When I’m not writing mysteries, I’m working as a school counselor and therapist—and this morning as I walked into my 100 year old school building my ears were treated to an unbelievably sweet harmony of young voices, echoing off the shining wood floors with a sound like angels singing—in Hawaiian.
It never fails to get me right in the heart, to hear this almost-lost language resurrected, surging up through the rooms like the sound of ocean through a conch. I grew up in Hawaii and went to public school at a time when the emphasis was on acculturation rather than cultural preservation, and other than pidgin English phrases and the chorus of the state song, Hawaii Pono `e, I’m not well versed in the language. Working one day a week (they can’t afford a full time counselor) in this little school which hosts one of the state’s Hawaiian Immersion programs continues to feel like a privilege to me.
Hawaiian culture is rich in musical tradition, and the students have been preparing for months for the annual Na Mele (The Song) competition on Dec. 3.
We are in the final weeks before the contest, and in spite of restructuring, the blitzkrieg of No Child Left Behind state testing, funding cuts and layoffs, this school has made time to honor and participate in Na Mele—and I’m thrilled and proud to bear witness to the hard work and passion that have kept this tradition alive.
I believe in public education. We do the best we can with a lot of challenges. We don't have the luxury of working with the privileged, the motivated, the best and brightest whose parents tutor, prod and pay for them. But sometimes, we get to be a part of something amazing that brings together a whole community to celebrate talent and culture, and keep both alive in spite of the odds.
The acoustics in the old wooden auditorium are amazing. Even now, sitting at my desk on my lunch break and typing this, I can feel the vibration of voices coming up through the floor beneath me and trembling in the walls. I get teary even as the out-of-tune plunking of the antique upright piano makes me smile.
Today I love what I do as I wait for rehearsal to end, and my next student to come do art therapy with me—paints and crayons at the ready, I listen to unbelievable sweetness enfold me in a language I wish I understood.
That was beautiful. Toby. It couldn’t have been sad any better. I’ve been lucky enough to have attended Na Mele twice. It is something everyone should do at least once in their life. Like you, it gets to my heart and brings tears to my eyes each, and every time I hear the children sing.
The songs and hula are the things I love most about Hawaii (besides the people and food). There is nothing more beautiful than the old chants and the many meles. Actually all of the music.
I sometimes feel I like I was at the edge of a revolution when I was a student at UH Monoa in 1969. A young male dancer got up on the stage in a class led by Dwayne Prebble (peeble? so long ago) and danced the old style hula which hadn’t been see in years. It was powerful and electrifying, not the touristy hulas at Waikiki at the time. And a man danced. I’ll never forget it, knowing that now it is common.
This is a great tidbit, thanks for sharing!
This is lovely. Your writing captures reflects the natural rhythms of na mele.
Thank you Julie, your comments are so appreciated!
Oh, I just love that. I can just hear those voices. That was how I felt when 3 halau’s were chanting just as I entered Bishop Museum a several months back for the welcoming of the Ku from the British Museum and the Peabody in Mass.
The deep tone of the Pa’u drums started off in the distance, the dancers stretched their feet before them and bowed deep and started their introduction. It was chilling and emotional. I love the culture!
My grandson is in Anuinui in Palolo, which is also an immersion school. It was nice reading that you work at one.
Thanks so much for commenting Karen! Our school made third in the competition but two of our students took first in chant and hula! I love to see the culture not just living but thriving and growing.