"Alway Have Something Nice To Say To The Rocks"

I was blessed to be in Oahu for a week, there is only 18% of native hawaiians left on island and 40% of the homeless population are kanaka maoli. Kanaka Maoli, the natives of the land still exist

 A couple weeks back in Waihole, Oahu I met Alaunapo.  She reminded me of my little brother, always searching. I wrote my brother before I left, sent him pictures of his daughter growing in a place he couldn't see. Alaunaopo, her father hasn't been able to see her grow as well. Incarcerated like my brother, this is a reoccuring thing in our community. 

She tells me her father led the ice(methemfetamine) game there, how she's done the same before, incarcerated and awoken. My association with Hawaii ever since I was young was the ice game. Family I know, only traveled there to make money in this business. The older cousin who encouraged me to be a photographer is in the same place as Alaunopo father.

Her and her partner drive me to Waihole, a town where a lot of natives live, untouched by whatever stole Waikiki. We drive pass signs that people in the community have left for the japanese developers who tried to buy the land for developing. The people are still here, the ancestors, their stories are unable to leave this island. 

We drive onto a taro loie(farm), different than how my family farms taro this one is wetland farming. It is known that the natives of the land, kanaka maolis are descendants of taro. At the taro loie, Alaunopo shows me how the taro grows. "Despite what you heard from Lilo and Stitch" it is where the word Ohana derives from, "family", Alaunaopo fiance Kristin tells me.

Taro, is a root and grows in specific way, in an "Ohana", in order for the root to grow, the Ohana must stay together. The keiki, smaller roots grow around the elders and elders produce the root sometimes heartshaped. The taro then gets cut off the elder roots and dried to be placed back in the water with the Ohana to grow another root. As I watch Alaunopo pull the roots in the loie she says farming in the loie, having her feet planted in the water with the taro ohanas gives way for her as a descendant from the root. As kristin and I watch Alaunopo, she tells me a story about a Hawaiian elder who was chosen to go to England, when described they said "No matter where he was, grandfather always had something nice to say to the rocks"

Later that night I met with Keivalei, a "mahu", a term used in Hawaii for people who stand in the middle. She takes me to downtown Waikiki where she works with alot of the mahus who work the streets. She works as a resource for the girls, HIV prevention and counseling as a mentor. She her self is positive. I spent a couple of hours with her and her life is telling, she is "The Alchemist" in a different form.

She tells me when she was younger in The Mission she used to hang out with all the drug dealers, helping them sell, selling herself, drugs, alcohol and sex. One night, drunk and high off cocaine her friend would ask her, "Hey Keiva, lets do that chant and hula you taught me". A chant passed down many many years, traveled many miles, that even through the streets of San Francisco, through the alcohol, through the cocaine high it was still remembered and chanted throughout the night.

For many of us who are faraway from what homeland is, we carry our ancestors in a language they won't understand. Like Keiva Lei and Alaunaopo, no matter what it is we are left with, the streets, prison, drugs, we remember where we are from, it is a hard and sometimes ugly life but in its resilience, its a place where we will always have something nice to say about it because it is a reflection of ourselves.

About Jean Melesaine

Jean Melesaine is a queer Samoan community activist, documentary photographer and editor with Silicon Valley De-Bug. 

This article is part of the categories: Arts & Culture  / Community  / Gender and Sexuality  / Photo 
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