Thursday, November 25, 2010

Hawaii's Art Scene and the Shocking Difficulties of the Rapid-Fire Book Club

I am a day back from vacation, and that means I'm back online. This is the first Internet access I've had; I came home to a busted modem. First off, the Rapid-Fire Book Club has two entries to be made:

Farquhar, Michael- A Treasury of Deception: Liars, Misleaders, Hoodwinkers, and the Extraordinary True Stories of History's greatest Hoaxes, Fakes, and Frauds
Keale Sr., Moses K.; Tava, Rerioterai- Niihau: The Traditions of an Hawaiian Island

That second one did not come easy. Hawaii has a vibrant creative culture. They have their own music style (Don Ho, anyone?), and practice it extensively. Pre-existing songs will commonly be covered in the Hawaiian style, and even if you didn't want to hear it, it's pretty tough to get away from. Artists are even easier to find. I stumbled upon one by accident at one point, named Midori, when a painting caught my eye at a gift shop at Byodo-in Temple. As it turned out, she was the gift shop's cashier. (If you happen to be in the area, stop on by; she's quite good. Wish I could link her, but she doesn't seem to have a link to go to.) Dance is particularly alive and well; not just hula can be found, but also urban-style dancing, clubbing, and if you head out to the Polynesian Cultural Center, the show 'Breath of Life' will take it away, especially when the fire comes out. Paintings, sculptures, murals, jewelry, physical movement, and much any other kind of creative expression is completely at home on Oahu.

Except books, apparently.

Sure, there are your Hawaiian books, there are places to buy them. But there aren't many. It's Borders, Barnes and Noble, and then a smattering of utterly forgettable places that you forget even as you drive past them. And it's understandable. In a city that is such a global cultural nexus as Honolulu, visual and aural art can speak to everyone present, but the written word can only speak to those who speak that language. And when English, Hawaiian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Tagalog, and your more popular European languages all try to fight for airtime in one place, any one book will only have a limited audience.

Which makes it tough to find something good that you aren't just as, or more, likely to find back home.

Eventually, though, I settled on the book on Niihau. The reason for that is, as tough as it was to find a good Hawaiian book, it would be even tougher to set foot on Niihau.

Why? I'm not a native of Niihau. There are only just a few hundred natives of that island, and while they are able to freely travel to and from Niihau, you and I are not. It's known as the Forbidden Island for this reason. Niihau is a place that hangs on, as best it can, to old Hawaiian tradition. Niihauans keep their history primarily through storytelling which sometimes mixes with Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill-style tall tales. The book I purchased was originally published in 1989, and was the first real written history of the island. There are still very few titles out there about the place.

Which, being a guardian of old Hawaiian tradition, likely serves to further explain the dearth of literature on the islands. But seeing as the Hawaiian creative soul has been channeled into so many other outlets, it's rather hard to complain much about it.

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