Everywhere You Look: Wonders in Hawaii, Wonders at Home

There’s nothing like going to an exotic island in the middle of the ocean to shake up your worldview and give you some good writing inspiration.

Before venturing to the Rainbow State, whenever I thought of Hawaii, I pictured white sandy beaches, white hot sun, and lots of tourists. Those things are definitely there too, but I was excited to learn more about the culture of the place, so I read a couple of books before the trip in preparation: Unfamiliar Fishes, by Sarah Vowell, and Hawaiian Mythology, by Martha Beckwith. They were both great, and I highly recommend them both.

But even after doing my preparation, Hawaii was nothing like what I had expected. The greenness of the place exceeded the wildest imagination of any desert-dwelling girl like myself. The place was so relaxed and calm.

It’s funny how when you go somewhere new, you start watching for exciting new things. In Hawaii, I was looking for wonders. At home, I look at the sidewalk. One of the great things about going to Hawaii was that it offered so many opportunities to learn about a different way of living and thinking. By day, I’m an attorney in Chicago, so my living usually revolves around catching my bus, clocking in on time, working hard, getting lunch with a friend, going home at the end of the day, and doing the same thing again the next day. My daily thinking usually revolves around law, policy, and liability. Again, none of that is bad, but it can be really refreshing to go see how other people live and think differently. As a writer, it can be a great shot of inspiration and creativity. It’s a great way to overcome writer’s block if you’re feeling stuck.

One of my favorite Hawaiian myths that I came across (and there are so many—I only scraped the surface) was a Pele myth. Pele is the goddess of fire and volcanoes (which is cool enough as is), and as can be expected of any mythological deity who controls fire and volcanoes, she’s got a bit of a temper. There are a myriad of stories about her, and she is probably my favorite Hawaiian deity.

But in this story, she only plays a side role. One night, Pele falls into a deep sleep. As she sleeps, her spirit leaves her body and travels to the island Kauai, where she meets (in spirit) and falls in love with a young chief there named Lohiau. She tells him to await her messenger, and when her spirit returns to her body, she asks who among her household will retrieve Lohiau for her. The only one brave enough to volunteer is her younger sister Hiiaka-i-ka-poli-o-Pele (Hiiaka for short).

As Hiiaka prepares to embark, Pele gives her final orders: No boys, and be back in forty days. And the story from here is essentially a girl-power version of the Odyssey. On her travels, she overcomes many monsters and obstacles including evil fog, sharp rain, lava, sharks, the evil mo’o (which, depending on who you ask, are like shapeshifting dragon-women—also awesome), only to discover, once she arrives at Lohiau’s village, that he has died of grief after Pele’s disappearance. Not only has he died, but his body has been stolen. Hiiaka must catch his spirit and track down his body to reunite the two and bring him back to life, and by the time she manages that, she is way beyond the forty-day deadline.

On their way back, they must overcome more obstacles—they face storms, more lava (hey, it’s Hawaii), a really long canoe trip, and Lohiau’s former lover, who decides to hitch along with them, and their own newfound feelings for each other. But Hiiaka is true to Pele’s orders to resist all embraces, and she resists Lohiau. By the time they get back to Pele, however, she is so mad and jealous that she summons fire down on them all. Only then, in Pele’s full view does Hiiaka finally give in to her feelings for Lohiau. (Maybe not the smartest move, but let’s cut them some slack—they thought they were about to die.) Fortunately, Hiiaka has a divine goddess-body, so she can’t be killed, but now she’s lost her own lover. (Poor guy’s been going through a lot.) He has to be brought back from the dead again, but at that point, the couple are united at last.

Coming back from Hawaii, I decided to watch more carefully for the wonders in the world I explore on a daily basis. Inspiration and beautiful stories truly are everywhere.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s