Marie McDonald, Hawaiian Lei Maker and National Heritage Fellow, was 68 years old when interviewed by Robert Atkinson in 1994.
I was born in Hawaii. I am half Hawaiian. The other half consists of Scotch, Irish and Dutch. My father is from Pennsylvania, but early in his life, his family moved from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania, and he is a member of the Adams family of that area of the country. As a matter of fact, his name is John Quincy Adams, Jr. My brother is III, and we have a nephew who is IV. He married my mother, a pure Hawaiian woman, and settled in Hawaii, and never ever returned. Not even for a visit to Pennsylvania or Massachusetts. In later years, when I came to school in the mainland, I met the members of his family in Pennsylvania, and learned a lot more things about my father.
My mother is a descendant of the line of chiefs, not high chiefs, but lesser chiefs. Nonetheless, chiefs of Ahuawa, or sections of land in Hawaii. The line called the Mahoe line of chiefs. Also, we can find that my family comes from, has family members both from the Island of Hawaii and the Island of Maui. And then, during my mother’s time, her father and her grandfather married women that came from Oahu. We’re able to trace our genealogy at least back to well before 1800.
I guess you could call us royalty in our own rights. I’d like to say that I’m Makainana. I constantly will remind my aunts and uncles that I am Makainana, and they would always scold me and say, “No, you come from a line of Alee,” which is a royal class, and Makainana is a commoner. But while I was growing up, I liked the sound of the word “Makainana.” I preferred it over “Alee.” Today I consider myself Makainana, a commoner. A number of Hawaiian families that can trace their ancestors, and find that they come from a line of chiefs. Not necessarily the high chief line, but the lesser chiefs.
We had this system of chiefs in ancient times. We had the Alee class and we had the Kahuna class, which is the group of professionals. In that category you’d have a canoe maker, the expert canoe maker, the expert feather craftsman. All of the experts fell in that Kahuna class. And also, you would have those who led the religious rites also in that class, the priests. Then we’d have the Makainana, the commoner, who was the farmer and the fisherman, who actually were the backbone of the nation. And then our last group of people in this sort of caste was the Kowa, the slave group. We did have slaves in the ancient times. So not many people like to call themselves Kowa. They’d rather fall in the other three categories.
We still carry the name Mahoe in our family. Our children will always carry it. There will be one in each generation that will have the name Mahoe, even though we are all Adamses now. The women who have married other people and changed their names, they make sure that they still give that name to one of their children. We’ve used the names in our families quite often to trace our genealogy. In the case of my children, the names that were given to them, passed on to them by other relatives and by my mother, will show the relationship, or even show where they come from, which island they come from. We have names — genealogists at home just look at the name and say immediately, “Your family is from Maui. Your family comes from Hawaii.” Well, how do you know? “By looking at this name. This is a name that belongs on these islands.” That’s how presently we’ve been able to trace our background. Through the names that still exist in our family.
A lot of these things I did not discover until I had returned from college on the mainland. I went to college in Texas and that part of my education greatly influenced the rest of my life. While I lived in Texas, I realized that I knew very little about my culture and about my heritage, about my background. I knew very little. And as a result of that, I went home and I started digging. I started studying. I started questioning my parents more. I discovered a lot of things. One thing that I discovered concerned my name and my birth.
While I was in high school I went to a school with Hawaiian children. It was set aside just for Hawaiian children. My classmates had all these beautiful names. You know, names that went on forever. Twenty-six letters in their name. I was impressed by that, depressed because mine was just Lelei hua. Just a very short name. So one year I went home and I asked my mother, I said, “Why did you name me that? It’s such a commonplace name.” It’s a name for the blossom of, the lei made from a blossom of a certain tree.
My mother then told me how I got my name. It was a traditional practice. “You got your name because it marked your birth.” “What do you mean it marked my birth?” Hawaiians usually give names because of events surrounding your birth, or leading up to your birth. In the case of our last reigning queen, Lily O Kahane, her name was Leamakaerha, one of her Hawaiian names. She got that name because her mother had sore eyes during the pregnancy. It kind of marked the time of her birth, so they named her Kamakaer to commemorate that event.
