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Makahiki Journal – Day One

November 2, 2009

I’m not certain if anyone has kept a journal relating to Makahiki, the traditional Hawaiian New Year, but as the clouds started to sweep in over Mānoa Valley, darkening the sky. It somehow felt appropriate to do so.

A few years ago, when I was living in New York, I had almost entirely forgotten what Makahiki even was until I came across its Māori cousin, Matariki. After having finally purchased my first laptop and joining the modern age, I began to devour everything online that had to do with Polynesia. I had been living in New York for four years during the post-9/11 era and was feeling burnt out. Seeing what my Polynesian cousins were doing with new technology was uplifting and inspiring, making me feel connected to a long genealogy that stretched across the oceans. One particular site of inspiration was Māori Television, all the way from Aotearoa/New Zealand. Seeing a full-fledged, professional Polynesian news broadcast, streamed from thousands of miles away, was amazing.

Around the early summer, the word Matariki appeared on the Māori Television website along with a haunting image of the Pleiades. Also included was a song about Matariki sung in Māori. Matariki is the Māori equivalent of the Hawaiian word Makali‘i, our name for the constellation widely known as the Pleiades. Again, it was powerful to know that a shared tradition was still being maintained and celebration in the Pacific to the point of being a television event.

After I had returned to Hawai‘i in 2007, I had my first direct taste of Makahiki when I was fortunate enough to participate in Hawaiian-langage theatre production. Throughout the play the names of our akua (gods) and kupua (demi-gods) were invoked. Interestingly enough, the evening of our debut in Honolulu was in conjunction with Makahiki. Following that evening’s performance, it was as if the heavens themselves opened with claps of thunder, flashes of lightening, and downpour that made it nearly impossible for me to get home. The presence of the kūpuna, our ancestors, was palpable that evening, perhaps even more so because of their invocation in a space of performance.

As Makahiki had slipped past me in 2008—too many things to do at university, etc., etc.—it feels therefore even more important that I honor it this year. While I may know very little of the cultural protocol and practices, I believe that it is most important to start with the right mindset and ask for the appropriate guidance from the kūpuna. That said, I have no idea how this particular passage of Makahiki will turn out. In any case, it will certainly be a turning point and the beginning of many celebrations for years to come.

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