Moana and more

iwalanis-tree_coverI have been tuned into all things Hawai‘i this year, what with the release of my new books, both featuring Hawaiian subjects. So when I read that Disney’s Moana earned a spot behind Frozen as the second highest grossing Thanksgiving Day debut of all time, and held top rankings at the box office for several weeks, I was excited. Is Hawaiian culture finally going to get the attention it deserves? Audiences of all ages are enjoying Moana, but can we indulge in a little non-Disney Hawai‘i love? Here are some suggestions for where to look for more if you like the taste of tropical culture that the movie offers. For adults, the place to start is Hawai'i's Story by Hawai'i's Queen, by Lili‘uokalani, annotated by David Forbes. First published in 1898, Queen Lili‘uokalani worked with journalist Julius Palmer to tell her story during her attempt to prevent annexation of the Hawaiian islands. If you want something a little more contemporary, try Clouds of Memories by Mona Kahele and Rainbows over Kapaʻa by Bill Fernandez. Both memoirs— real stories by real locals—are non-polemic and insightful. Jennie Yabroff focused on memoir, and some fiction, in a recent article with recommended reading. But, yikes—Melville on islanders? Stay away from that one. Of her five picks, I agree with two: The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings and Flying-Fox in a Freedom Tree by Albert Wendt. I don’t want to knock James Michener and Sarah Vowell, but there has been an overfocus among armchair historians on the missionary story. Some recent scholarship offers some new angles. A Nation Rising edited by Noelani Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua, Ikaika Hussey, and Erin Kahunawaika′ala Wright is a collection of essays on the Hawaiian sovereignty movement. If you want to go back, way back, to before Westerners arrived and before colonialism hit Hawai‘i, check out versions of classic myths, like The Epic Tale of Hi'iaka, by Ho‘oulumāhiehie; and The Kumulipo, a creation myth that has been compared with Genesis. (I prefer the versions edited by Martha Beckwith or by Rubellite Kawena Johnson.)

Go to Native Hawaiian sources when possible—or at least to authors who read the Hawaiian language. As a linguistic resurgence takes hold in the islands, our understanding of Hawai‘i is radically changing. With luck, many more books will be written by novelists, scholars, journalists, and fine storytellers who can incorporate primary sources such as 19th-century Hawaiian-language newspapers and the amazing corpus of chants that have survived the battering of the past two centuries.

I would be remiss if I didn’t suggest some children’s books, since Moana offers a prime opportunity to introduce Polynesian culture to young kids. BeachHouse Publishing, based in Honolulu, specializes in children’s books about Hawai‘i and Hawaiian culture. BeachHouse recently published my own book, ‘Iwalani’s Tree, and has just started a series of board books introducing toddlers to some of Hawai’i’s most well-known legends—Māui the demigod, Pele the goddess of volcanoes, Hina the goddess of the moon, and the legend of Naupaka. Other BeachHouse titles to consider include The Sleeping Giant by Edna Cabcabin Moran, a tale about a legend from Kaua‘i, and The Shark Man of Hana by U‘i Goldsberry, a retelling of a traditional story. Bess Press is another Hawai‘i-based publisher. Bess is a family-owned company whose mission is to introduce Hawaiian concepts to kids. Along with bilingual picture books like No Ka Wai o Ka Puna Hou / The Water of Puna Hou and No Ke Kumu ʻUlu / The ʻUlu Treeboth by Kawehi Avelino, they publish a series of Hawai‘i-themed coloring books.
The go-to store for all of these books is Nā Mea Hawai‘i in Honolulu and online. The name of the store means “things of Hawai‘i,” and in this case the things include scholarly books, trade books, island crafts (from shell necklaces to wooden boxes to handmade soaps). There is also a selection of very non-touristy clothing, for those with an allergy to a place like Hilo Hattie’s. (The store is run by a long-time friend of mine, Maile Meyer. After Stanford and USC (where she got an MBA), Meyer returned to Hawaii curious about combining commerce and culture. Her staff can point you in the direction of exactly the right “Hawaiian thing,” book or otherwise.

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