11 June 2012 @ 10:29 am
Through the month of June Kumu Kahua Theatre is reviving Alani Apio's Kamau A`e, the second instalment in Apio's as-yet incomplete trilogy dramatising the Hawaiian sovereignty movement. Kamau and Kamau A`e present the struggles over land, language, and identity between Native Hawaiians and haoles, and more importantly the same struggles within the Native Hawaiian community. But the plays present a war that is far too real, far too realistically. Indeed, Hawai`i has its own blood diamonds.

Two semesters ago I read the plays and was assigned the task of seeing into the future of Apio's Kamau universe to write the third instalment. Children are almost never thought of in times of war, so I was drawn to the character of Stevie, the little girl present throughout both plays though not always seen, in that she is the common denominator of the adults at odds with each other.

Kamau a`e—you carry forward that which needs to be remembered. One thing Hawaiians get: we know what is pono.

I've never heard the ocean by putting a shell to my ear. I never knew how to react when I'd see people on the mainland doing it in front of me, asking if that's what a wave really sounds like. Back then, I would laugh and agree anyway. They couldn't know any better. But even if I was laughing, I was so angry. All I wanted for do was scream at them, Nothing compares to hearing and feeling and tasting the ocean for real but you never going know better staying here and putting one shell up to your ear. I wanted people to know the ocean like I did.

But at the same time, I didn't want them going to the islands. I figured there are enough haoles over there who like silk flower lei and drinks with paper umbrellas and polished shells to hold up to their heads like cell phones. They'd never be able to feel the ocean in them the way I did—the way I still do. You can't call the ocean, it calls to you.

It called to me even louder and clearer when I was on the mainland for the four years of college Uncle 'Lika put me through. In those four long years, I never once went back home. Uncle 'Lika always thought it was because I liked it there, always said getting an education was for my own good. It's why I never learned to call him "Dad." He never understood: if I'd gone back to the islands, to the ocean, I would have never wanted to leave again. But Uncle Michael went understand. During those rare phone calls, he'd tell me,

"Stevie, one mainland education not going teach you nothing, not going teach you who you are."

I never learned to speak Hawaiian, ka `olelo Hawai`i, the way Uncle Michael did. But whenever the ocean called to me, sometimes it would be in Uncle Michael's voice, and I wouldn't feel so lost.

And when I finally came back, the first thing I did was go in the water. I never wanted one party or nothing, just told Uncle 'Lika take me to the beach. Not even for swim or for throw net. The sand hurt my feet. They hadn't been burned or scoured by sand in four years. I can't remember having chicken skin as badly as that first time in the water in four years. It was like the ocean wanted to mark my body, to claim it. I wanted it to. But what was the most sore was the water in my eyes and mouth.

I still don't know what my degree was for. But that day in the water, I went learn one of the most important things.

"Kawai," I say, holding my grandson to my chest as I walk us further into the water, "you know why the ocean stay so salty?"

Kawaipono. He went just make four and already he love being in the water. Remind me of me from small kid time. He no answer, just make plenty splashes. The water gets in my eyes and mouth.

That day, I figured out the ocean is so salty because it's made from our sweat and tears.

Before, the sweat was off our backs, living from the land and sea. Working together to survive, to take care of each other. And always giving back the first fish.

Now, we still trying for survive. The sweat still from our backs. But it's to protect something we don't know how to.

The water stings my eyes, but I tell myself not to blink it away. It's made from the sweat off Uncle Michael's back trying to protect the ko`a. He died trying. Going in and out of prison, but always back to the water. He never going see the piece of concrete shit torn down from his backyard, the hotel Uncle 'Lika worked at until he died.

The water stings my throat, but I tell myself not to cough. It's made from the tears Uncle 'Lika never cried. He died a broken man. Not because he and Uncle Michael never reconciled their differences. Mom would tell me Uncle 'Lika would visit Uncle Michael more than she did, without telling her sometimes. She'd tell me,

"Alika's doing everything he can for your Uncle Michael, like he's doing everything he can for you, Stevie."

And I believed her because I knew Uncle 'Lika really was doing everything he could for me and Uncle Michael.

But he died a broken man not knowing he was broken. Because Uncle Michael didn't need him for prison visits and worried words. What Uncle Michael died trying to do wasn't just for himself, it was for Uncle 'Lika too. And Uncle 'Lika never accepted that.

When I walk us back onto the beach, I feel the pull of the water. Physics says it's because of surface tension, but I know better. The sand no hurt my feet. It move under my steps, shift with my weight and my grandson's, carrying us. I wipe Kawaipono's face, salt water from the ocean and from his eyes stay mixed on his cheeks. He cough small kind. But he laugh. No bother him, the water. It's in his eyes. Genetics says it's because I went have kids with a haole, and my kids had kids with haoles, but I'm not talking about how his eyes stay blue-green.

I put my hands, so dark and wrinkly, I'm so old already, on both his ears.

"You hear that?" I ask him. "Can hear, Kawai?"

He put his hands, small and soft, on mines. He nod, and I believe he can hear 'em.

"What is that, tutu?"

Biology says it's my tendons flexing in my wrists. Haoles say it's what they hear in shells.

"The water stay inside me, inside us. We always going carry it inside us."

"Undertow," UHM Fall '11
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