Ho’okupu: An Offering of Literature by Native Hawaiian Women
Edited by Miyoko Sugano and Jackie Pualani Johnson

Mutual Publishing; 130 pages; $12.95

Since ancient times, offerings have come in many forms, from gold, cattle and prayer to, as Tamara Laulani Wong-Morrison writes in “Proper Offerings to Pele”: “’ohelo berries / Red bulbs complete with an offering chant.” Wong-Morrison’s poem is just one offering presented in “Ho’okupu: An Offering of Literature by Native Hawaiian Women,” a new anthology of contemporary works by eighteen Hawaiian women.

Editors Miyoko Sugano and Jackie Pualani Johnson, both UH Hilo professors, situate the anthology within a formal framework of ceremony and protocol. Before the first contribution, “Ka Waiho A Ka Mana’o” by Haunani Bernardino, readers are confronted by acknowledgments, a foreword, opening mele, lengthy greeting wherein the editors justify the use of English language, and a separate editors’ “mahalo.” Tacked on at the end is a substantial appendix including a second table of contents, biographies, a glossary, closing mele, and writer interviews conducted by the editors’ students. While well intentioned, these bookends end up creating an impression of extraneous filler, detracting from the “meat” of the offering.

The writers in the collection vary in age and background, live on O’ahu, Moloka’i, Hawai’i and the mainland, and range from Pualani Kanaka’ole, who is from a long line of chanters and hula performers, to Cheryl Bautista, a recent college graduate who works for a general contractor. Intersecting themes such as taro farming, voyaging, ‘ohana, paddling, death, and even genetic engineering seep through equally varied mediums of verse, haiku, play, short story, chant and talk story.

When it does get going, the collection happily opens with Phyllis Coochie Cayan’s and Kanani Aton’s haiku, both evoking the ghost of deceased local poet Wayne Kaumuali’i Westlake and standing alone refreshingly enjoyable bites of imagery. One example is “Hana i ka lo’i,” where Aton writes with playful precision: “Cool pebbles of rain / Fall laughing on taro leaves / Wish I knew the joke.” Later, in J.W. Makanui’s longer, four-stanza poem “For Grampa and Gramma and Summers, with Love,” the refrain “Makaweli red dirt” is smartly repeated throughout to provide momentum and increase a powerful building of memory and emotion.

The most unique contributions can’t help but stand out from the crowd. Doodie Cruz’s one-act play “Whose Nose Dat?” is an energizing change of form and a tender yet tough depiction of tradition carried on in a new and changing Hawaiian family. Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl’s courageous and engrossing short story “Ho’oulu Lahui” provocatively conjures Hawai’i in 2021, when a newly formed “Ministry of Hawaiian Culture” carries out a noble but misguided mission of water and land conservation and re-population under the slogan “Increase the Race.” And Eleanor K. S. Ahuna’s “Mama” presents her mother’s talk story, encompassing such captivating memories as teaching hula in Keaukaha and cooking on a tin can stove, and told in disarming everyday language.

While primarily looking to the past, evoking ancient knowledge and tradition, this earnest collection showcases not only the diversity of Hawaiian women, their concerns and daily lives, but offers an intriguing mix of meditations on emotion and politics, nature and family, and both the real and the imagined.

Published October 11, 2009 in the Honolulu Advertiser