We are Storytellers

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mo‘olelo

n. Story, tale, myth, history, tradition, literature, legend, journal, log, yarn, fable, essay, chronicle, record, article.

Aloha mai kākou,

Growing up in Kohala I remember my mother and aunties gathering for entire weekends to work on our family genealogy. As they worked, they spontaneously shared stories alternately recounting the funny, frightening or foundational moments of our ‘ohana’s history, and the names and characteristics of the ancestors who were the protagonists of those tales. Listening to them as a child, I realize now that those stories were a rich source of information about our family which helped to formulate my understanding of our ‘ohana and my place within it. Later, as an adult, I discovered that both my mother and my father kept journals filled with wonderful anecdotal stories written laboriously in meticulous longhand. One story that always makes me smile is my father’s rather detailed account (think “recipe”) of his mother making ‘ōkolehao in the family furo (bathtub).

Every ‘ohana has stories that are unique to them or to the places they live. Although shared as entertainment, many of these stories are much more than amusing anecdotes; they help to document the history, culture and ‘ike of our people. And telling and re-telling our stories helps to keep them alive in our individual and collective memories.

Before Netflix or YouTube or books, storytelling was a primary medium of instruction by which our kūpuna transmitted ancestral knowledge to the next generation. These stories are not just myths or legends; they preserve the philosophies and values of our people. Within these stories are centuries of wisdom acquired through careful observation of the natural world. Although they are often embellished with colorful characters whose exploits are larger than life, embedded within these stories is the what, the who, the how and the why things in our world are as they are.

Storytelling is the way people understand their world and preserve that knowledge. In cultures with oral traditions, such as ours, the use of oli helps to ensure the integrity of the stories. The rhythms and mnemonic devices inherent in this form of poetry assist with the memorization of enormous bodies of work infused with ‘ike kūpuna that have been passed down through generations. The Kumulipo, Hawai‘i’s creation story, is one such example.

Western culture has tended to trivialize storytelling, relegating it to flights of fancy, superstition, or the naive attempts of primitive peoples to make sense of the world around them. Rather, I see the stories of our people as a form of data collection preserved over millenia, such as that contained within our moon calendar.

In this issue of Ka Wai Ola we celebrate our modern ‘ōiwi storytellers, from documentary and narrative filmmakers, to playwrights to haku mele. The way we tell the stories of our people may have evolved over the years with the availability of new technology and new takes on traditional mediums of expression, but the volume of stories being told and preserved for future generations of ‘ōiwi continues to expand, and so the stories of our people will live on.

Sylvia Hussey SignatureSylvia M. Hussey, Ed.D.
Ka Pouhana