Monday, August 16, 2010
Na Pua O Ka Honua - The Flowers of the Earth
Bird of Paradise flower
That was a line from a mele that was being taught at the Bishop Museum the day I was there, along with a seated hula to the song. I wish I could remember just one hula from beginning to end - I learned a few when I was a kid, but for some reason my peculiar mind selected single lines from a number of mele (mele being the song, hula being the dance) as the bits to hang onto so that's what I have - fragments. Seems that "Na pua o ka honua" just got added to the clutter, in there with "Ia o'e e ka la, e aloha mele", "lilo a e lalo e, hele ai", "i ka pa he olo, eh he a ha!" and a lot of other bits & pieces. Sigh. Anyways, the hula that was being taught at the Bishop Museum was a simple one in praise of the some of the beautiful things in Hawai'i - the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and the flowers of the land - na pua o ka honua - and since today's post is just beautiful Hawaiian flowers (because I wanted to get back into the Hawaii posts but I had pesto to make & cleaning to do so needed to keep it simple) I thought that would be a good title.
With a couple of exceptions, most of these were just growing here & there in my hometown of Aiea during the very full and happy day I spent there and I thought that they'd make a pretty, pretty post.
This was one of the exceptions - this grows on the shore, and Aiea is inland. If you went through my turtle gallery, you've already been introduced both to the flower & to the legend, which I think I first heard a basic version of from my dad on a hike to Kaena Point. There's a closely related species, the mountain naupaka, which looks a good bit different from the beach naupaka except for identical cut-in-half looking blossoms. There are a different versions of the legends - some involve the unbreakable divisions between the classes, some bring in Pele in a role very similar to the one she plays in the story of Ohia & Lehua (which appears a few pictures down), but the main theme is that of the eternal star-crossed lovers - who in Hawaii are both turned into half-flowers, eternally apart, one in the mountains & one by the shore.
These ones are magenta but they come in every color of the sunset. We had a big one with white flowers in the lower terrace of the backyard when I was a kid, and when we were were making lei for visitors, we would sometimes make especially beautiful ones when the bougainvillea had enough flowers - you would string them through the side & sort of squish 'em down the thread as you went along & you ended up with this round & fluffy-looking lei. You would need a WHOLE lot of flowers for one lei, though, so I think we kept this to extra-special visitors like grandparents!
These are EVERYWHERE in Hawai'i - that's why you see 'em on all the aloha shirts! We and the neighbors up the hill had a hedge of great big pink ones - the hedge was so thick that when I was little, I used pruning shears to make myself a little playhouse inside the hedge, where my friends and I would pretend to be squirrels or sparrows or some such cute little animals. There was something very silly we'd do with the flowers, too - I'll tell you about that tomorrow! ;D
Another common hedge plant - this one you didn't play with though, it's pretty but it's deadly, deadly poison. Hawai'i doesn't have the poison ivy, oak, or sumac that's such a itchy hassle for East Coast hikers & gardeners, but it's sure got all kinds of plants that'll kill you "maka-die-dead" (Hawaiian pidgin for really, truly dead) if you accidentally eat them. My mom had an article that she'd clipped from the Star-Bulletin about the worst of them & I think it was there that I read a terrible story about a family who went camping, decided to have a weenie roast one night & had the literally grave misfortune to cut their weenie sticks from an oleander bush. They may have been tourists, most locals would know better. Adding a note much, much later: Wow, according to Snopes, this death-by-oleander story is an urban legend.
Another exception to the Aiea rule - these were growing on the Iolani campus, my old school, where I went & walked around for an enjoyable hour or so. My folks planted six or seven of these in the backyard of the house I grew up in on Kaonohi St. & these were the main flowers we used for leimaking - they work wonderfully for a straight stringing, having these inch-long tubular bases that you can string onto your needle & thread like beads. The bougainvillea lei were maybe more visually exciting (although we had plumerias in pink, white, and one tree that bore deep, deep red flowers - there were never enough of the red to make a whole lei but we'd make some very pretty ones alternating pinks & whites with reds as accents), and also a little more long lasting than the more tender plumeria flowers, but oh, the plumerias smelled like heaven. I picked up one that had fallen on the ground at Iolani & walked back to the car (parked a couple of blocks away) with my nose buried in it. Sweet sweet sweet.
Taken on the 4-mile Aiea Loop Trail, this is the tree that I'd mentioned had a well-known story of Pele attached. Ohia & Lehua were young lovers, but it was their misfortune that one day Pele saw the handsome young Ohia & fell in love with him. He was true to beautiful Lehua, though, and turned Pele down. In her fury at being spurned, she turned him into a gray & gnarled tree on the mountain - but after she calmed down again & realized what a terrible thing she had done to the young couple, she regretted what she'd done. She couldn't turn Ohia back into a man - but she turned Lehua into the beautiful red flower that blooms on the Ohia tree to this day - the tree is the Ohia, the flower the Lehua, and together they are Ohia-Lehua. This one must have been near the end of the blooming season, but even seeing one of the lovely flowers reminded me of the story, so I took the picture so I could share it here. They say that if you pick the Lehua, it will rain - tears of the parted lovers - but people still pick them to make lei that are far more lovely than anything we ever made from the flowers in our backyard.
In some tellings, it was the other gods who turned poor Lehua into a flower, but I think I like the version where Pele has remorse & does what she can when she can't undo what she's done.
The Ohia-Lehua is involved in at least one other very well-known legend, the story of Pele, Pele's little sister Hi'iaka & Lohi'au, another mortal love of Pele's - but this post has already gotten longer than I planned so if you are curious, go Google it (but I will add, hoping that it's not disrepectful to say so, that Hi'iaka is the coolest goddess-variety little sister ever).
Another non-Aiea photo - there were plenty in Aiea, they thrive in Hawaii, and this one happened to be growing somewhere along the hike that runs along the Old Pali Road. Word to the wise - if you ever find yourself at the Pali Lookout - walk down the old road that leads off along the cliff to the right. Read the sign that warns you about the falling rocks & says not to go any further. Acknowledge in your mind that rocks may indeed fall - and then, if you're not feeling particularly unlucky, keep going. It's a beautiful hike, and an easy one.
Last but not least - Na Pua O Ka La!
Ok, ok...really, it's a sunflower. I just made up a Hawaiian name for it, Na Pua O Ka La, the Flower of the Sun. Don't go there & call it that though, "sunflower" doesn't appear in either the online dictionaries or even the Judd-Pukui-Stokes Introduction to the Hawaiian Language I have here at home!
But it was growing in the splendid Ala Wai Community Gardens near my high school & I just couldn't resist closing this flower post with this skyscraper-topping beauty & that funny little water-jug skeleton scarecrow!
And That's It! All Pau with Na Pua!
I have to say, today's post got into MUCH more of a kid's-eye view of things than I started out. Also lots longer. If you enjoyed this at all, I think you'll love tomorrow's - An Even MORE Kid's-Eye View Of Assorted Hawaiian Flora, or, Plants to Play With.
If you hated it - come back in a couple of days, I'm back on the total small-kid time Hawaii nostalgia kick, but I should get back to my normal NYC waterfront fun soon - certainly next week Monday when (knock wood, God willin' and the Coney Island Creek don't rise) I hope hope HOPE to have a Yellow Submarine trip report!
Writer's note, 4/3/2013 - Comments closed due to spam. I love spam in onolicious musubi or slivered into saimin, but it's a total drag in the comments box!