Sunday, November 23, 2008

Step by step to Guge

Guge? Never heard of it until early this morning.

Michael Wood's documentary (BBC) aired on PBS and caught my attention. Somehow, the sight of solitary people walking through deserts (and mountains) has always captured me (re: Kwai Chang Cain in Kung Fu, circa 1976?).

My understanding of Buddhist history is scant, but in this place tucked away in Western Tibet is a place that once was home to 100,000 people. Almost impossible to imagine. It's in a mountainous desert. Dry. Bone dry. Not a fertile valley in sight.

But the story of Guge's prominence as a key trading post and bridge to India's Buddhist scholars is very intriguing. No, I don't believe in Buddha. But the history and how the Chinese came to both destroy its amazing relics, then go beyond the call to preserve what still remains, is perplexing. Those wacky Chinese and their kooky Cultural Revolution. Talk about a lack of tolerance.

But as for Guge, Michael Buckley has much to say about it in this excerpt from his 2002 book, Heartlands: Travels in the Tibetan World.

The tiny bit of research I've done doesn't satisfy me: 1. Where did the descendants of the Guge people go when they were violently driven from their homes? Who are they today? 2. Was there any lasting impact of the Catholic church built there by Andrade in the 1600s?

To think that the Catholic church drove a wedge between neighbors in that region and caused a war is not shocking. But to think that nobody lives there -- no Buddhists, no Catholics -- is really a mystery.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Revisiting theories about Menehune

The more I read, the more it seems the legend of Menehune is more of a fabrication to to downplay the reality of ancient Hawaii: politics.

Work, work, work. Things have been busy and fun with the state tournaments. I was absolutely exhausted by Saturday night, not to mention drenched thanks to the Punahou players who missed their coach (Eric Kadooka) and got most of me drenched. On top of the sniffles I had that night, it was perfect timing for a big bowl of seafood ramen at nearby Ezogiku. I may sound like a shill for that place, but that seafood ramen is so awesome. I hold it up to other great local ramen like Tenkaippin's kotteri ramen and Taiyo Ramen's miso ramen (not so spectacular, but priced right and perfect in combination with the best gyoza in Hawaii.)

Anyway, I need a distraction when things get this busy, and ever since seeing Kalalau Valley on Kauai a couple of years ago, I can't seem to get Menehune out of my brain. Sure, the image of little people running around in the cover of nightfall, building spectacular fishponds and bridges and heiau has always been part of our local folklore. But it wasn't long ago when I read that one of the translations of the name "menehune" was "lower-class" commoners. In other words, they may not have been dwarfish at all. Hmm.

The "Lost Tribe" of Kalalau Valley feeds the imagination of visitors and locals alike, but the notion that they were little people isn't so strong on Kauai. In fact, the 1920 census notes that there were 65 residents listed as Menehune. Was this a separate ethnic group altogether? I've always believed that there's no land of peace. China grew to an enormous size through war, despite the notion that they were a civilized (true) kingdom of peace for millennia. Even in peace, they had warlords.

No different in Hawaii. The early settlers from the Marquesas Islands were not exactly best buddies with newcomers from Tahiti. Of course there were battles for the most fertile land, water (as always) and labor. It's the way of the world. Big fish eats the little fish. I think the Marquesans were pushed further up the island chain, all the way into Kalalau Valley. Though the census listed only 65 "Menehune" (known as manahune in the Tahitian language) in 1820, Kauai folks tell me there were about 200 of them during that century living in Kalalau. The place is pristine, green and water is everywhere.

Put 2 and 2 together, and it makes sense. There were no elfish people out there. It was purely political. It was war and the winners conquered. The losers moved on.

Katherine Luomala, a folklorist, contends that the legends of the Menehune are a post-European contact myth and didn't exist before Captain Cook arrived. Politics? The famous Alekoko fishpond, a.k.a. Menehune fishpond (I've been there and it's enormous!), wasn't built by Menehune. It was built overnight by commoners on the order of the chief, just as a similar pond was built on Oahu back in the day.

As a kid, I always thought of Menehune as a magical, mysterious people. But as it is with everything else in the real world, the truth is embedded with war, suffering and the awful whims of those who abuse their power.

Contact with the outside world didn't matter. Hawaii and all its treasures were always destined to be warred over. They're fighting over water rights on Maui and Windward Oahu. I can only imagine how much they fought over water during the pre-contact times.

The Menehune possibly had it good, after all. Nobody went across the thick forest of Kauai to bother them up in Kalalau Valley. I'd like to know, now that it's apparent that all of the Lost Tribe eventually assimilated into society, who they were and what kind of names they had.

They had their own language, even grew their hair long, according to one account. I want to know more.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A society of voyagers

Dennis Kawaharada's writings about Polynesian voyaging is as broad and easy to read as any I've found on the web. On the Polynesian Voyaging Society site, he writes extensively about migration from the Marquesas Islands to Hawaii. The map of Polynesia comes in handy, too. I often forget where Samoa and Tonga are in relation to Tahiti and the Marquesas.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Screw the cover-ups

I am not Okinawan, but I'm glad the governor there stands up for his people. Imperialism, "nationalism" and all isms that are dishonest don't have a place in today's world. Not when information flows so freely and lies only last so long. Japan may have conquered Okinawa a few centuries ago, and Japanese culture permeates the islands ... but there's something about island people that won't allow their history to be buried. Ever.

