A Haole Native
© by Jo Danieli
(excerpt from a letter written to a Hawaiian kumu)
Dear Kumu X,
Lately, during research for a documentary on Hawaiian spirituality, I have faced several times the question
of whether or not a haole could ever have a sense for native Hawaiian spirituality and culture.
Really, a sense for it, apart from just knowing about it intellectually.
Have we, the haole, really no clue about what it means to be "native?" Isn't everybody "native" somewhere,
where his or her ancestors lived and he or she was born?
Carinthia, where I come from, in Austria, has a distinct "native" culture. Austria is part of Europe, and
therefore definitely haole land. We, the Carinthians, descend from certain Celtic tribes with all the Druid
magic etc. We have excavations and fascinating mother-earth cults (Noreia) right where I come from.
Now, our language, the typical Carinthian dialect, can be barely understood by people from Germany, just
like most of the other dialects in Austria. Some Austrian dialects can't even be understood by other
Austrians who live only 80 miles away!
There hasn't been a written form of the Carinthian language in the native dialect: Ka(e)rntnarisch,
until some decades ago, when some poets began to write in Mundoat, which means "the way of the
mouth." Now there are attempts to create dictionaries of Carinthian before it's lost completely. Why? The
business life is taking over, people leave the countryside where nobody can survive any more (except big
land owners with big farms producing for big businesses) and go to the towns where the usual language is
However, many people of the younger generations protest against the loss of our native language and customs
and rebelliously speak our dialect at work and at the University.
At school, all Austrians - who ALL speak dialects at home - are forced to speak and write the so-called
"high-German" language! Carinthian dialect isn't even an option in any school as a teaching subject. You
answer the teacher at school in high-German, but you speak the dialect with your classmate as soon as you
have a moment to whisper. And when I was a first-grader, we were punished for speaking dialect at school.
Now it's still forbidden in some schools at some levels of education, but I don't think there is real
punishment. When I was young, though, we were beaten and our hair was pulled, and yes, by priests too.
Don't forget - we are still talking about "haole" culture here.
Every year Carinthia has thousands and thousands of tourists, because it's a special "magical" place in
Austria, famous for it's climate and the lovely countryside with many lakes and mountains and the
still-living indigenous traditions like dance, special food, and knowledge of the healing use of herbs. We
have so much "superstition" going on still that there isn't one family in the countryside who doesn't have
elders who still make big eyes and say "hush" when you - as a grown-up researcher - try to inquire about the
old ways. I grew up with mysteries and legends that would be familiar to every Hawaiian elder. I knew things
that we were forbidden to talk about in public. We did things that were never spoken of and that other
people would perhaps be fearful of.
When I was a child, tourists wanted to take pictures with me, because I was a "Carinthian." I gathered
flowers because I like to, and when tourists saw this, they would buy my flowers. When we showed up in our
Tracht, native clothes, very distinct for every province in Austria, we were photographed all the
time. We would wear those clothes only at certain
occasions: native traditional feasts where we sang old (and I mean old) Carinthian songs in
Carinthian language and would dance our old folk dances.
Well, I am a haole. We have many sacred places, also known as power
places, that few people know about, and where people come to find healing and empowerment. We have magical
springs that heal all kinds of things, from eye sores to insanity, and I know people who are still secretly
"used" by official therapists because they can "magically" do things like make blood-flow cease - from
hundreds of miles away. And because they are clairvoyant or can "pray away" disease.
Still, this is haole culture. Many sacred places are now Christian places of
worship ... but many aren't. When I grew up, every rock in the forest on my
grandparents' farm had a name and a certain meaning. The trees talked to my brother and me, and I would
never get tired of observing rainclouds and rain.
The magical animal I grew up with was the fire-salamander, a black and yellow lizard that would always
appear at certain occasions, and I could tell you stories that you would barely believe about me and the
lizards. The day when my dog was run over by a car, I met five such lizards in half an hour, whereas usually
you see one in a year. And it happened in a forest where I had never been before.
Even though I am "only haole" I know about haipule and kukulu kumuhana from my Carinthian
I will never claim to "know Hawaiian culture." I come from being touched by the fate of the Hawaiians and
being fascinated by Hawaiian customs and personality. I don't claim to "be an expert," since I am only
observing. But I do claim to be able to make a film that provides the world with meaningful information
about the native Hawaiian culture and its intersection with other
cultures that could be very reflective of other peoples and their issues. And I absolutely trust that I will
find the right people to share their mana'o in the documentary, because I use MY NATIVE inheritance
to do the right thing.
Copyright Huna International 2006