Saturday, June 16, 2007

Whale Of A Fluke

Over on Apesma's Lament, Tim just said "lanai". That reminded me of how my Father would continually try to prove to my Mother that she was an idiot for thinking I was speaking Hawaiian. His "proofs" consisted mainly of the fact that my vocabulary didn't agree with his.

I don't remember "lanai" coming up, but if it did it would have gone like this: "Go get your blocks in out of the lanai." "Go on, you heard me, get the blocks in from the lanai!" "Look at him. He's looking around confused. He doesn't know what the lanai is! And you say he's speaking Hawaiian. If I know what a lanai is, and I don't speak Hawaiian, how can he speak Hawaiian and not know what a lanai is?"

It sounds absurd, especially if you know that "lanai", meaning covered patio, isn't a Hawaiian word. But he really made arguments like that.

He "proved" that I didn't speak Hawaiian when I didn't know what to make of "dakine." Even my generally ignorant Mother caught him out on that one. "Isn't 'dakine' Pidgin dear?" "Yes, of course it is! I know that!" "Well, didn't you say it had to be Pidgin he's speaking? Doesn't this just show that it's not Pidgin?" "Shut up."

When I knew words my Father didn't know, he sometimes managed to work that into "proof" too.

My conversations with Lani and Lono were largely driven by my questions. I didn't ask them much about the fine distinctions in classifications in living areas. I was not yet 3 at this stage in the story, and I cared about things like dogs, cats, balls, and sticks, grass, and sky, boats, and cars. In addition I had an obsession about old chants. I wanted to know what all of them meant. It was as if I thought, if I knew what every old song meant, maybe I'd know why my parents tried to kill me.

The old songs and chants used archaic and poetic language. It is even a custom, when singing old chants, to sing them in an archaic style that recalls otherwise discarded pronunciations.

On top of all that, my teachers were from N'ihau, and wouldn't you know it? The dialect spoken in Ni'ihau is as far as you can get from the standardized Kamehameha dialect (which was that of his home, the Big Island, at the far other end of the chain.)

One time I was with my Father and another officer on a lanai. They were having drinks talking mostly business. It may have been a stop on the way back from Pearl Harbor. The other officer said he was studying Hawaiian. My Father said, "You'll get a kick out of this, then. My wife thinks the kid here speaks Hawaiian."

The guy said, "How do you know he doesn't?"

My Father said, "Well, for one thing I asked him the other day if he knew which direction the sun comes up, and... tell the man what you said."

I pointed to where I thought east was, and said 'elelani.

My Father laughed, and said, "See what I mean? I looked it up. It's hikina."

Instead of being impressed with my Father's proof, the other officer said, "My God, he's using the old word for it. 'Elelani is the priest's word. It's used in chants."

Of course it didn't change anything. He passed it off as a fluke.

The fluke was the one in a billion shot that I would have had such parents, and such friends, simultaneously.

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