Keoni and I make a running joke about his age—not because he’s incredibly old (though of course that’s the joke), but because he was in college when I was born… So I tease him that when he used to carry girls’ books after school, they were clay tablets… Or that his birth certificate was chiseled in stone…
Maybe my teasing sparked an idea, because he recently picked up some pieces of sandstone that have been piled in a roadside heap since the dismantling of a wall at the entrance to our neighborhood. He started looking up traditional Hawai’ian petroglyphs, and next thing he was playing with his dremel tool and carving into his sandstone squares.
In Hawai’i you can find petroglyphs (literally, “rock-pictures”) near sites of old villages, around the volcano, or the sacred grounds of heiaus. I’ve always enjoyed the fact that they aren’t cordoned off or marked out like museum-pieces; you can just be poking around a lava flow and realize you’re standing on a story… The petroglyphs (or, to use the Hawai’ian term, ki’i pohako) tell stories about the sea life and plant life of the islands, family and social relationships, birth and magic and food and sport (Hawai’ians invented surfing, of course)… As a writer, I’ve always felt a special affinity for these enduring image-stories.
We’re both familiar with many of the traditional petroglyphs—hunters and fisherman, canoe paddlers and boats, and of course the honu (turtle) outline that’s all over the merchandise in tourist shops. I hadn’t realized until he started researching, though, that there’s a petroglyph for the owl, my own totem. So the owl was his first carving, followed by a pair of paddlers in memory of my Hawai’ian friend Al (an outrigger canoe steersman, whom I wrote about last year on the anniversary of his death).
He went on to make a pair of carvings for the two youngest kids, each one representing a family name we use for them. I nick-named Christian “Turtle” when I was pregnant with him and didn’t know know his gender, so honu is the obvious choice for him. Keoni carved a sandstone version, and then another on a circle cut from a gourd, which he put on a braided cord for a necklace.
Elena Grace was trickier to match with a design, but she’s been a “monkey” since I first saw the movie Curious George… She was two years old and so exactly like George that I jokingly began to call her by that name when Christian and I came home from the theater. I didn’t anticipate the repercussions, though. For a month or two afterward, she insisted on being called George, persistently referred to herself as “Jooj,” and wouldn’t answer at all to her given name! If I felt ridiculous about the incredulous looks I got when I addressed her as “George” in public (because she wouldn’t acknowledge any other form of address)—well, I guess it was my own doing…
She was also born in a Year of the Monkey, which she particularly celebrates because she has that in common with Keoni. They’re the Monkey-Twosome of the family… But sadly for us, Hawai’i doesn’t have endemic monkeys, and therefore no monkey-petroglyph in the traditional line-up. No matter, though—we made up our own, adding a tail to the conventional “man” symbol.
The kids were thrilled with their carvings, and I got even more of a kick out of Elena Grace’s determination to try her hand at carving herself. She went through the stack of index cards on which Keoni had drawn different petroglyphs, picked out “bird,” and after a quick demonstration of the tool, went to work on a piece of sandstone. Maybe that one is for the chickens we’ll be adopting soon.
We have a pile of sandstone left, so the carvers are still at it. We’re thinking of pua’a (wild pig) for Kapena, since he’s so passionate about his “pigskin” (football)… Now we just need to figure out the other four kids, and the three grandkids, and we’ll have the whole family line-up in story-stones.