic world is a self-contained and self-perpetuating guild . . . As with any guild, this is the way scholars shield themselves from would-be intruders on our turf.”

This book is my effort to break out of the straightjacket of academic prose, to relate what I and other archaelogists have learned about the deep history of Hawai’i.”

Which is why I recommend this book for those without training in technical writing jargon of academia. Most of us trained in this form of communication really just read the first page and then go on to the next journal article. If the article is really interesting then we will wade into the methods, and results and check the References.

Most tourist and many haoles who live in Hawaii never see past the blue water and white beaches, oh and Waikiki. Most school kids living on Oahu have visited the Bishop museum many times — this is the door way to the another world and another dimension that school kids on the mainland and in Europe never learn. Few Americans even know about Hawaiian history (we who went to school in Hawaii did learn Hawaiian history — at least at the schools I went to.) Hawaii was stolen in a military take over — not surprising since this has been the war like pattern of American expansionism throughout her history. These are the truthful facts told by a few historians whose work generally doesn’t make it to generic American History texts.

My kupunu told me about their ancestors in the time before — and they were my kupuna in the Hawaiian sense that all children are precious and to be treasure and raised by the community. We were taught to respect our elders — kupuna from an early age. So although I had no close relatives in Hawaii (except for my parents) I still had kupunu and aunties and uncles by choice.

My personality could be described as participant observers — that is there is always a little bit of me sitting back and watching — in the way of the cultural Anthropologists. I knew at the time that what I was seeing was unique — and that a very old part of Hawaii was slipping away. Some of the old estates were still around when I was a kid in Hawaii — Kapu (keep out) signs were found on old gates. That place was Kapu — perhaps the estate of Plantation owners/Missionary Boy’s Club or even some of the old retainers of the Hawaiian royalty. The Hawaiian royalty were not unlike the European royalty — and certainly the Hawaiian people knew that to their bones. They had a civilization that in some ways was superior to the invading European/Americans. Of course there were tales and songs of war — we all learned that the Hawaiian warfare was bloody and that the battle fields at day’s end were filled with dead warriors. The Ali’i ruled supreme — not at all different from the battle warrior kings of Europe and England. We knew this as kids ever time we sang the Hawaii National anthem. I’m going to say that back when I was in grade school we all knew the meaning of the words because our teachers made sure we knew the words.

The shark is at the top of the food chain — the shark in the title of the book — shark = ali’i or King. Also the photo on the book is a field of Taro plants. Poi comes from the taro plant — which was a staple of the old Hawaiian diet.

With the publication of –A Shark going Inland is my Chief — I at last win my argument with one of my Anthropology Teachers who disagreed with my assessment that Hawaii was a true civilization similar to the Incas. At the time I probably didn’t have the correct academic words to argue my case — but no matter — others have done the research and followed the path of the ancient Hawaiians to establishment of the Nation of Hawaii. And now Hawaii is the 50th State of the USA. I lived in Hawaii when that happened — when the transition from one era to the next was made. It was raining where I was on that day that Hawaii became the 50th state. Some old Hawaiians told me later that those were Queen Liliuokalani’s tears, others said they were angles’ tears, and others repeated the ancients belief that rain on a special occasion brought very good luck.

Pottery is a very real way to follow a cultural tradition — and ceramics of ancient cultures and civilizations give us major clues about these people — how they dressed, how the elite dress and even what some of the elite might have looked like. By the time the Polynesians reached what would become Hawaii — ceramics was out of style or not used. Back when I was taking Polynesian cultural Anthropology there were no real good reasons to explain the lack of ceramic evidence. But all of this research was still to be done — the clues were still there, waiting to be dug up and then dated using the ever evolving carbon dating etc. Kirch follows the ceramic trail and tells us about the numerous digs for the archaeological treasure of bone, carbon, fish hooks and tattooed pots. Tattoo began as body art which was then used on pots — and these pottery shards tell a story. Tattoo body art spread from Polynesia (anyone remember Mutiny on the Bounty with the crew getting tattoos?) Oh — surfing also came from Hawaii. Sweet Potatoes came from South America — one proof that the ancient Polynesian navigators made their way all the way to South American and returned with Sweet Potatoes. For awhile there was a debate on the direction of the Sweet Potato — from Polynesia to South America or west to east.

The discovery of Hawaii by Captain Cook came during the time of the American Revolution — which is how Kirch begins this book — putting Hawaii in context of world history. The timing of Cook’s arrival on Kaua’i worked well for Cook since he was mistaken for the god Lono. The warriors of the Big Island did not make the same mistake on Cook’s second trip to Hawaii. Meanwhile shall we speak of germ war fare and population reduction? Because this is what was happening on the other Polynesian Islands visited by Cook and other sailors from Europe. Smallpox and other diseases from the Europeans mowed down the Polynesians — just as the Native American, indigenous populations were decimated by the Spaniards and their pigs (four legged pigs) search for the cities of gold or the fountain of youth. Genocide by the European conquistadors, knowingly or not.

Chapter Four – Voyages into the Past

This part I know well as I’ve read and heard these stories as a child and later as a student of Cultural Anthropology. Now thanks to Kindle many of these ancient stories, and chants preserved by the kupunu are available for all to read. The Hawaii preserved before the Missionaries had a chance to completely destroy the Hawaiian civilization are waiting for new generations to learn about the past glory of Hawaii in the time of the Ali’i. The mo’olelo (traditions) were collected by the newly literate generation — knowing that there was little time to preserve the words of the past.

This is the end of part one of this review of “A Shark Going Inland Is My Chief”. I am about 1/3 of the way through this book and looking forward to learning more about the direct evidence of Hawai’i’s place among other world civilizations. I am no expert about Hawaii — but I was privileged to know people who lived during the time of Queen Liliuokalani. Some of the kupunu who I listened to as a child about their childhood growing up in Hawaii were children of minor ali’i. The family land had long since been stolen by the sons of the Missionaries — the museum of the Missionaries is in Honolulu. I got the impression from visiting that museum that the missionaries considered the Hawaiians as slaves — that may have been just my impression alone — but my childhood friends said to trust my gut reactions. There is still much injustice in Hawaii — but the movement to keep the language alive and keep the knowledge of the civilization of Hawaii is positive for everyone. Even those with a drop of Hawaiian blood — or those who like Patrick Kirch and myself who took in the essence of Hawaii through the bare soles of our feet.

Part II — book review: A Shark going inland is my chief

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