Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Growing Gift

Even at the time, at the ridiculously young age of 3 and a half, I had enough sense of irony to realize what a joke it was that my Mother suspected Lani of being a pedophile. I think now it was based on 1) racism, 2) the fact that he was much older than she expected him to be (she later said she thought he'd be six or seven), and 3) she was a rapist, so it was easy for her to think anybody could be.

I've often noticed that the people I most have to worry about stealing from me are the ones who most often voice such suspicions of others. They suspect others because they do it themselves. If a priest berates his congregation about tithing every week, I bet he cheats on his taxes. My Mother taught me the pattern early.

Seeing me talking with Lani set her at ease, though. I assured her he was good, but I think what really settled her was how comfortable I was with him.

I explained how suspicious my Mother was to Lani, and pointed out the irony. I told him she thought he was evil like herself. He asked if I was really sure she didn't understand Hawaiian, and I proved it by looking at her and insulting her with a smile on my face. She just smiled back.

My Mother began asking him questions through me. I already knew the answers to a lot of her questions but she insisted on answers from him, so he had to say he was from Ni'ihau and a maintenance worker, etc., so I could translate and say the same things I already knew to my Mother.

Then she asked him things I didn't know the answers to. She asked him how old he was. The answer was a word I didn't recognize. Lani then showed that he knew some English words after all. He said in English that he was nineteen.

She asked him how well I was speaking Hawaiian. He said I was speaking just right for my age, and was ready to start school. She was surprised and said, "Start school? How old do you think he is?" He said he thought I was five or maybe six. She laughed and told me to tell him how old I really was, and I held up three fingers plus one bent finger to show the half.

So all along Lani and Lono had thought I was about two years older than I was, probably because I was bigger than a typical Hawaiian child my age, and they'd grown up among Hawaiians on Ni'ihau.

Lani said that, if I was that young, then my speech was very good for my age. He said my main difficulty was with number.

That one stray comment had a major impact on my life. I now realize that he meant grammatical number. Grammatical number is much more complicated in Hawaiian than in English. As well as singulars and plurals, there are duals, and additional sorts of "we" and "us" depending on how many of us there are and whether you are included in us, and different kinds of theys than in English, and I hadn't got it all down yet.

But I thought at the time he meant counting numbers. So later on I became obsessed with learning all about counting numbers, thinking I would make Lani proud. This ultimately led to a doctorate in mathematics.

Had I understood better what Lani was saying, it might have been a doctorate in linguistics.

I showed Lani the ball my Father had given me. He said it reminded him of something he had for me. He reached into a deep pocket and pulled out something. It was a sliding whistle. On top of it was mounted the carving he had been working on for months. It had turned into a bird which was painted red. The basic whistle itself, he said, was store-bought. It was white to begin with, and he had added decorations in red and black along the sides. He attached a feather to it. He apologized for not being able to get an 'i'iwi feather. It had to be a dyed feather. He also apologized for the shape of the bird's beak, he couldn't do a long 'i'iwi's beak with the wood he had.

He said that he made the whistle thinking I was older than I was. It was made as a hō'ano'ano gift.

'Ano means kind. 'Ano'ano means seed or to grow in accordance with one's kind. Hō'ano'ano means to help cause something or someone to grow the way they are meant to grow. Lani said that it was a tradition for a kahuna expert in such things to give a hō'ano'ano gift to each child when he or she reaches the appropriate age. Since human beings are creatures of ideas and imagination, the seeds of humans are ideas also. The gift is designed by the expert based on his knowledge of the individual child, to point to and stir the germinating idea that is already trying to grow in the child.

Lani said he was giving me the whistle even though I was younger than he thought, because he wouldn't be able to give it later. He told me I was supposed to meditate upon it once a day. It wasn't the physical object that was important, but the idea of it.

That, he explained, was why he worked so slowly and carefully on the carving. It was why he only carved it in my presence. Seeing him carve it was part of the gift.

He explained a little of the symbolism. The red bird is my 'aumakua because I was drawn to it by its song. Therefore there must be a song inside me, as part of my seed. Some of the decorations on the whistle represent the drum music I loved, and some pointed to questions about life I asked. There was a design that stood for flight, and for imagination, and the feather also did that.

But the main idea was that the bird needed the whistle to sing. The bird was very red and very Hawaiian, but he needed the white non-Hawaiian whistle to be heard. Lani said I wouldn't be able to sing my song to the world in Hawaiian.

[Below: Just an artistic suggestion of it, not really accurate.]

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