Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Big Maka, Little Maka

Lani wanted to teach me Kahiko. He never had time to teach much, but he wanted to teach as much as he could. The biggest barrier, besides time, was the lack of props. He tried to explain the old living arrangements, but it was tough getting the ideas across without the aid of pictures or models. Likewise, with just Lani and Lono to talk to I never got to hear women speaking, or interactions between men and women.

Early in my teaching Lani focused on the cast of spiritual characters and spiritual entities that made up the Kahiko world. The major gods were described. Their dependence on mana was emphasized. Mana was all important. Gods were nothing without mana. You can get too much. You can get more mana than you're ready for.

Moving down the hierarchy, there's the great ancestors. These were the 'aumākua, who acted as family and personal gods. You could have more than one. An 'aumakua could take the form of any sort of animal, or even a plant. The taro (kalo) plant was an 'aumakua to everyone. Poi is made from it, that's why you don't argue when the poi can hear.

Lani and Lono told me a story about a shark that protected and saved someone from danger. I was a little bored by the story itself. I think they thought it would interest me because the protagonist was a boy, but I didn't care about the kid in the story. What I wanted to know was, what's a shark?

Try it yourself. Try explaining to a 2 or 3 year old what a shark is, without the use of pictures. We ran into additional confusion because of a peculiarity of the word for eyes in Hawaiian. Maka doesn't only mean eyes, it also means face. So when they said the shark has a big wide face with little eyes, it came out "big maka, little maka." I don't think I knew what a shark looked like for another two years.

I asked if I had any 'aumākua. They said they couldn't know what my family's 'aumākua could be, but asked if any animals had seemed special to me. I mentioned the red bird that I'd seen the day my Father went to Korea. I imitated the red bird's song from memory. They both recognized the song and could name the bird. I believe now that they said it was an 'i'iwi.

Then I told them for the first time about how my parents had arranged to run me over with the car, and how seeing the red bird in my imagination saved my life. I figured that if the red bird really was there to save my life, that would make him an 'aumakua for sure, but since he was just there in my thoughts it didn't count.

Lani's answer to that was that thoughts count more than anything. Thoughts are driven by mana, thoughts are how the gods work on people. If a thought of a red bird saved you, that's mana flowing through you. The 'aumakua is anyway only a sign for that working.

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