A Bit of History
For about twenty years (starting January 30, 1997), ‘Iokepa Hanalei ‘Imaikalani has been an obedient mo’opuna – grandson. Daily, he has listened for the voices – the direct guidance – of his ancestral Hawaiian Grandmothers. “I hear them as I hear you right now,” he explains to Westerners. Native Hawaiians need no explanation. They know they’d be lost without the direct intervention of loving ancestors.
They know, too, that they are descended from a matriarchal culture. For 12,000 years, those Grandmothers created and enforced a ritual to ensure harmony in the tribe. Via ho’oponopono – a community-based, mediation practice central to their culture – they prevented war. They insisted: “God doesn’t need help taking the lives of our children.”
They birthed children; they grew the tribe; they defined positions of cultural leadership. The men honored their women. The men acknowledged they themselves were half their mothers. They recognized that balance within themselves, their women, and their culture.
And yes, after thousands of those uniquely sane, peaceful, women-inspired years, Hawai’i was conquered in 1320 by a brutal warrior-sect of cousins from Tahiti. The conquerors struck first at the women – cruelly segregating, shaming and demeaning them under a system they called kapu or “forbidden.” The balance was broken. Men lost access to the female within. Wars began.
The Women’s March on Washington
And so, perhaps it needs no more explanation by way of understanding why ‘Iokepa Hanalei ‘Imaikalani could not resist his aboriginal cultural imperative to stand with the half million women, last Saturday, who gathered in Washington, D.C. to reclaim their position, their privilege, and the global necessity to restore the balance.
He carried his home-made sign. It simply read: “Native Hawaiian Men for Wahine.” I cannot put a number on the men and women who, in the blanket of people that covered every inch of central Washington, emerged to ask ‘Iokepa, “What does wahine mean?” (It means women.) Or, who already knew what it meant and wanted conversation. Or, who begged to take a picture with this transparently Native Hawaiian man with his sign. For ‘Iokepa, it was a twelve-hour day of speaking truth about his beloved culture.
I was there because I am a woman who spent so much of her life struggling to claim what was denied – the much-valued daughter after sons, expected to confirm gender stereotype. I literally went to war those many years ago now, to prove that I could. I was already fifty when I met ‘Iokepa and his people, and realized that there was a less combative way to claim my female advantage.
This day was nothing shy of miraculous.
On an ordinary day, my head-cold or my pulled-back muscle would have screamed forcefully to slow me down. It did not. I was a reservoir of energy and smiles.
On an ordinary day, when the Metro train broke down three or four stops before our destination, the mass of humans crammed inside – their walk to the March site lengthened by miles – there would have been (at the very least) moans. There were not. Cheerfully, the train-load marched down the middle of downtown streets – stopping en mass at restaurant bathrooms where we were welcomed with extra toilet paper.
On an ordinary day, despite beginning our trek at 6:00 a.m., and still denied access to either video screen or amplified speakers at 10:00 a.m., we would have had ample reason to complain. No one near me considered the possibility. The sights and sounds from every vantage point and in every moment of this March were entertainment enough.
On an ordinary day, people cutting directly across your path (to where?) would be (at the very least) hissed at. Instead, they were gently waved on. “Excuse me” was rampant; kind touches offered ubiquitously.
On an ordinary day, if we were stuck in one spot next to jiggling bodies navigating trips to nowhere for six or eight hours, there would be loud fights. Hoisted signs blocking views (of what?) would be reason for staged battle. Instead: I hugged and was hugged by dozens of absolute strangers, complimented the originality of hundreds of signs, gave a thumbs up in the direction of innumerable kindred spirits. It was returned in spades.
We chanted with and for each passing passion and cause. This was a gathering of hugely diverse people with impossibly disparate purpose…and yet. We agreed to chant for each other. We agreed to empathy for every different view. We agreed to support community.
Perhaps that is the genuine miracle. For the first time in a very long time, a million good folks from around the globe agreed that it might be time to listen to the sound of women’s unique and powerful voices – and to restore the balance as a prelude to peace