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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Mau ke aloha no Hawai`i (LovealwaysforHawai`i)

Published: March 24, 2006
Section: Arts, Etc.

It was one of those rare cultural treats on a Thursday night;

not the kind packaged as an evening in paradise, as it often is for the tourist set. I think its sponsors, BAASA and the ICC, have every reason to be proud of last weeks Hawaiian lu`au, part of the ongoing Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month festivities. There was something about it that attracted the passerby with an island-style welcome: E komo mai! Come on in

Once known as aha`aina, the lu`au is a traditional Hawaiian feast. Customary foods include poi, a starchy paste made from taro root;

poke, a marinated raw fish;

lomilomi, salmon with tomato, onion, and seasonings;

and kalua pau`a, a pig cooked in an imu, an underground oven. Hawaiian food is ono! (Delicious.)

Al Ku`ahi Wong, president of Wahi Ku Moku, the Boston Hawaiian Club, was a featured guest speaker. I got to talk story (Hawaiian pidgin slang for chat) with him after the evenings events. First, everybody had the benefit of hearing his insightful account of the history of Hawai`i, and how there is a community of Hawaiians right here in Boston. Hawaiians, like all ethnic communities far from their original homes, find unique ways to help preserve their traditions. For the Hawaiian community, he explained, these include music, hula, and the Aloha Spirit.

So what really is the Aloha Spirit? Its much more than smiling car-rental employees in bright print shirts draped with images of hibiscus and lehua blossoms. And what is real hula about? Definitely not grass skirts and coconut bras, nor meant for the titillation of tourists. As for the music, its much more than the languid, canned background melody youll hear at the airport. Curious? Friends, its time to talk story:

Aloha, much like the familiar word shalom, can mean goodbye as well as hello, and carries a certain feeling of welcome when drawn out and proclaimed loudly. More than a greeting, it is a spirit of hospitality extended to family, friends, and strangers alike. As Mr. Wong explained, aloha, most of all, is love: For nature, for the sea, and each other. I know what he means;

as one who has traveled there many times, I can tell you honestly that if you wander away from the tourist track in the islands and meet random people, youll find that true aloha flourishes far from the Hertz counter.

Hula is more than most people know about, and is also performed by men. Early descendents of Tahitians who first settled Hawai`i practiced a form of the dance known as hula kahiko;

it was done with chants that recited genealogies and stories, a vital way to preserve collective memory in a language that had no writing system.

The movements, executed precisely with the chants, were stylized imitations of real-life activity such as fishing and weaving. In modern times, the dance has evolved into a style called hula `auana. Accompanying a song called a mele, this more-modern hula incorporates motion to interpret religious and contemporary stories. As you may guess, this lu`au featured plenty of hula dancing, and even a quick lesson.

The dancers also performed traditional Tahitian and New Zealand Maori dances, showcasing a broad slice of Polynesian culture. One Maori dance featured twirling poi balls, a pair of weighted balls on the ends of two cords which the dancer twirls rapidly. We tried it out;

thankfully, these werent the kinds they set on fire before twirling, but Ill bet theyre pretty at night

Another guest was Henry Hanalei Delovio, president of an `ohana (Hawaiian extended family or community group) in Rhode Island. We talked at length about Hawai`i and other Pacific islands, and how the Hawaiian and Jewish peoples histories and cultures bear striking similaries. He praised BAASA and the ICC, remarking on the large turnout. I asked him what message he wanted to extend to the Brandeis community. His answer: Come together;

live as one. Participate. Enjoy what is before you.

Mr. Wong also wished to share with us this wisdom: Ha mau ke ea o ka`aina i ka pono. These words, first spoken by Hawaiian King Kalakaua, and meaning the life of the land is preserved in righteousness, are the motto of the State of Hawai`i. I think its meaning is worth considering.

Did you know: Brandeis once had a Hawaiian club, the Brandeis University Hawai`i `Ohana (BUHO) until a few years ago. Now the website seems eerie, like a ghost-town, but its still there. (Check it out at Friends, I have a problem: Our guests have asked us to revive this club! Ive volunteered, but since grads cant petition alone, Ill need an undergraduate to help. Interested? Call me on the coconut wireless and well talk story!

What reminds you of family and home? What song, taste, place, memory, or thing carries you to where your soul feels loved and at ease? What can move you to tears?

I asked our two guests this question. Mr. Wong answered: Summer rain. Wind. The sands of my birth.

Well, I wont tell you what Hanalei said. He thought for a moment and then spoke three words that Ill forever remember. I saw tears indeed, and they were my own.

To our new friends: Mahalo nui;


And to everyone else: Pau hana! (Work done!) Enjoy the weekend.