I was so very excited when I saw that Brendon was doing a month-long focus on native Hawaiians to celebrate Indigenous Peoples History Month. I’ll admit, even in my focus on diverse literature in 2016, I have read very few books (fiction or otherwise) by indigenous peoples. This is hopefully the start of a new focus for me that I hope to continue well into 2017.
After a little bit of discussion, I decided to focus on Between the Deep Blue Sea and Me by Lurline Wailana McGregor, a native Hawaiian. I was drawn to it not only because of the story (which I’ll get to!) but also because it is published by Kamehameha Publishing, a small section of the charity Kamehameha Schools, which focuses on the preservation of native Hawaiian language and culture. I would seriously recommend checking out Kamehameha Publishing, as they have a huge wealth of publications, including children’s books, academic publications, and compilations of Hawaiian legends.
Between the Deep Blue Sea and Me is the story of Moana, a native Hawaiian woman whose promising museum career in LA is just taking off. Near the beginning of the novel, she receives word that her father has died, and flies home for his funeral. Once returned to Hawai’i, Moana’s very idea of what it means to be a Hawaiian woman is challenged, and her relationships are put to the test.
There is a huge focus on protecting the environment due to familial and cultural ties to the land and the ocean.
“When people think about mana today, they think of it as external, as spiritual power that has to be acquired. But mana is already inside us, we’re born with it. Our ancestors used it in their everyday lives. They understood the connection of all things, the trees, the stones, the fish, the sky. Our role as humans was to be the guardians and for that, we had mana to help us carry out our responsibilities.” Buddy turned to look directly at Moana. “You’ve heard of shape-shifting? Today, Western scientists call it quantum physics.”
One of the most interesting characters in the novel, Lei, is an environmental activist and lawyer, who points out the destruction that tourists and cruise ships have done to Hawai’i. As someone who has lived in Bermuda (a very popular tourist destination), I could feel my heart swelling with recognition and joy. Cruise ships are such a major issue in particular to many island communities, and I was very interested in what McGregor had to say about local initiatives. This is not the focus of the novel, but an important aspect, nonetheless.
Closely tied into this focus on protecting the land from pollution is protecting the native culture that is so closely tied to it. One of the main conflicts in the novel involves the discovery of a ki’i – ‘a large basalt rock carved in the shape of a shark but without a dorsal fin’. Moana is of the opinion that this is an artefact that belongs in a museum. Lei, on the other hand, is keen for it to be returned to the family, and the land where it was found.
Much like the other literature Brendon has reviewed this month, McGregor uses a lot of Hawaiian throughout the novel. It is not italicised (yay!) and often no translation is given. However, it is almost always placed within a context that is easily understandable, and it did not often hinder my comprehension of what was going on. I do wish there had been some translation of the songs and prayers that begin the novel, but that was a very minor issue.
I thoroughly enjoyed Between the Deep Blue Sea and Me. Packed full of appreciation of Hawaiian culture and natural environment, I am deeply interested in McGregor’s next project – a prequel called Waking in a Sea of Dreams that will focus on Moana’s father. She is also a filmmaker, whose videos can be found here.