Well, in my case I was part of a set of twins. We were both born alive, but shortly afterwards my brother died. I was the stronger child. so my great-grandmother gave me the name Lelei hua. I said, “But it doesn’t mean that, Mom.” She said, “No. Poetically it means ‘the strong child.'” Lei always refers to a child, poetically. If you speak of a child, you can refer to them as Lei. And le hua, strength. So my name commemorates my birth. Not many people are named like that. So Hawaiians will either pass down a name, in more contemporary times, they passed on their names. But usually they will give you a name that commemorates your birth. My mother’s name, her parents got a new horse and carriage. The day she was born, everyone was celebrating because they got the new horse and carriage. As a result, she was named Kaleolani, which means “the horse of heaven.”
There was a special event that marked my birth. Some years later, I really liked my name. I thought it was such a great name. I would rattle through the whole thing. If anybody asked me who you are, I’d say, “Marie Emily Leila hua.” I would not just say, “Marie.” “Marie Emily Leilahua.” So some years later, I was making some leis on the Island of Hawaii, and somebody was watching me, just like they watched me at this festival said to me in Hawaiian, “Owa e koe noa?” And I said, “Marie Emily Leila hua.” And they said, “Oh. The lei expert. The wreath expert.” And I said, “The wreath expert? No, no. Strong child.” Then he said, “Also a wreath of lehua blossoms , a garland of lehua blossoms.” So my name, if I wanted to, I could translate it three ways. The lei expert. And that really got to me because I was an expert at that time, so to speak. And all I could say was, “How suitable! Somebody knew!” You know, even before I was born, that this was going to be the right name for me. It’s uncanny sometimes. At that time, I thought it was uncanny, that here I had a name that was most suitable to me.
I made leis, we all do. Hawaiian children start when we’re very young, simply because the leis do surround us in our lives. There’s nothing more attractive than that lei, when you’re a child. Flowers are attractive. You’re drawn to flowers. And when you see somebody put a lei together, the first thing, as a child you say, “Oh, I want to do one. I want to make one. I can. I can.” Well, I was no different than any other child in Hawaii. I wanted to make one. My mother would say, when she finally gave into us, she would say, “All right. Sit down. Sit down and you can make one. But watch first. Don’t ask any questions.”
The term in Hawaiian is “Ole ne elle.” Don’t question. Don’t be curious, at this point. Later I discovered that this was the way Hawaiians were taught, as children. You watch, and then you practice afterwards. And you keep practicing until you become expert. This is culturally a Hawaiian way of teaching. And I notice, even in more recent times, I am a teacher. When I was in the schools, in public schools, teaching on recreation and park playgrounds and stuff, and I was teaching, I noticed that the children that had difficulty in following directions were the Hawaiian children. If you use too many words with them, they had difficulty in following. But if you just said, “Watch me, imitate me, mimic me” they learned faster. This is a cultural way of learning for Hawaiian children. That’s probably why they had great difficulty, they still have great difficulty in schools, because that’s not the way they’re taught things, between the ages infant to five years, before they went to kindergarten.
So that’s how I learned. My mother said to all of us, there were ten of us in our family. There were three of us that really were quite close together in age, three sisters. We always hung out together. We always did things together. Every time one of us wanted to do one thing, the other two would do it, too. My sister Jo and my sister Ermalee would all sit down and say, “I want to make this, I want to make that.” We continued this for the rest of our lives. Here we were, going to grade school. We were making our own leis to go to grade school. Later on, when we got to ten, eleven and even to teenage, it was a regular practice of ours. Especially during the summer, when we came home from school.
We went to school in Honolulu, and we had to fly back to Molokaeya, a neighboring island. We lived on Molokaeya, a neighboring island. When we got home, the summers were just wonderful because we could play and swim and do all the things we couldn’t do while we were in boarding school in Honolulu. Any time we were offered the opportunity to go to the movies, you know, we didn’t go to the movies as often as we did here, today. Of course, we didn’t have television.
