Tag Archives: hawaiian

Hawaiian and East-Asian New Year Traditions

Main Piece:

Subject: So… the first thing I can think of is- I think it’s broadly East-Asian Japanese at least in Hawaii- but on New Year’s Eve up until New Year’s, aside from cleaning the house and leaving the door open to welcome the New Year, you also light fireworks to scare away any bad spirits. So all throughout Hawaii on New Year’s Eve and through New Year’s after at midnight… there’s fireworks going off and it’s like amazing and super fun.

Interviewer: What’s your personal experience with that tradition? Where’d you experience it or learn about it?

Subject: Um… I grew up with it visiting relatives in Hawaii in Oahu. And it’s not specific to any one island. It’s- as far as I know- practiced all throughout Oahu and on the other islands as well.

Interviewer: Does it mean anything personally to you?

Subject: *laughter* Um, yeah it’s kind of… in general the celebration of the New Year… it’s not just the lighting of the fireworks. You gather with all your family, you eat, and there’s Kalua Pig, which is a traditional Hawaiian dish and it’s cooked in an underground oven called an Imu and smoked with tea leaves. Every part of celebrating, whether it’s preparation throughout the celebration or even after when you clean up and you have the Buddha shrines set up for family members- and that’s more Japanese- but they all contribute to something important to the day itself. Everyone has a role. It’s little kids playing with sparklers. It’s old people watching them. It’s all inclusive.

Context: The subject is a Sophomore studying Law, History, and Culture at USC. She is of Japanese and Ashkenazi descent, and a third generation resident of Hawaii.  She is a very close friend of mine, and is currently quarantined at her home in Irvine due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The following conversation happened over a facetime call when I asked her to tell me some traditional folklore connected to her heritage. 

Interpretation: I loved hearing about this New Year’s celebration specific to Hawaiian and East-Asian culture and its existing outside the commerciality of American New Year’s celebrations. The subject seemed to note many traditions which originated across different East Asian cultures. Upon further research, I found there are a number of other dishes specific to different cultures and ethnic groups served during the Hawaiian New Year Celebration, such as eating Sashimi for good luck, or Korean Dduk-Gook, or rice cake soup. Hawaii is one of the most culturally diverse states in America, so there seems to be a lot of mixing of dishes and traditions. I also specifically found the scaring away of evil spirits with fireworks to be very fascinating, because while setting off fireworks is globally practiced, the origin of the practice comes from seventh century China. I thought it significant that Hawaii still recognizes and acknowledges the belief behind the practice. 

The Peach Boy in Hawaii

Main Piece

Informant: “A story that I heard a lot growing up was about this boy who was born from a peach. They called him Momotarō. He was considered a blessing to this older couple, who had not been able to have kids, but had always acted humble and hardworking. They got the child as if they were being rewarded, and it’s explained that the Gods sent him to be their son.”

Collector: “That reminds me of a lot of stories, especially religious ones, too.”

Informant: “Yeah, that premise isn’t the most unique, but the peach makes it memorable. He grows up and then decides to leave and go fight some Oni, which are a type of demon. He has some animals that help him on the way, and I think one of them is a duck….Yeah. There are a dog, a monkey, and a duck. They stop the demons and then get to take their treasure.”

Collector: “Who told you this story?”

Informant: “My mom would tell me it, but I think most people in Hawaii know it. It’s Japanese, but there are books and a lot of stuff for kids based on it.”

Analysis

The story of Momotarō seems very easy to compare to a lot of other stories in Western culture, be it Superman or Moses. The popularity of it seems easy to comprehend, given the good values and morals that it is supposed to set forward for young children. The fact that the informant learned this story growing up in Hawaii exhibits how strongly connected those two geographical places are, and how the culture of Japan affects the state to this very day. It fascinated me that the  work generally is told the same in Hawaii, and that not many oicotypes were known to the informant. It can be assumed that the printed version of this book that popularized in the 1970s for the Bank of Hawaii’s 75th anniversary played a large part in the spread of this story in the same variation. The authored Momotaro: Peach Boy declares itself  an “Island Heritage book” that promotes its impact on Hawaiian culture.

Shaka Hand Signs

Main Piece

Shortly after the informant’s winter recess ended and her spring semester began, she made several remarks on how Hawaiian habits with regard to traffic and pedestrian behavior were different and even more relaxed than Californian relations on the road.

Informant: “In Hawaii, most people do not wave at the cars like I remember you doing after they let you cross.”

Collector: “Why is that?”

Informant: “It would seem very unusual to them. Most people do the Shaka sign to thank the drive and to send them on a good path.”

Collector: “Does that come from surf culture?”

