Monday, July 26, 2010

Hawaii eye yai yai an!

I've been taking a beginning course in the Hawaiian language (olelo Hawaii) as an adult evening course over the past two months. The price was right as it was only ten dollars!! We've been meeting twice a week for two and a half hours a pop and it's been a ton of fun. This week marks the end of the course although for all intents and purposes it's done. The last class we'll be learning about mele or songs and having a pot luck so as far as I know grammar won't be on the table, just ono grinds! So what understanding have I gained and what's next?

It has been quite the learning experience. Language has never been one of my strongest suits. In high school I got tutoring for grammar. Sitting next to my bed I have Painless Grammar so I can look up "stuff" when I'm on the computer and when I need something to help me fall asleep. In college I was required to take two years of a language and I choose German. Twenty plus years later what do I have to show for it? Yeah, right. For one job I was exposed to some Japanese words and phrases for a retail environment. For a trip to Tokyo Disneyland I tried to expand my Japanese language knowledge but was soooooo successful that when I asked one cast member for some directions in Nihongo she ran away and came back with someone who could understand my English. Yeah, I really excel with the foreign language communication skills!

So I find myself sitting in a classroom with 21 other people the first night. While I wasn't the youngest, I was one of the younger ones. The teacher made us as comfortable as he could with the announcement that the class would be highly interactive with him asking questions and having us either repeat or answer his biddings. This is where the eye yai yai comes in. I signed up for the class so I can have a better understanding of the language with the spelling and pronunciation of the words for my Trapped in Paradise podcast. I wasn't planning on holding a conversation!

One facet that has amazed me during the class is the fact that Hawaiian was a verbal language passed down from generation to generation. It wasn't written down until the missionaries took it upon themselves to create the written form of this beautiful, melodious auditory language. With my very right brain thinking I can't imagine having to try to learn this by hearing only and not by seeing. With the different sounds of oh, oo, ah and eh and then sometimes you hold out the sound a little longer or cut them off and trying to differentiate them I had another eye yai yai pass in my mind.

I supposed that if I had never seen a written language and my ear drums had been exposed to the ahs, oos, ohs and ehs from the day I took my first scream while dangling upside down above my mother's deflating opu (stomach) things would be different. I remember in high school getting drilled because I couldn't hear the rhythm in iambic pantameter vs dactylic tetrameter. So you can probably already guess that based on the beats I don't get hip hop either. But, that's just me.

Luckily, the kumu (teacher, source) for the class has been very easy going. There are no tests or quizzes so each student can take away what they want and not have to measure up to a particular assessment standard. Me and another hoa papa (student) have joked around that we are soooooo glad that there will be no grades for the class. Much of the learning in the class hasn't been just the olelo (language, speech) itself. More so in this class and this language than what I learned in Japanese or German, the understanding of Hawaiian is more conceptual in the world view. The other time when I saw this was when an old girlfriend was showing me bits and pieces of American Sign Language.

Many times the kumu talks about subjects that from a western point of view were just radically different to my way of thinking but given the world view of Hawaiians, made perfect and total sense. Two areas that really stick out in my mind are relationships and time. Example, Hawaiian relationships are more generational for all people of that generation rather than the direct family tree relationships. For example, keiki kane means a younger male that could be either nephew or son. Again, my mind went eye yai yai because the meaning would be contextual to determine the son or nephew because my right brain is saying I need a direct one to one translation.

Then the kumu talked about time both in relationship to the moon and sun. During daylight you would have kakahiaka meaning morning; but is that early morning or late morning? Well, like I've learned, it's contextual because the sun would be in different positions from sunrise to sunset affecting the quality of light but during the year even that would vary as the days get longer or shorter as the Earth passes through the different equinox phases. When talking about the moon, it was readily apparent to me as my brain tied into the box jelly fish invasions that happen here in Hawaii about ten days after the full moon. It's not a day of week or a date in the month, it's the ten setting and rises of the sun after the moon is full. The brain signaled eye yai yai once more but on this occasion there was an ah ha moment.

So as my head swims with my sentence's po'o, piko, 'ami and 'awe my brain sends out the eye yai yai but again. Do I be happy with the beginning course or do I try to advance to the intermediate course? At this time I don't know. I'm glad that I took the course because it exposed some things to me that were in my third window pane. The class has definitely given me a better understanding of my surroundings in Hawaii for sure. Now it's up to me for the application of what I've learned so that I hope I can get rid of many more eye yai yais!