From Wikipedia

2007 passage change on forced World War II suicides
Japan orders history books to change passages on forced suicides during World War II.[11] In June 2007, the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly officially asked the Ministry of Education of Japan to retract its instruction to downplay the military's role in mass suicide in Okinawa in 1945.[12] More than 100,000 people in Okinawa rallied against the text book changes at the end of September. According to the Kyodo News agency, it was the biggest staged rally on the island since its 1972 return to Japanese rule. Okinawa governor Hirokazu Nakaima spoke to the crowds, commenting that the Japanese military's involvement in the mass suicides should not be forgotten.[13]

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Polynesians discovered South America

Don't believe it? The evidence is here.

DNA from chicken bone shows Polynesians 'found' South America

A chicken bone has provided anthropologists with the strongest evidence yet to suggest that Polynesians sailed to South America before the discovery of the New World by Europeans.

Speculation that Polynesians may have settled in South America, however, is not grounded.


Genetic studies of modern South Americans have not uncovered any signs of Polynesian ancestry. But this is not surprising, says Matisoo-Smith. Ancient Polynesians were great explorers, but tended to settle only in uninhabited islands.

This discovery may tie in to the longstanding question of how sweet potato, which originated in South America, found a new home in Polynesia. If Polynesians brought chickens to South America, why wouldn't they bring back the sweet potato — the only Polynesian starch or vegetable that did not originate in Asia. This article was written in 2004.

BBC: The Mystery of the Sweet Potato

The islands of Polynesia have long been a source of mystery and speculation for armchair scientists. The origin of the Easter Island statues, the abandonment of the so-called 'Mystery Islands' and the ultimate origins of the Polynesian people are some of the more well-known. However, perhaps the greatest mystery of them all is that of the sweet potato.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Tao tribesmen take back the ocean

I hear much about migration in Polynesia. But what about Southeast Asia? Even the general region of "Asia" conjures up images of Japan to most westerners. Even a good friend of mine refers to Japan as Asia, and I had to remind him that Asia covers the mass of land from west of India all the way to Nihon. Yes, it's easy to forget something like that here in Hawaii, where our main Asian influences come from Japan, China and Korea, and more so in recent decades, the Philippines.

Yes, the P.I. are part of Asia. (I know a lot of folks who refuse to see it that way, and most of those doubters have roots in East Asia.)

It's also important to remember that Austronesians, the predecessors of the Polynesians, set down their roots in places we don't think of as "native." Try Taiwan, where aborigines have lived for thousands of years. One tribe, the Tao, are trying to reconnect with their relatives in the northern part of the Philippines.

Ipanga na and tails and tales of Flying Fish

[Tao] tribesmen constructed a traditional boat (ipanga na; they haven’t built one in over 100 yrs) and made a voyage from Lanyu (Orchid Island) to [Taitung] … in preparation for their voyage back to Batanes [the northernmost and the smallest province of the Philippines] in order to keep [a] tradition from completely dying. … [No] one alive has ever made the trip, but some of the elders still have the oceanic knowledge of the “black current” that runs between Taiwan and [the Philippines] (which is how them used to travel between the 2 islands!) So this journey is very important for them in order to keep the connections alive!

Truly exciting stuff here. It appears, in my limited reading about the native people of Taiwan, that there is fairly good relationship between tribes and the recent invasion of mainland Chinese. How far did the Tao and their cousins in the Austronesean circle travel a thousand, 10,000 years ago? Did they travel further north?

There are some keen similarities in art and ceremonial clothing when you observe the natives of Southeast Asia and the native North Americans. It boggles the imagination.

Carbon dating in Polynesia

Searching for an online map of the South Pacific, I came across this nice piece about recent findings regarding migration.

Jan TenBruggencate: Researcher say east Polynesia settled later

Polynesia migration map

For me, learning about Polynesian migration is something that began back in elementary school. But the deeper question still arise: Before they left New Guinea and the Solomons, where did Polynesia's ancestors hail from?

Anyone who tells me that they came from Asia may be right. The original settlers of East Asia were darker-skinned. Call them Ainu or whatnot, but they roamed through Taiwan, Okinawa and Japan. So where did they originate from? The aborigines of Australia. Can anyone honestly say they aren't, in all probability, African in heritage?

Some folks don't like to hear it, as I find, but the truth is that the evidence is becoming clearer that we all have a common ancestor from Africa. Look at the people of Fiji, New Guinea and East Africa. Listen to the rhythms and harmonies in song of Samoa and Africa. Look at the art and food. There are too many similarities to discount the root connection. As researchers find more and more evidence through carbon dating, I believe we will find more and more proof that it all goes back to Africa.