tutuletter

“Kuʻupuaonaona”

My name has been my salvation. I have clung to it since I learned to pronounce it. I have proclaimed it as soon as I learned to write it. It reveals new meaning as the decades roll by. And it has taken a lifetime to come to peace with it. This was my great-grandmother’s legacy to me when she wrote down her thoughts about me to my mother one month after my birth:

Kuu pua aala, Kuu pua onaona, (my fragrant flower, my sweet flower)

Kuu lei pikake lei o ke aumoe, (my pikake lei of the night)

Komo pono akula ae i ke anu a ke Kiu, (like the penetrating cool of the Kiu wind)

i ka wai hui anu o ka Aina. (the pure water of the Land, Hawaii.)

She signed her note “Mrs. Alice Kunane.” She left me words to tell me about my home. She wrote them in a language I didn’t know, perhaps to compel me to learn it one day. The translation is mine. It may be a bit inelegant. I am a novice student of ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi. But, I discovered something I think my mother missed in her translation from 1977 – a geographic reference.  Ke Kiu, a wind known as Malualua, is a northwest wind at Lahaina, the place where my great-grandmother lived with her daughter Deah’s family. One thing I’ve learned as a Hawaiian of the diaspora is that Hawaiian language is deeply tied to the land. Just perusing a catalog of Hawaiian songs brings that truth to light. So, I wonder if my great-grandmother was feeling those winds when she penned this letter two days after Christmas. She was a religious woman who found solace in prayer and regularly attended Waiola Church, where she is now buried. She lived her life wholly in Hawaii through the periods of the Kingdom, the Territory and Statehood. She was fluent in Hawaiian and English. Hawaiian language was passed on to my grandmother who was also fluent and to my mother. I picked it up late in life as did many of my cousins in my generation. Today children can go to Hawaiian immersion schools. The revival of the Hawaiian language has become a model for other indigenous people whose languages are on the verge of extinction.

Metaphor and kaona, hidden meaning, are an integral part of ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi. I believe Tūtū Kunane wasn’t just speaking about the new precious flower born to Tom and Kanoelani O’Connor in 1954. Pua is often used to mean people, the Hawaiian people. When I read this name chant now, I think of all of the Hawaiians who, like myself, may have never lived in Hawaii, but still feel the ʻāina calling out to them saying, “You are mine”!

With Aloha to all of my hoaaloha and ʻohana on my 65th birthday.

Kuʻupuaonaona

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