1. n. A lowland tree (Hibiscus tiliaceus) [. . .]
2. nvs. Cool . . . ice . . . dew, snow . . . a cool breeze [ . . .]
4. [. . .] to offer, as a sacrifice or prayer.
Hau wawā ka nahele. A din in the forest. The twentieth-century ‘Ōiwi (Indigenous Hawaiian) ethnographer Mary Kawena Pukui (1983, 59) explained that this proverb references “rumors and gossip abroad”—the kind circulating before the #hautalk hurricane hit this summer and an anthropological hau wawā (medley of simultaneous talking) ensued. In crafting a response to Paige West’s prompt for this series, I heed Zoe Todd’s call for a “decolonial (re)turn in anthropology” that reckons with the discipline’s coloniality, of which the latest example is the journal HAU’s appropriation of the Māori idea of hau through the work of Marcel Mauss. I have considered the questions posed by the Mahi Tahi collective to the leadership of HAU (and all anthropologists) as to how or whether they “meaningfully engage with contemporary discussions and understandings of this Māori concept,” think about “the systematic mispronunciation of the word,” and hope to foster “mutually beneficial relationships . . . with Māori scholars and communities.” I note also Mahi Tahi’s insistence that “decolonizing . . . means challenging the hierarchies of knowledge that systematically exclude” Black, Indigenous, and other scholars of color.
As an ‘Ōiwi anthropologist with multiple connections to my Māori cousins, I enact here a decolonial return that looks to the layered conceptions of Hawaiian hau (which relate to, yet differ from, those of Māori) as a source for regenerating anthropologies. I use regenerating (as a gerund and an adjective) and anthropologies (in the plural) to signal the new forms of anthropological practice and life that can be produced at this juncture, as well as the regenerative potential that such anthropologies hold for the genealogical work carried out by those envisioning Indigenous futurities.
Hau first visited me when I was a young boy, long before I knew its name as the cool wind and morning dew that frequented my grandfather’s house in Kula, Maui. I came to know hau in its snow form while I was an undergraduate at Dartmouth College, majoring in anthropology and Native American studies. It was there that I experienced the hau of being offered up as a sacrificial other on the anthropological altar when I was made to speak for “my” people in a class on the Pacific. As easy as it would have been to quit, I had a kuleana (relational responsibility) that stemmed from my grandmother’s graduation gift—a salvage ethnography coauthored by Mary Kawena Pukui that carried Grandma’s inscription: “Ty—Please save this book for our family.” Years later, I have come to see that charge as one of saving/salvaging anthropology in order to strengthen our mo‘okū‘auhau (genealogy). As a haumāna (student) in the anthropology graduate program at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, I came to know the hau tree through my personal and scholarly engagement with the Hale Mua Hawaiian men’s group, which trained in the throwing, dodging, and catching of ‘au hau (spears made of hau wood; see Tengan 2008).
My involvement in ‘Ōiwi repatriation and reburial efforts revealed another definition of ‘auhau as the term for the femur and humerus bones, which led to deeper reflections on the role that iwi (bones) play in the genealogical articulation of ‘Ōiwi identity. I teach anthropology students a further meaning of ‘auhau—the tributes or taxes collected during the precolonial (and contemporary) ceremonies that take place during the Makahiki, or Hawaiian New Year. While anthropological debates have raged over the meaning of Captain James Cook’s arrival and death (and the final disposition of his bones) in Hawai‘i during and after the Makahiki, Hawaiian language scholar and education specialist Kalehua Krug has initiated community discussions on the significance of genealogical stories found in Hawaiian-language newspapers, positing them as ‘auhau left by the ancestors as resources for current generations’ efforts to regenerate the Hawaiian nation.
Cordage made from the ‘ili hau (inner bark of the hau tree) is one of the valuables given as ‘auhau. I developed a special intimacy with the material when I assisted master craftsman ‘Umi Kai in a hau cordage workshop that he offered as part of the Hale Mua Initiative, a three-year project of the ‘Aha Kāne that aimed to equip Hawaiian men with cultural strategies for strengthening families, improving well-being, and combating high rates of suicide in their communities. I saw this as an extension of my ethnographic and personal kuleana. For Kai, it was about giving our men a more holistic (anthropological?) experience that involved traditional learning practices of observation (as they watched him demonstrate), cooperation (as they paired off to collect the hau branches), and perpetuation (as the learners quickly became teachers). The men used their finished product to create carrying nets for food calabashes to be used in a ceremony that symbolically proclaimed a hale hau, traditionally a healing house made of hau wood and tied with hau cordage. The new life flowing from the hale hau also comes from the mana (spiritual power) of Haumea, the goddess of childbirth from whom all ‘Ōiwi descend.
What sort of anthropological house might we rebuild and bind with hau? I can’t say that all of our workshops produced the results we wanted; men in our first workshop found our process (and specifically my own involvement) too “academic,” and access to hau on settler state-controlled land was limiting. In responding to these critiques, we were able to develop a better process for the next sessions. Men came to speak of the strong communal and cultural ties, carrying relationships and sustenance, that they secured in making the hau cordage nets. It may be that the master’s tools won’t dismantle the master’s house, but perhaps those tools, when taken up by Indigenous hands and using materials (such as hau) with which we share a kinship, can help to build new houses that not only heal the wounds of colonialism but also work to imagine new possibilities for Indigenous life in the future. This prayer I hau.
Pukui, Mary Kawena. 1983. ‘Ōlelo No‘eau: Hawaiian Proverbs and Poetical Sayings. Honolulu: Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum.
Tengan, Ty P. Kāwika. 2008. Native Men Remade: Gender and Nation in Contemporary Hawai‘i. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.