Going to the movies was a very special thing for us. In the summertime, we’d sit down and make a lei before we went to the movies. It was a kind of ritual that all of the children followed on the island. Our friends down at the east end of the island would gather flowers together and string leis, and our friends up in Ho ole hua, another section, would gather certain flowers and string leis, and we’d go to the movies wearing these leis. The movie house was an open-air thing. It had walls all the way around, and we sat under the stars, watching the movies. You could smell all the different leis in the evenings.
In school, even in boarding school, there were always special times when we wore leis. If we couldn’t make them, and we couldn’t because we were in boarding school, and they had their garden that was off-limits to us, we’d just call home to our parents and say, “I’m going to a football game” or “I’m going to a prom. Will you get me this lei?” And they would send us a lei. That lei was always there, always a part of our lives.
That’s why later on I felt that somebody should tell this story. Later on I did write about it. This practice was not dead. We continued to use this lei, just like our ancestors probably did, when they went to a feast or a festival, or when they sat and gathered with their friends. They would present leis to each other, or just wear the leis because they were so wonderful to wear.
We know that in pre-contact times, the leis were presented to people as a token of affection, as a token of love, as a token of accomplishment, of honoring accomplishment. That has been part of our culture. It still continues today. The farmer, at the time he plants his fields, would take a particular lei, the lei ma lee, and he would offer it to his Gods. It would go into the soil after his prayers and his offering is made to the ground, and then he’d plant his fields. This offering was given to assure him of a good harvest.
The fisherman did the same thing. He would offer a lei at his alter. The alters usually were some nice stone, set on the beach somewhere, close to the sea, and he would make an offering of a lei. That lei could be a lei ma lee, or it could be a lei that was fashioned out of seaweed, and presented at that alter. The presentation was made so he would be assured of good catch and a safe return.
There were leis in ancient times that were dedicated to particular Gods or patrons, or preferred by them. Pele, the fire God or the volcano God preferred a lei of red lei hua blossoms, and lee cole, who are the young red leaves of the ole hua. Laka, there were leis that were presented at the alter of Laka by the dancer, and they consisted of such materials as pelai, which is a fern or may lee, or lei hua, also.
Hawaiians believed that these plant materials were also another form of that patron, so they treated that plant material with great respect. They didn’t misuse or they didn’t over-gather the material from the forest. They simply believed that it was another form of that patron or that God. The term they used here was “kino lao,” another form. Another body of a God. So they took great care when they harvest it.
The dancer, as a matter of fact, she performed a ritual when she or he went into the forest, to gather the greens that he used to decorate his body, or to decorate the alter of his patron. He would offer prayers first of thanksgiving. That continues today. It’s not done with great fanfare. The whole world doesn’t see this. The dancer simply goes to the forest when he goes to gather his materials, and he gives his prayer of thanks before he picks the material. Then he carefully takes only that amount that he needs. Now, this is the true practitioner of the hula. We have a lot of practitioners of the hula, of the dance, that are careless in their practices. They will misuse the forest. The true practitioner still offers those prayers, and still takes care when he gathers materials.
This idea of using the lei to honor someone, whether it be God or a person, to honor the achievement of a person or a God, carries over today. That’s why we give the lei. We give the lei as a symbol of our feeling about fellow man. about the people we like, the people that we love. It’s a token of affection. It’s a token of appreciation. It’s a token of accomplishment because we’re so pleased and satisfied that this person, a friend, a relative, has made a great accomplishment. You see the leis often at graduations from school, from high schools and from college. We send the leis all over the United States now, from our children who are graduating from University of Massachusetts, maybe. I know we send leis over to Washington State and Oregon and California quite often, because we have lots of our children that go to school there, graduate there. We make sure that they have those leis, because it’s an accomplishment, a great achievement. We honor that with a lei.
