Wednesday, May 30, 2007

E Hele Mai

Back to the day in mid-to-late October 1951 when I met the two dark-skinned men. The one who first spoke to me was my new best friend within minutes. He introduced me to the other as such, and the other look worried, and walked away, like he wanted nothing to do with me. The first one shrugged. Then they started off together.

I followed as they walked along the each of the field, until we reached one of the avenues I wouldn't cross. Seeing how I hung back, my friend said "E hele mai". When I didn't come to him he returned to take my hand, and walked me across the street.

For the next few hours I followed them around while they worked. They were groundskeepers. They worked at the recreational fields, and the gymnasium, and tennis courts, and took care of plantings along the avenues. They set up sprinklers, trimmed plants, picked up litter, and washed walls. They were a crew of two. No one else ever joined them.

Whenever they spoke together they spoke the musical language. Occasionally the friend would add something in English to me. I actually thought at the time that it was all one language. The musical language was just a part of English I hadn't heard before.

Periodically, as they worked, the aloof one would begin singing, or you might call it chanting. Sometimes the other one would join in, at other times it would just be the one. For a taste of it, listen to Charles Ka'upu for the first two minutes of this video. With your eyes closed, imagine a skinny 18-year old is singing, dressed in a brown uniform while another one is listening.

They took a long break at one point, and shared lunch with me. After the lunch, the aloof one sang while the other one beat two sticks together, sometimes calling out the beginning of lines. I don't remember any dancing that day, but some of the singing sounded like what you hear in the next video. There was dancing like this in days to come.

Finally late in the afternoon my friend walked me back across the avenue and said goodbye. They had to go. I was sad. I thought I would never see them again. But the next day when I did my route I made sure to look for them at the same avenue crossing, and they were there.

I abandoned my Quest for the school. Best quest I ever failed at! From then on I followed the young men around at work so much every weekday I learned their routine. I would pick up sprinklers and move them before they would get around to it. They began calling me "Alaka'i", leader, boss. I learned my friend's name was Lono, and the aloof one was Lani. I started picking up new alternative words for such things as work, water, and plants.

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