Quotes from “Dance for the Land”

Finally! I got to type out some of the quotes which had struck me as I was reading Dance for the Land by McLaren.  My full blog on the book can be found here

“Her honey-colored skin was a shade lighter than her long, silky hair.  Her almond eyes held flecks of gold, and she moved with an effortless grace.  I should have known she was a dancer, Kate thought to herself as she watched Mehana walk to the front of the classroom.  Mrs. Odo turned on the music, and Mehana seemed to float across the floor, her hips and long hair swaying to the ukulele rhythm.  The words of the song were in Hawaiian, but her beautiful hands told of the moon and stars, of fragrant flowers and fluttering palm trees.” (48)

This paragraph seems to be a little heavy handed.  Everything is rhythmic and beautiful and flowing.  I do, appreciate, though, how every description of a Kanaka was different.  Not everyone had the same tone skin or hair or eye color.  Hawaiians come in all shades of brown and tan these days.  And lots of times, even, white.

“But everything about them was foreign – their language, their laughter, their food.  She pretended to eat poi.  This staple food of the Hawaiians, a purplish mass made from taro root, tasted like sour glue.  Worse than the poi was a pinkish fish called lomi salmon, which was served with it.  She’d always hated fish, which was the other favorite Hawaiian food” (58)

I dislike the use of the word “foreign” and I also dislike the disrespect shown poi.  Poi is supposed to be a life food for Hawaiians and one of the most sacred.  It’s fine to not particularly like a food, but the importance of poi is never really addressed in the book.  Only the importance of the loss of taro fields which does not necessarily equate the way McLaren describes everything.

“Mehana explained that this was the way hula used to be danced, when people from other Polynesian islands had first settled Hawai’i.  Some dances were exactly the same as they’d been performed hundreds of years ago.  The dancers’ arms extended straight out, with locked wrists and fingers pressed tightly together.  Instead of guitar and ukulele accompaniment, a hollow gourd sounded the rhythm.  The words, chanted from deep inside the throat, sounded like something between song and prayer” (67)

I like the accessible description of Kahiko and the distinction McLaren makes between auana and kahiko – demonstrating the different styles of hula.

“They were sitting on the carpet in the classroom library, sewing long, pointed ti leaves onto cotton waistbands to make their hula skirts” (69)

I know that I haven’t made a whole lot of ti leaf skirts and I’m also terrible at it, but it I was able to SEW them, I would finish them in a lot less time than 6 hours.  Ti leaf skirt making is more equatable to tying knots with the stem of the ti leaf around rope or twine than “sewing”.  No needles or thread involved.

“Kumu Kalama was at least six feet tall.  Her glossy black hair was drawn into a twist…In California she might have been caled fat.  But that was not a word Kate would have used to describe her.  She had what Hawaiians called mana.  It meant spiritual power, a kind of inner strength people were drawn to…hula teachers commanded a lot of respect” (77)

I’m always a little nervous when anyone uses the word mana… Especially outsiders who seem to exoticize the word

“‘You should both be dancing down in the hotels!” he said.  ‘I’m impressed'” (81)

Any respectable Hawaiian should never say this as a compliment.  Dancing in hotels is usually seen as a need to sustain life, not a privilege.  Additionally, a lot of the dancers seen at these luaus and hotels and malls are not quality and not trained in halau.  Even though a lot of them are and need the extra cash, dancing like this is basically exploiting the culture.  As the son of people involved in the sovereignty movement, David should know better than to make this comment.

“Somehow that didn’t stop Uncle from telling everyone he met that Kate would be dancing in the Merrie Monarch Festival” (149)

Children don’t compete in Merrie Monarch.  End of discussion.

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