People question this, they say, “You don’t even know people and you give leis to them.” Charles Kuralt asked me one time, “You know, I went there. I didn’t know anybody. It was the first time I ever went there, and I got a lei when I got there. I didn’t achieve anything.” Well, you know, our giving of the lei has been so well received by everybody, and everybody thinks that this is really a part of Hawaii, and our tourist bureau has latched on to the idea, and so they make this a part of the welcoming of our visitors to the island. As a matter of fact, we do in Hawaii, welcome a visitor to our homes with a lei. That’s a personal kind of welcome, but it’s gotten bigger. The tourist industry now uses it to welcome visitors to the island.
I said to Kuralt, “We knew you were coming. We knew you were going to achieve great things a long time ago. That’s why you got this lei, in advance.” It’s kind of a joke.
There are still people who will take a lei to the forest and leave it there, leave it in the forest, as a token of thanks to the Gods of old. There are still people who take a lei up to the crater at Kilawaya, and they will leave a lei there, for Pele the fire god. Even the Christians, too, they will still practice. They will still do these kinds of things because that’s so much a part of their lives.
We were discouraged from [the native religion]. My mother had already gone through that period, where native customs were being discouraged. Even she discouraged us from being too Hawaiian because it was unacceptable during her time and my time of growing up. She was the one that said to us, “You learn to speak English. You learn to speak good English. Because that is the language of the future. You will have to compete in this world with English-speaking people. Not Hawaiian-speaking people. So learn that language well.” She discouraged us from learning my own language, even though she spoke it. Her grandmother, my great-grandmother, discouraged her from speaking Hawaiian. Learn English, because that’s the language of the future. I think that was terrible. Why couldn’t we do both? What was wrong with both languages? It would have made my life a little easier, I think, if I knew both languages, especially with the kinds of things that I like to do now.
I like to do a lot of things that are centered in our culture — the Hawaiian culture. I’m not so much American so-to-speak, like my father. I’m more like my mother, Hawaiian. In schools, we were not taught any Hawaiian. We were not taught our history in a public school. I went to a public school until the eighth grade. Then, in the ninth grade, I went to a private school that was endowed by Princess Powaii, a Hawaiian woman. She married a Bishop, a holy man, afterwards, but she had left her fortune. She was the last of the Kamenahas, so she had a great fortune. So she left that fortune to these schools, to educate Hawaiian children. In that school I didn’t learn Hawaiian. I didn’t learn Hawaiian history. It was a Christian school, and they taught us Christian stuff, American stuff. We sang Hawaiian songs. We were good at that. We sang beautiful Hawaiian songs. We didn’t even know what the words meant. At the time it didn’t bother me, but after I left home, and went to school, away from the islands, I began to realize that was a big hole in my life, that I was not taught about my people. I couldn’t answer questions that people asked me about my heritage. When I went to school in Texas, I had to take Texas History in order to get out of school. In Hawaii, no Hawaiian history.
When I got through with my education here, on the mainland, I went home. I had to educate myself. I had to read books myself. I had to interview people. They weren’t formal interviews, it’s just that I got together and talked stories with a lot of my friends, a lot of my relatives, a lot of my kapuna, my elders. It was “talk story” kind of thing, because I wanted to find out more about being Hawaiian. Talk story is you talk about it, you tell the story. That’s a pidgin term, pidgin English. You understand it immediately. It means that you sit down, and you talk with each other, and you tell each other, you feed each other information. You question and answer. That happens a lot with talk story.
I took language lessons, Hawaiian language lessons, so I could speak the language, which I haven’t mastered too well. I did those things because they were sorely lacking in my life, and I honestly felt it. I wasn’t the only one that felt it. There were many of my peers that, at first I didn’t know that they felt like I did, but slowly, I found out they felt the same way. As a result, the last few years, we’ve had this great resurgence of our cultural practices. Many of us are going back to retrieve those lost practices. There were many of us that felt like me.