Informant: “No, it’s from Hawaiian culture. It’s supposed to let others know Aloha Spirit, and lets people know a sense of gratitude.”

Analysis

Hand signals hold a unique identity in any region where they are popular. It is interesting to see how in some cultures that hand signals can have opposite meanings, which can sometimes be offensive. The Shaka seems to defy that commonality, though, and seems to be a peaceful and relaxed expression wherever a person is. The motion seems to have a much more important impact in Hawaii, though, and seems to express a lot in everyday use.

Kalo Farming and Menstruation Superstition

Main Text

Subject: There was a superstition. Um…that, like, while we were helping with the kalo fields. Was that, um, anyone, anyone who is menstruating at the moment, couldn’t help. Um…basically like, plow the fields or whatever. Because like, native Hawaiians, they didn’t have as like, strong, as like…um…like gender binary, misogynistic, like, beliefs. But…more that like…that, and so like everyone was expected to help for, um…agriculture and harvesting and all that. But that like, anyone who is menstruating, like, the smell of blood attracts like, evil spirits. So like—and, when you’re…when you’re farming, like, any energy that you have while farming, um, will…be put into, like, will grow with the food, so if you have like, negative thoughts while you’re farming, um…like you will have, like, negative energy in your food. Um…so like, not that like people who are menstruating have like, negative energy on—already, but that like, they will attract like, negative energy to the field. While it’s being plowed.

Background

The subject, a 21-year-old Chinese-American student at USC, went on a service learning trip to Hawaii, as part of the Alternative Winter Break USC program. The trip lasted five days. The goal of the trip was to learn about native Hawaiian culture and the independence movement and contemporary struggles the state experiences.

Context

The subject first learned about this superstition from a Native Hawaiian student majoring in Native Hawaiian studies at the University of Hawaii. That student shared the superstition while people on the Alternative Winter Break trip were helping Native Hawaiians prepare a plot of land for the planting of kalo, a staple Native Hawaiian food. During the initial sharing of this superstition, people who actually were menstruating were not allowed to help in preparing the field, out of respect for the cultural significance of the superstition.

The subject recalls a similar superstition with regards to cooking, which they learned from a Hawaiian botanical garden tour guide. Traditionally, Hawaiian men would make food, because if women were menstruating and cooking, the evil spirits would enter the food as well.

The subject once shared this superstition about menstruating in the field with a person outside the Native Hawaiian folk group. The person hearing about the superstition called it misogynist, because it purposely excluded women from the fields. The subject thinks it is not right for themself to pass a judgment on the superstition, because they are not Native Hawaiian.

Interviewer’s Analysis

This is an example of Frazer’s concept of homeopathic magic in practice. Homeopathic magic is the idea that like produces like—in this case, that negative energy from menstruation draws evil spirits or other types of negative energy into crops and food. In addition, outside the context of Hawaii, farming superstitions are quite a common phenomenon, due to the uncontrollable environmental risks that are involved in growing crops. Any superstitions that provide any additional sense of personal control over the environment helps to ease anxiety.

As someone who is also not Native Hawaiian, the interviewer agrees with the subject’s opinion that it is improper to judge the morality of this superstition. The interviewer would like to further argue that trying to evaluate whether a folk belief is discriminatory is unproductive. Folk beliefs are not necessarily adopted with social justice theory in mind—nor should they be coerced into forming some sort of coherent ideology. Folklore is unofficial discourse with no predestined direction of development, and to treat it as if it were a systemic institution would be scientifically inaccurate.

The Menahune Men

Context:

The subject is a 19 year old student at USC, her ancestors are Hawaiian and has grown up hearing different stories about Hawaiian culture and old folktales. I asked her to coffee to discuss such things.

Piece:

Interviewer: “So what’s the first piece of Hawaiian folklore that jumps to your mind?”

Subject: “The Menehune men. Some people think that it was an actual race of native Hawaiians from way back when, but most popularly they’re known as the Menehune, and they’re supposedly like 2 feet to 4 feet tall. They’re little, like have you ever seen Scooby Doo?

Interviewer: “Yeah, of course.”

Subject: “The one where they go to Hawaii, and the evil, like, tiki face, that’s a little bit of the vibe they were going for. And they’re apparently really good builders. They’re craftsy people, they work at night. And there’s this wall in Hawaii, I forget the name, but for the longest time it was said that the Menehune built that wall.”

 

Analysis:

After doing some research I found that the wall the subject was referring to was the Kikiaola. It’s a ditch that channeled water from Waimea River to the taro patches in lower Waimea Valley. It was engineered in a way that’s not found anywhere else in Hawaii and it continues to puzzle archaeologists. Perhaps their answer lives in the Menahune.