The Contemporary Pacific 15.2 (2003) 507-510
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Kalahele, by Imaikalani Kalahele. Honolulu: Kalamaku Press, 2002. ISBN0970959710; 90 pages, figures, notes. Paper, US$9.95.
Utterance always carries the powerful conditions of its speakers and writers. Imaikalani Kalahele's self-named collection of poetry and art, Kalahele, gives utterance the force of an indigenous Pacific voice. The poet sings in mythic songs of friendship and good fellowship, chants of resistance, and rebukes in the utterances of contemporary Hawaiians. Kalahele dances in the rhythm of his ancestors by evoking mythical themes. Kalahele reflects the issues of culture, Hawaiian identity, land alienation, American exploitation, and cultural decolonization. This collection has poetry and art speaking simultaneously, imagining a society [End Page 507] that links the past with the present and the future. The Hawaiian artist and poet mediates between ancestral knowledge and modern influences in a lace of art and poetry that floats on the currents of the Pacific, across the islands and in space.
Most effective is Kalahele's infusion of English, Hawaiian Creole language, and the author's own indigenous language. Some of the poems are short and direct while others are lengthy. The longer poems are arranged in parallel order on a page to give the double emphasis of the poet's vision. The infusion of languages and line arrangement on pages give the work an aesthetic value and a control over utterances that are uniquely Pacific. The freedom the poet takes with arranging words and giving titles in different languages seems insurrectionary in the face of the established norms of traditional western poetry. Kalahele's collection of poetry and art, in which dialogical discourses appear, attests to collective Hawaiian voices struggling against hegemonic control and resonates with the direction taken by many Pacific writers.
The collection affirms the noteworthy emergence of Pacific poetry and art with its own piquancy and aesthetics. Kalahele has been around the Hawai'i and Pacific art and literary scene since the 1980s. He celebrates that maturity in this collection. Kalahele's poetry brings to readers a sense of peace and harmony. Within the flow of calmness, however, is an imminent threat that has settled on the shores of the Pacific. In "Amidst the 'Ohi'a Trees," one hears "a million ancient sounds / of how our lives should be / with peace and dignity" (8). This peace is often disrupted and tainted by globalized forces and activities. In "Paradise," a felicitous poem written in creolized upbeat form, the poet offers wit in perpetuating the imagery of paradise: "Some come / to see / da / beaches and / are awed, / "AH, PARADISE" / so / they come and / fence off / the beaches / to / build their homes / so / they can have / their little piece of / PARADISE / pristine" (34). The image of paradise is exploited by tourism and modern metropolitan practices. Resentment of the commercialized marketing of Pacific Islands in a package that is ideologically disruptive to the Pacific way of life is a persistent theme in the collection. The Pacific is no longer insulated from the gaze of the tourists. In "Huli," Kalahele asks:
Can you hear it?
History singing its sad
The cannons at the
Marines coming over the
Can you hear it?
The Committee of Safety
Armed hooligans threatening our
Imperialism practicing its
Can you hear it?
The cries of a
left to fend in a sea of
lost in their lands and
The collection explores themes of loss, Hawaiian values, imperialism, cultural revival, and resistance. Kalahele [End Page 508] tries to capture moments that were bypassed in the wake of Pacific modernization, especially in Hawai'i. He brings home the feeling that the task is to reclaim some of these values, by reinventing the contemporary experiences of Pacific peoples. In poems such as "It's been a long time . . . ," Kalahele questions what made Hawaiians forget their traditions, myths, songs, language, and cultures: "Was it time that / changed our memory" or "Was it change that / made us forget" (27). Kalahele reflects on and laments the lost tradition. In the poem, "Make Rope," he recalls an old man...