The schools I went to, the Kameahmea schools, their curriculum has completely changed, and they do language classes, and they do teach their history, Hawaiian history. The public schools have changed their curriculum, also. That changed not too long ago. Maybe fifteen or twenty years ago. It was legislated by the state legislature. Actually, that reform happened when we had a constitutional convention. We revised the state constitution, which we do every number of years. There were some young people in there who were determined to have Hawaiian history and Hawaiian language reinstated into the education system. They pushed for that, and so it became a legislative directive that the Department of Education had to require these courses. As a result, we got courses like Modern History of Hawaii, as well as Hawaiiana, which is a little earlier cultural kind of education, and Hawaiian language was being offered in the schools, finally.
My whole childhood is a wonderful experience. The fact that we lived in a rural kind of setting, I miss that. That was very important to me. Today we have become so urbanized and so westernized. We’re all driving so hard to live, to make a living. When we were young, I can just remember the wonderful times that we’d spend on the beaches, and the wonderful time of always fantasy, you know? And the freedom that we had. It was a safe place to be. No matter where you went, your doors were left wide open, and all that kind of stuff. There was such a friendly attitude toward each other which today is kind of lacking in that you’re not as trusting of each other.
I had a great mother. My mother was educated at Kameahmea schools, also, and she spoke very beautiful English, as well as Hawaiian. She was such a great encouragement to us. She wanted the best things for us. She turned us on to good music. When I came to school on the mainland, people were surprised that I could recognize a Beethoven, and then to find out that it was my native Hawaiian mother that allowed us to hear these things, and she collected them so we could hear them, the music and the reading. She encouraged us to read.
As a child, she had some problems with that because sometimes she could never find us to do our chores because we had run away with our books and read stories instead of doing our chores. The two sisters that were closest together, Ermalee, Jo, and I went through these stages of reading. We went through Alexander Dumas. We read Zane Gray. We read all of them, because of my native Hawaiian mother’s encouragement, that we should be educated and we should open our eyes to the world around us.
We were poor people. We were not rich. There were ten children in our family. My mother and father had ten children. They worked hard in order to educate us. My father was in the Army in Hawaii. He was part of the first Air Force that was stationed there. He had only an eighth grade education. My mother had an equivalent of high school. She went on to normal school after the Kameahmea. I guess you could say she was better educated than my father, but together, they encouraged us to get more education. They worked hard.
My father would do things that Hawaiian men did. He went fishing. He’d come home from work in the evening, and then he’d pick up his net, his throw net, and he’d go down to the ocean, catch a few fish, and he’d bring it home, and we’d have fish. My father is a howlie father. You know, not Hawaiian. He learned to do a lot of things that the Hawaiian men did. He provided us with a lot of food that way. He loved fishing, and the Hawaiian stuff. He’d take us fishing with him at night. He’d go torching with a torch light and a spear, or a torch and a throw net, a big throw net. He’d allow one or two of us to go with him. We would carry the torch, and carry the bag, which was a lousy job. I remember one night we were out there, and I stepped into a hole on the reef. The torch went out, and the torch went down with me. Everything went with me, and I’ll never forget the scoldings I got because I couldn’t keep the light going.
We had wonderful days growing up, doing things that were traditionally Hawaiian. Even though we had a howlie father, he did them too, with us. We also did a lot of howlie things. My father was a man who believed in America, you know? He was America, right or wrong. America could never do anything wrong. They were always right.
When we were growing up as children, and going to public schools, they had this dual system of education in Hawaii. When I tell people this who are not Hawaiian, they can’t understand it. During territorial times, they had set-up the public schools with two kinds, one standard English and one regular. You’d have to be able to speak standard English, acceptable, standard English, in order to go to school in the English standard schools. If you didn’t, then you just went to a regular school. You had to take a kind of test. You were interviewed, and they would check your oral English to see how well you did. If you passed, then you went to the special school. The English speakers together and the non, or pidgin English speakers together, for a year. All the children in our family went to an English standard school.
