Black crowned night heron © Robert Sommers 2023

Friday, November 13, 2015

Trips, Words and Greetings

One of the things I have honestly learned as I have gotten older is this, to keep your own counsel. People can have problems with certain other people and you can absorb their tsuris by osmosis and it may turn out that the people were perfectly fine! You can waste so much energy buying into other people's issues. I try not to. I find myself getting along just fine with some folks that others abhor.

Bill Kreutzmann, the longtime Grateful Dead drummer, a great drummer in fact, wrote a book which Vlad sort of disliked. I gave it a quick going over at his house and didn't think it was that bad, actually certain parts were pretty darn good not to mention very honest. But on to the story;

Death of Captain Cook
Kreutzmann recounts a passage where he is fishing with a large Hawaiian fellow and gets into the etymology and history of the word haole, a pejorative word for non Hawaiians.

Kreutzmann is told by the locals that the literal translation is "without breath." Apparently the natives that lived in the islands when Cook arrived had carried with them the Polynesian custom of sucking in another's person's breath on greeting.

The newcomers didn't do that, so hence, were without breath.

I thought that this was very interesting and quite intimate really and so I did a little research on some of the odder greeting customs around the globe.

They put knuckles on their foreheads in the Philippines, snap fingers in Benin, place their noses and top lips on someone's cheek and breathe in in Greenland, wave their fists at each other in Niger, stick out their tongue in Tibet, press palms upward to forehead, the wai, in Thailand, Bedouins rub noses, offer snuff bottles in Mongolia, kiss an elder's feet in India, grab a man's nose in Oman, the list goes on and on.

I decided to look into the Hawaiian thing. From Wiki:
The 1865 Dictionary of the Hawaiian Language, complied by Lorrin Andrews, shows the pronunciation as ha-o-le. A popular belief is that the word is properly written and pronounced as hāʻole, literally meaning "no breath," because foreigners did not know or use the honi, a Polynesian greeting by touching nose-to-nose and inhaling or essentially sharing each other's breaths, and so the foreigners were described as breathless. The implication is not only that foreigners are aloof and ignorant of local ways, but also literally have no spirit or life within. [7]

Professor Fred Beckley
St. Chad Piianaia, a Hawaiian educated in England, said the word haole implies thief or robber (from hao, thief, and le, lazy). [7] In 1944, Hawaiian scholar Charles Kenn wrote, "In the primary and esoteric meaning, haole indicates a race that has no relation to one's own; an outsider, one who does not conform to the mores of the group; one that is void of the life element because of inattention to natural laws which make for the goodness in man. In its secondary meaning, haole ... implies a thief, a robber, one not to be trusted. ... During the course of time, meanings of words change, and today, in a very general way, haole does not necessarily connote a negative thought ... The word has come to refer to one of Nordic descent, whether born in Hawaii or elsewhere."[7]
Native Hawaiian Professor Fred Beckley said, "The white people came to be known as ha-ole (without breath) because after they said their prayers, they did not breathe three times as was customary in ancient Hawaii."[7]
Maori hongi with Stephen Harper
I believe that there is a misspelling here, honi is actually a Maori word Hongi but no matter. In any case, this scholar thinks it is all a bunch of hooey.  Adam Keawe Manalo-Camp says that the Hawaiian language doesn't break down that way.
The word "haole" does not mean "without breath". Any one who is familiar with the Hawaiian language, Hawaiian grammar and basic Austronesian linguistics knows that that word can not be broken apart in that way linguistically because 'ole can not made ro create an elison (slurred with the preceding word). 'Ole consists of four letters (' + o + l + e), begins with a consonant (') and the stress is on the 'o. Pau'ole (end-less) for example is never pronounced as "Paule" by manaleo or native speakers of Hawaiian. Without getting heavy into piliʻōlelo (Hawaiian grammar), elisons in Hawaiian are only created by two vowels and mostly occurs when a preceding definite article (ka/ke/nā) is followed by a noun that begins with a or e. 
Adam seems to know of what he speaks. I will try to reserve judgement. In addition he traces the negative attributes of the word to American missionaries.
I personally think that one of the reasons why the missionaries were called "haole" had nothing to do with the way they prayed (as the urban legend goes) or they being "breath less" but due to historical and mythological references associating the term "haole" with those who speak a foreign language or "leo pahaohao" as the mele inoa of Kuali'i does. Native Hawaiians did not make the term "haole" into negative racial slur. It was actually the descendants of American missionaries who first began to turn "haole" into a pejorative term because of politics. The concept of "race" as we know it today did not exist in the Hawaiian world view 200 years ago. 
This subject brought my mind to another subject. There is another long time linguistic controversy about the sections in the bible where people would apparently grab each other's balls when swearing an oath. Supposedly the latin roots of the word testify lay closely wedded to testes, and well, you can fill in the dots.
 “So the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master and swore to him concerning this matter.” Genesis 24.9
You will often read the translation as putting one's hand under the other's loin in such an oath making. This man believes it has to do with the transmission of the seed of Israel.

Judaism views the meaning of the ritual a bit differently, as in submitting to a higher authority. According to Rabbi Ibn Ezra, the phrase “under the thigh” means literally that. For someone to allow his hand to be sat on was a sign of submission to authority. If this is the symbolism, then Joseph was showing his obedience to his father by placing his hand under Jacob’s thigh.

Don't know your feelings on the matter but I would think you would definitely get somebody's attention when you had the family nutsack firmly in grasp.

Enoch translating
Speaking of the bible and words, did you know that Enoch didn't die, he translated? Although I have discussed this recently with several christian friends who were well acquainted with the usage, it was certainly new to me.
By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. Hebrews 11:5 KJV
The Character and Translation of Enoch - John James 1852

Such an odd word for expiring, to be translated.

Who was Enoch, you may ask? Enoch was the son of Jared, the father of Methuselah, and the great-grandfather of Noah.  Enoch lived 365 years before he took his trip.

Dithmarus Blefkenius in his 1607 tome Islandia, reported that the native Icelandic girls liked to ply visitors to their shores with gratis sexual favors, a sort of nordic welcome wagon. Beats gravlax.


island guy said...

Thanks for the comments by Adam Keawe Manalo-Camp. Very interesting and something I never heard during my 23 years there. Makes me proud of UH, my alma mater. One theme for me of recent years has been understanding how much I was taught or came to believe in was factually incorrect. This seems to be an example of that.

Blue Heron said...

I agree with you. Need to constantly vet our assumptions and sources.