This children’s story is written in Hawaiian pidgin–a mix of Hawaiian, and three or four Asian languages and American English. It was the Lingua Franca of the sugar cane and pineapple plantations of Hawai’i for a hundred years and has almost disappeared. It is written and offered as a humble recognition of the rich oral tradition of those thousands who crossed the ocean to find a new life.
Here is a glossary of Hawaiian words in order of their appearance in the story:
honu – sea turtle; brah – brother; opu – stomach; huhu – angry; makahiki – winter; ohana – family; wahine – woman
Illustration by Robert Mclysaght
Harry Honu opened one sleepy eye to see what was making so much fuss on the beach next to him.
The latest wave was slipping back from the sand leaving a little necklace of foam around something that was wiggling and coughing and…stuff was coming out of its mouth.
“Hey, brah,” Harry called. “You O.K, or what?”
“Not so gud. My opu is huhu wid my mout,”
“Someting you eat, yeah?” Harry asked.
“Nah, I was git sea-sick.”
Harry’s other eye popped open. “Seasick? Wha chu name?”
“Dey call me Elmo.”
Now Harry was a honu and he didn’t run around with the fastest crowd, but he was smart enough to know something was fishy—well, not really fishy—but strange, about a seasick eel.
“Dis da furst time you was ‘sea-sick’, brah?” Harry asked carefully.
“Nah. But taday was worse. Win da makahiki surf come, boy, I take one beating. Trow me dis way and dat.”
“Yeah, I know,” Harry said looking at Elmo to see if maybe he was pupule. “I only come up top for one quick breat in da winta. Den I go back down where wata is more calm.”
“Wish I could do dat.” Elmo was feeling better by now and after a burp or two, which made him frown, he reared up and thrust out his chest. As well as an eel can thrust out its chest. “But wen you one Sea Suppent you no can scare people wen you underneat.
Just then Charley crab sidled up. “ Hey! ’S’up, Dudes,” he asked.
“Elmo here—ees seasick. He just toss hees brekfuss.” Harry watched Charley’s face to see how he would take this news. It was only a second, then Charley began to laugh and he laughed so hard he almost turned himself upside down. And for a crab that can be dangerous.
Harry thought he could see tears of laughter in Charley’s eyes when he could finally speak,
“What kine sick you get brah?” Charley finally managed to ask.
Elmo could see that it was going to be the same old thing. Sea serpents were not supposed to get seasick. Lot these guys know about it, he thought.
“I get seasick wen da wind blow an da wave come beeg. Dey toss me like one net float.” He paused, but then went on when he thought Charley was going to laugh again. “Hey, up and down, man. You know, up and down.”
“Hey, I doan know you, brah,” Charley began. “But you no look like one sea suppent ta me.”
“Yeah,” Harry added quickly. “Hey, I no like hurt you feelings, but you look—well, you look like one eel ta me.”
It was not the thing to say to Elmo. The long fan-like fin on his back sprang up and riffled its way down his spine.
“Hah! Whachu know? You no leev on da reef.”
“Hah, yusef!” Charlie yelled. “I been spen time ova dea. I no see no sea suppents.”
Harry added, “No. I no leev on da reef, brah, but I see plenny eel befo, Who say you was one sea suppent?” .
Elmo was slow to answer. “My fadda,” he finally said. His long fin suddenly collapsing on his back.
“You fadda say you was one sea suppent?” Charlie quizzed.
“What you madda say?” Harry urged.
“She no lik me eider,” Elmo admitted.
“ What kine madda and fadda you got what no lik you, eh?”
There was a long pause. “I no get no madda or fadda,” Elmo finally admitted.
Another wave came in, Charlie sidled quickly away to escape it; Harry pulled his head into his shell. Elmo lay still and allowed the wave to carry him up the beach near where Charlie had stopped.
“So who was teach you den?” the crab asked carefully. “Da reef one tuf place, brah. Plenny scary tings dere—shaaks, squeed, an……”
“Shee!” Elmo interrupted. “Hey, dose tings no scare me. Da gang was what scare me.”
“What’s da ‘gang’? Harry asked as he plodded up so he could hear better.
“All dees mean buggas. Dey all git tagedda and chase all da feesh, all da crab, all everting and make everbody scared dey going hurt ‘em.”
“Dey chase you?” Harry asked as he carefully thought about what he was hearing. All this was very strange to him. Whales lived in pods of more than one, fish had schools of hundreds all alike, but sea turtles spent their entire lives by themselves. And he was not afraid of most other things he met in the sea because his hard shell protected him. He tried hard to understand how Elmo felt about all this. But obviously Elmo needed a family.
“Yah, dey chase an scare me an make me join da gang.”