Then it dawned on my father, who is very American, “Why is that unequal? That wasn’t right.” He yanked us all out of English standard school, and put us in the school that was closest to us. You know, it was more convenient to take the school that we can walk to, instead of being bussed across the island to another school. Then he said, “This is not fair. Why do we have two systems in this public school? Why do we have two kinds of schools in this public system? We’re supposed to have one kind of school.” He was one of those lay people, one of those parents, that worked very hard, was very vocal and spoke against the dual system. Pretty soon, that system was changed, and we went back to just one kind of school. You went to school within your district. You weren’t bussed or transported someplace to go to a better school or a not-so-good school. He spoke out about that. He was good about things like that. He was a good father. Stern, but a really good guy.
To me, it’s important that you’ve got to know where you came from in order to know why you’re here, and where you are going. For a long time, I was bothered by that. Not only me, many people in Hawaii, because we were being educated to be American. We were not being educated to be people who just came from some place and were going someplace else. We didn’t know about our background, so naturally, we kind of lost a lot of our genealogical history. Our genealogies, so many of us are now doing this, trying to find out where we came from, who our family is.
It makes you feel good, to know that you came from a certain line of people. Even though you may discover, in that line of people, there are one or two bad guys, it still is a good feeling to know that this is where you came from. It was funny. I went to check out my family background. I needed to, on my Hawaiian side. I wanted to qualify myself for Hawaiian homelands. The federal government signed an act that would give Hawaiians land to homestead. I wanted to prove that I was really half Hawaiian, so I had to check out my genealogy. You need to show proof that you have fifty percent or more Hawaiian.
So, I go to the archives, and I’m going through the old newspapers, Hawaiian newspapers and English papers also, but the Hawaiian newspapers because we found some material in there about my great-grandfather whose name was Samuel Kauahaneonakauanelahoi. I came across this article, and it was so funny, actually. It was in the obituaries. They had listed him as having died. The date of his death, and so forth, but in the very next newspaper, there was a letter from Samuel Kauahaneonakauanelahoi saying, “You are mistaken” to the editors. “Dear editors, you were mistaken. I am not dead. I am very much alive. I am not that drunken bum that fell in the street, who has the same name.” His name was S.K. Mahoi, but the guy who wrote the obituary had thought it was my grandfather, S.K, because he went by S.K. He was a member of the first territorial legislature, and he was a sheriff in one of the districts. He was a well-known figure, and they had written him off as dead. He had to write back. I read this and I said, “Oh, this is so nice.” At least I can read something about an ancestor of mine.
I got out of school mid-year, I graduated in February, so the Education Department there didn’t have any positions opened at that time. I got a job with the Department of Parks and Recreation, and I worked with them for a year as an art specialist. My background is art education and English education. Then because my parents encouraged me to go into education, because that’s what they sent me to school for, to be a teacher, I went to teach for about a year. I didn’t like it as much. I liked the informal atmosphere of the Department of Recreation, which was education. It was informal education. After a year of teaching on Molokaii, I went back to Honolulu and taught. I went to the Department of Recreation. I stayed there for twenty-three years.
Then toward the end of my career, we decided to move from Oahu, which was getting densely populated, and move to the big Island of Hawaii. There, I decided to move back into education, and spend the last years of my career teaching, which I enjoyed very much. The last seven years I went back to the classroom. With the Department of Recreation, I did a lot of supervisory work in the last ten years or so there, where I was teaching teachers to teach. I wanted to get back into the classroom. When I got back into the classroom, I could put into practice a lot of things that I thought would be effective in teaching.
One difference [between informal and formal education] is it’s a more relaxed kind of atmosphere. In the informal situation, you’re not forced into learning. You’re there because you want to learn. I find that people learn very quickly in that kind of situation. I wish we could do this in the formal tight square of the classroom, where we could have more freedom in how we teach and how people learn. We could develop a more “I want to learn” kind of atmosphere than “I got to learn” kind of atmosphere. I did use that in my classroom. It worked very well. A good teacher is one that wants to teach, that loves to teach. That’s it. You’ve got to want to do it.
I like to see a kind of apprentice program. I work with groups of people, but I will also single out one or two that may want to work with me alone, and we work that way. I like that one-on-one. I think many more people should have the opportunity to learn from somebody who has succeeded.
