The Heart of Being Hawaiian
By Sally-Jo Bowman
Watermark; 232 pages; $16.95

Reviewed by Christine Thomas
Published 6/22 in the Honolulu Advertiser

In the foreword to “The Heart of Being Hawaiian,” Hawaiian navigator Nainoa Thompson equates Sally-Jo Bowman’s quest to uncover her Hawaiian identity with “a voyage in words.” And indeed Bowman’s heartfelt solo journey undertaken through freelance writing eloquently explores elements of modern Hawaiian culture that had eluded this Oregon resident, despite being a quarter Hawaiian, raised in Kailua, O`ahu, and attending Kamehameha Schools (class of ’58).

Bowman’s lack of a Hawaiian name and her ‘40s and ‘50s upbringing, when as she says “it still was not cool to be Hawaiian,” both influenced her to, from 1990-2004, write essays, profiles (like of Bumpy Kanahele) and magazine articles on such topics as lua (Hawaiian martial arts), language immersion school, Kalaupapa, and the Onipa`a (centennial overthrow protest). Through these events and Bowman’s earnest reflections, readers witnessed her cultural roots grow, and Bowman began to see a whole develop.

This book smartly presents that whole, not in a chronology of articles but an illuminating, thematic arrangement addressing such concepts as coming home, ancestral paths, and central values. Her personal, uplifting and often humorous portraits of people, some now passed on, together speak volumes about what being Hawaiian means today and form Bowman’s poignant new “quilt of words.”