Review of Storied Landscapes: Hawaiian Literature & Place. Stu Dawrs. Honolulu Weekly. Vol 9, No. 45, Nov. 17-23, 1999.
With the exception of my college years and an 11-month attempt to assimilate in San Francisco, I have lived out my adult life in Honolulu. I was raised in Hilo. I reside in 'Aina Haina, an East Honolulu valley whose current name is derived from the family that ran the Hind Dairy there not so long ago. I don't know its original name. On my daily commute into downtown, Palolo, Wa'ahila, Manoa and Mo'ili'ili float by on a cloud of auto exhaust. On the weekends, I'll occasionally walk up into the valley, past the ancient remnants of a structure I can't identify; beyond a massive stone that sits in the middle of an encroaching bamboo forest. I will live and die in Hawai'i because no other p1ace makes sense to me.
This is the land that I love. This is also the land that I know next to nothing about. That is why I find Dennis Kawaharada's Storied Landscapes: Hawaiian Literature & Place (Kalamaku Press, 1999, $7.95) and Pana O’ahu: Sacred Stones, Sacred Land (University of Hawai'i Press, 1999, $42), edited and compiled by photographers Ian Becket and Joseph Singer, essential in informing my own sense of place. Taken in combination, the two books add to an already large body of literature surrounding the complex history of the ground we walk on. Unfortunately, it's a body of work that's too often ignored by those who need it most.
Writing about his search for information on the fishing deity Ku'ula-kai in the opening piece of his six-essay book, Kawaharada lays the groundwork for Storied Landscapes: “Where were the spirits of the land? Was it possible to claim to know, to be a part of, to dwell comfortably in a place without honoring ancestral spirits and traditions which humanize every landscape?"
For Kawaharada, this process of honoring is a wide-ranging one, taking on many forms. The opening piece, “A Search for Ku'ula-kai," centers on a personal narrative involving Kawaharada's family history on Maui and O'ahu, along with his father's love of fishing. In the process of telling that story, the author covers a variety of matters, including historical, geographical and religious aspects of Hawaiian fishing deities, and the ecological havoc wreaked by modern commercial fishing techniques.In a scant 112 pages, Kawaharada manages to cover much, from a geographical/historical/legendary tour of the Manoa/Mo'ili'ili area to a scathing deconstruction of Jack London's "Ko'olau The Leper." On more than one level, his ability to draw from a wide range of well-documented sources is one of the true values of his book. On the straightforward, academic plain, the book's bibliography covers a wide swath of essential ground. Beyond that, though, the overall sense one gets from reading Storied Landscapes is one of deeper meanings and an interconnectedness of names and places that we might otherwise take for granted. In that sense, the book plants the seeds of a lifelime's challenge for its readers: To take an active role in learning about the land, to celebrate the myths that humanize, and to incorporate those myths into a daily existence - not just culturally, but economically and politically - that meshes more completely with life on these islands.