Find out why Maile Meyer, who loves startups and promoting local artisans, and founded Native Books and Beautiful Things and Na Mea Hawaii stores, is like a sponge that absorbs all the culture that Hawai`i has to offer.

What I’m Reading | Maile Meyer

Founder, Native Books

Q&A with Christine Thomas

–What are you reading?

“The Epic Tale of Hi`iakaikapoliopele” the English translation of a version originally printed in a Hawaiian language newspaper from 1905. It’s an amazing epic of the travels of Hi`iaka on an errand for her sister Pele to fetch Pele’s beloved Lohi`au from Kaua`i.

–How did you discover it?

I’m working with Puakea [Nogelmeier] on this project so he gave me a mimeographed copy in manuscript form. And he calls me and says are you sitting under a coconut tree reading it? It’s 500 pages and very dense. And then I started to read it—I read it at night before I go to bed—it’s so rich. Because it’s turn of the century, recorded in written form, because those Hawaiians 100 years ago—we think of memory and games like Sudoku or Memory—they used to have memories where people could recite every wind … they didn’t forget things. Connecting to people who have that connection to knowledge is amazing. You read this without any western framework around it. It’s very sensual, very sexual—it’s gonna upset a lot of people. It’s really from another culture. … I’m reading it going “oh my god, this is from another place.” It’s not like any other other book I’ve read, except one other book called “Accept This Son”—I love this book because no one talks about that time period, about the overthrow like that. It talks about people coming and going from home and talking to their pohaku .. it’s surreal. But the Hi`iaka book…it’s like delicious, it’s like food. It’s very, very different. Puakea says this and he’s right, that this is not about translation and Hawaiian language; it’s about Hawaiian knowledge. And when he said that it clicked for me. I’m reading integrated knowledge. . . .

–What do you like about it?

Reading this material is giving me all kinds of insight into Hawaiian knowledge—winds, rains, place names, healing plants, chants, protocols. It’s absolutely amazing. The story is a classic—totally engaging, full of every kind of intrigue—a coming into power for Hi`iaka, typically cast as Pele’s “little sister.” I’m enjoying every page. I found out from its translator, Puakea Nogelmeier, that this five-hundred-page book is just scratching the surface of the over five million pages available in Hawaiian language newspapers published at the turn of the century. It’s mind-boggling–we have no idea what we don’t know. As these newspapers start to be translated and become available in English and Hawaiian, it’s like picking up a plug that’s lying on the floor in a dark room, plugging it back into a socket and all the lights come back on. Reconnecting to all that Hawaiian knowledge through translations is like turning the lights on again for all of us. I can hardly wait to read what gets published next!

–Does the re-emergence of this tale give you new ideas about cultural experiences to deliver at Native Books?

It’s interesting because at Native Books, Na Mea Hawai`i, we just finished renovating a quarter of the store. I just met with a group of Tongan women who say, we’re sisters, we’re cousins, we’re family. I can barely think about Kaua`i—I’m island-centric. They made me think about that pan-Pacific energy—it has given me a different conversation to have. The Tongan women are starting weaving classes. We put a studio in so we can learn about how to make our own things again—feather, cultural products. So reading this book translates into—we have to learn our own things again. Then we can be happy because we know our own things. Just like more and more women—I would like to wear clothing that is more cultural comfortable in a place like Hawai`i. It’s perfect for simple clothes and organic jewelry—things where you can get out of the water and tie on a pareo and go on with your day. … It’s where we are and who we are and where we live—I think this is all tied together, learning more about the things that are unique to Hawai`i and not being afraid to adopt them no matter who you are, because it’s the right thing to do. … I’m grateful to be reading this and working on it because it’s part of the access. … We’re going to find a lot of fabulous ideas about how to be in this world.

Photo from PBS site–Mahalo!