Saturday, 17 March 2012

Hawai'i calling

I'm in Vancouver, watching the live streaming of the Kamehameha Schools 'Song Contest,' a major annual event in Hawai'i. While I watch, I'm facebook chatting with my friend Ka'imi - we're making comments about the various choirs (the different year groups compete against each other) and the students introducing the various songs. In the year I lived in Hawai'i in 2004 I attended the Song Contest with Ka'imi and Walter - this was a very big honour and an evening I will always remember. I loved my time in Hawai'i - I had no idea what I was letting myself in for when I moved there to speand a year writing my PhD, or just how much that place would get under my skin.

Each year at Song Contest, the songs performed by the choirs (and also the hula and theatrical dimensions of the evening's programme) ties in to a specific theme, and this year the theme "Ho‘ōla Lāhui, Ho‘oulu Pae ‘Āina — Vibrant People, Thriving Lands" focuses on the significance of specific places in Hawai'i. These mass choirs entirely made up of Hawaiian high school students are impressive, and Ka'imi and I agree that there's something profound that happens when people have the opportunity to connect to the specific places of their own land: all of these Hawaiian youth, speaking the names of places, some of which are well known and used today, and some of which are lesser known and spend more time at the edges of collective memory.

Land, geography, place: these are everything.

As the students present hula about the decision their Princess Pauahi made to leave a will in which her share of the kingdom would become Kamehameha Schools, I found myself crying. Partly for the collective pride, as a fellow Polynesian, of these strong young people who have had the opportunity to be clear about who they are and where they are from. Partly for the sense of humility, the awareness of what a privilege I have to be able to see this performance tonight and also to have seen it live all those years ago. Partly, though, I cried because I know that while I know that Aotearoa is everything - everything - in late July this year I will be moving to Hawai'i again.

Matiu, who knows I cry at both ends of the emotion spectrum, asks when he sees tears: "Auntie Lala, happy tears or sad tears?" These tears were both.

There has been a lapse in blogging this week because on Tuesday I accepted a new position as Associate Professor of Pacific Literatures in the English Dept at the University of Hawai'i -Manoa, and resigned from my position at Victoria University of Wellington. A tricky, complicated, heartbreaking but also exciting move. In Hawai'i I will be given opportunity to extend and consolidate the work I have been doing until now; all the signs - yes, including tohu - point to this being the right decision. I realise the price for this move is not only paid for by me, but I am also deeply and enthusiastically confident that the benefit will not only be mine either.

Land, geography, place: these are everything. But the ocean is everything too. Always the ocean too.

It's a move away from Aotearoa, but it's also a move into the Pacific. Our histories are tied up with the Pacific region, but so are our futures. In mid-June I will move home to Aoteaora, then pack things up over the course of six weeks and fly to Honolulu in late July. It goes without saying (or I hope it does) that the decision to leave home again was hard and is tied in with a range of complex reasons and possibilities. I had no idea when I was leaving for sabbatical that I wouldn't be coming home, but I guess Hawai'i is calling...

... and yes, I'm going to answer.

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