Elmo was coiling and uncoiling himself on the sand as if to hide one minute and then to protect himself the next.
“An den wat you wen do?”
“Chase and scare udda tings.”
“What dey call demselves?” Harry asked. “Dis gang?”
“Why?” Charlie wanted to know.
“Hey, man! Cus everbody scared da suppents, If I don’t do wat dey say, dey gone feed me to one shaak.”
“So wat you got do?” Harry asked.
“I got bite one feesherman. Den I can be one suppent”
“How you can bite one feesherman? Dey no come to da reef,” Charlie argued.
“Mo betta you bite da kine was feesh wit one spear, I tink,” Harry added.
“Yah. Dat kine guy come inside da wata an go down to da reef,” Charlie agreed.
“Hard to bite dis kine too,” Elmo said. “One time wen I bite one on da foot I no can taste anyting. He had one tough skin dat guy.”
“Not his skin, brah. He was wearing one rabba suit.” Charlie laughed, ”You should see dem try put it on, boy. Ees more funny than watch one fat wahine try body surf.”
“So why you gotta bite one feesherman?” Harry asked.
“So I can be one suppent. I gotta bite one feesherman, den dey let me be a suppent and dey no chase and scare me no more.”
“Den you gotta do all the bad tings they do?” Harry asked.
“Yah! Den I can make dose liddle feesh on da reef run like da dickens.”
“Why you want scare liddle feesh? Dey no do nutting to you!” Charlie scolded.
“So da suppents no chase me!!” Elmo shouted.
It was quiet on the beach for a few moments. Another wave washed up around them as they thought about Elmo’s problem.
“Everbody on da reef afraid of da suppents, yeah?” Charlie asked.
“Everybody but da morays.”
“Why dey not afraid?”
“Dey got shaap teet an dey know how to hide in da cracks in da reef.”
“Open you mout,” Charlie demanded.
And before he could think about the strange request, Elmo opened his mouth and showed all his sharp teeth.
“You got shaap teet an you long an tin so you can go in da cracks in da reef,” Harry said.
“Morays are eels.” Charlie yelled. “Hey! Elmo, you one eel,”
“You shua?” Elmo asked, a puzzled frown on his face.
“ Why you don know dees tings,” Charlie asked.
“Who I gone learn dees tings from?”
“Your mudda an fadda!”
“Dey no teach me notting. Dey liv on some udda reef.”
Elmo was slow to answer, then he blurted: “I was run away.”
“Why you was run away?”
“Allatime dey was boss me.”
“You one dum bugga,” Charlie said.
“How you goan learn who you are wen you leave da ohana?”
“Hey, you one eel, brah,” Harry said. “You got plenny shaap teet and you no need be scared a dose suppent guys.”
“Yah, I tink dey want you to be a suppent cause dey fraid of your sharp teet. Dey don’t want you ta know who you waz.” Charlie said.
“Yah, dey plenny ‘fraid a morays.”
“How I goin learn how to be one eel?”
“Hey, you go back ware you come from,” Harry instructed. “You go see da madda an da fadda on da udder reef. Go see da uncles and da aunties and beeg ohana you doan know about. They goan teach you how to be what you are,” he finished.
“Yah. You one poor sea supent, dat fo sure.”
Elmo looked at both of his new friends then he reared up on his tail, riffled his fin and in a flash slithered into an incoming wave.
Harry watched him go. “Man, he was one doh-doh, yah?” Charlie studied Harry a moment. “Hey, you no get ohana. Who you learn from?” Harry Honu didn’t say anything. “How come you know so much. eh? “ Charlie asked again.
“Hey. Ees instinct, brah,” Harry finally answered.
“Some of us just baan smaat,” he said as a wave came in and lifted him off the sand. “But not everbady lak dat,” The gentle undertow pulled him out to sea. “All da rest gotta pay attention!” he yelled.
Charlie crab ran down to the surf line to ask one more question, but Harry was out of sight, He thought about what the honu had said, but another wave was building so he had to run back.
When Charlie looked again, Harry was way out. The honu gulped a breath of air and then dived down where the wata was more calm, yeah?
Illustration by Robert Mclysaght
Written by Gene J. Parola
Historian Gene J. Parola, retired from Koç University in Istanbul, Turkey and
returned to Hawai’i to delve into Kanaka history. “Lehua, Ka’ao a ka Wahine,” his Prize
Winning Historical Novel, has kept him in research for most of ten years.
Mr. Parola has published two mysteries ‘The Devil to Pay’, based on a Kennedy
assassination theory, and ‘Old Sins, New Sinners’, on his years in the Middle East. He
also has three collections of short stories. He is a long-distance sailor, wood sculptor,
lecturer and grandfather of three. He lives in Hawai’i with his author wife, Shirley Tong Parola.
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