The thing about the word “lei” is when we look back at some of the original records where they recorded the uses of some of the leis, and even in my talk story accounts, where the elders told me about certain leis that were good for curing certain conditions, sometimes these were not like the leis that we wear, or the leis that we gave to each other, to honor each other. Sometimes it was a means of carrying pieces from one place to the other. One good example of that is this seaweed lei. There was a special seaweed called le mu paha paha, which is gathered on a beach on the Island of Hawaii. The people there would gather that seaweed, and they would quickly braid that seaweed to keep it together, and then carry it home. In the carrying of that braided seaweed, they would put it around their necks, and then it became a lei. It wasn’t actually made to be a lei, but it was a good way to carry it. They took that lei home and they would store it, dry it, and then later on they would use that seaweed in a poultice for curing some sores, or things like that. That was used medicinally, as a cure.
The other seaweed lei that Hawaiians often talk about is the lei called lemu kala. That one usually was gathered either fresh or dried. They would wash up on the shore, and we’d pick it up, and quickly tie it together or braid it together, and then enter the ocean, and then put the lei around them. Usually this was to relieve them of a fever. They would enter the ocean, and submerse themselves in the ocean. When the lei of lemu washed away from their bodies, they believed that it would relieve them of their ailment, and in particular, a fever. It was used that way, as a curing, a relief. Medicinally. It will probably work because you were entering a nice, cool ocean, and it would cool you off.
Then, in more contemporary times, there was another lei material called poa nu. It’s a kind of a vine material. It’s not a native plant, but Hawaiians in the 1800s would gather these plants, and they’d braid a lei, a three strand lei, and they’d put this lei on their head to relieve them of headaches. That’s what the word poa nu meant. Dizzy head. They felt that this plant material would relieve them of a headache. There were those beliefs, and I guess they do work.
Personally, I was overwhelmed by the honor [of receiving the National Heritage Fellowship]. I mean, I couldn’t contain myself. Even when I was told about it, and even when I got here to receive it, I was just overwhelmed. Here I was, just a person practicing a bit of my culture, and enjoying what I was doing, and sharing it with everyone else, that some big, national outfit would honor me for those efforts that I didn’t think were that great. I like doing it, and here I was being honored for doing what I like to do. It was overwhelming for me. I was very appreciative of it.
As a result of it, I meet with other groups of people, and I’m given more opportunity to share with them, and also to receive from them. We have these moments of sharing. We travel together. I traveled together with some of the other Heritage winners, and I find we have great similarities and a few differences. The differences make the variety that we need in our lives. It doesn’t make us so different that we can’t understand each other. It adds the variety, the spice, in our lives. I like that sharing and meeting with the other heritage winners. I find that I can appreciate everything that they do, and I’m excited over what they do. I look at what the decoy woodcarver does, and how he decorates his decoys. It’s wonderful! It’s joyful to see all of this, and I’m amazed at the kinds of things that these extraordinary people do, because they’ve accomplished all of these things, and they’ve kept it going. It’s an extraordinary person that can maintain an interest in a cultural practice, and want to share it. I didn’t have to make too great an effort to keep my traditions alive, and pass it on because there are so many of our people, and so many people who were not even Hawaiian, who wanted to keep up this practice because it’s such a beautiful thing. The whole symbolism and the practice itself is such a beautiful, wonderful thing. There’s no better way, I think, to tell somebody, if you can’t use words, “I love you. I think you’ve done well. You’ve accomplished something great.” In Hawaii, you just give the lei, and they know already what goes with it. They know all the love of that person, the giver goes with that token.
So, I don’t have any trouble. It’s not going to get lost along the way because people need that. They need that symbol to help them express their feelings about each other. You know, man needs that, and so it’s easy to keep that alive. One of these days that whole thing will spread and become a universal practice. I’m looking forward to that. I’m going to be around for that. My children all do that, and my grandchildren make leis. They do sit down and put a great deal of effort into it. They do want to make one that is extraordinary, not just ordinary, to give to a friend, to give to a teacher. They do it, so it’s going to stay there.