Carroll’s IZ: Lumpy Poi Cocktail.
Rick Carroll, IZ: Voice of the Hawaiian People, Bess Press, 2006.
A review by Kīhei de Silva.
Rick Carroll wrote Iz: Voice of the Hawaiian People while battling cancer. He said he had to write fast, “just in case.” The book got finished and Carroll prevailed, but he and his editors did little afterwards to undo the effects of his haste. Nor did they curb his predilection for overstatement. The result is a lumpy poi cocktail. Tasty enough, in a tapioca pudding kind of way, but far from the ideal ‘uo‘uo a ka Hawai‘i.
Carroll’s haste is evident in matters small and not so small. On the small side, his text is sprinkled with Hawaiian language errors and inconsistencies that have no business in a forty-buck publication. A more careful visit with Kawena Pukui mā would have yielded the correct orthography for Kawika, hanai, Makua, Alalakeiki, hene hene, aka, luau, panini, Pokai, keia la, himeni, and na ‘anela. Basic proof-reading by a Hawaiian language speaker would have undone the painfully howlee strains of hula hālau and a hui hou aku nou. And an equally basic review of song titles would have set right the Kau Ohu of Lena Machado’s “Kauoha Mai.”
Larger inaccuracies undermine Carroll’s credibility as an analyst of Hawaiian music and culture. He identifies Kalākaua as the author of “Kāwika” and describes the Sunday Mānoa version of the mele as opening with the “rustling beat of the Hawaiian ipu.” He glosses “No ke Ano Ahiahi” as an “imaginary trip around America by a Hawaiian man who knew land only as an island.” He explains that lei ‘ilima are “reserved for royalty.” He classifies the people of Ni‘ihau as “patriarchal” and “descended from the highest bloodlines of the original Hawaiian settlers.” He describes the Kamakawiwo‘ole residence in Kaimukī as a “clapboard plantation house.” He speaks of Eddie Kamae’s contribution to the renaissance of Hawaiian music as “collecting songs from country folks in Waimānalo, Ka‘a‘awa, and Ka‘ū.” And he says that the Mākaha Sons of Ni‘ihau were such in-your-face-Hawaiians that they never bothered to introduce themselves in Sons of Hawai‘i fashion: “We are the Sons of Hawai‘i, and we are Hawaiian.”
Carroll is a journalist, an old newspaper man for whom the practice of information-checking should be second nature. His publisher, Bess Press, prides itself in releasing high-quality Hawaiian language resource and cultural materials. But neither passes muster in IZ. What was the big deal here? What kept Carroll and Bess from giving the manuscript to a couple of careful and knowledgeable readers?
But there is an even bigger deal to address: that of Carroll’s penchant for overstatement. When he wants to make a big point – usually about the history of Hawaiian music and Israel’s place at its apex as the “voice of the people” – Carroll tends to deliver his arguments in inflate-and-ignore fashion. Inflate the importance; ignore the pesky details. Honolulu Star Bulletin critic John Berger observes, for example, that Carroll overstuffs Iz’s resume by identifying him as a pioneer in the Hawaiian sovereignty movement and calling him “the Hawaiian Bob Marley”:
"It’s true that the Mākaha Sons of Ni‘ihau’s recording of “Hawaii ‘78,” written by Mickey Ioane, was one of the first modern songs with a Hawaiian nationalist message, but neither the Sons nor IZ personally stepped forward for the cause in the way that other artists did. . . None of that diminishes the sincerity or impact of his work – IZ did so much as a member of the Mākaha Sons of Ni‘ihau and then as a solo artist that it isn't necessary to inflate his resumé – but he wasn’t the “Bob Marley of Hawaii” any more than Bob Marley was the IZ of Jamaica. Each man was a unique artist, and the world is the better for it." (“IZ What It Is,” Star Bulletin, August 15, 2006.)
This pattern of inflate and ignore is evident in Carroll’s assessment of George Helm as “one of the first to sing old Hawaiian songs in a new way.” Never mind Ernest Ka‘ai, Lena Machado, Al Kealoha Perry, Richard Kauhi, or Pua Almeida. It is present in Carroll’s extraordinary redefinition of traditional Hawaiian mele as “place songs that celebrated waterfalls and volcanoes and the sea.” Never mind mele inoa, mele pai ali‘i, mele ho‘oipo, mele ma‘i, kanikau, and the substantial collection of mele ‘ai pōhaku in Buke Mele Lāhui. It infects his appraisal of Sunday Mānoa’s Guava Jam as ground-breaking: “until then, no song had addressed issues of Hawaiian independence, ethnic displacement, and environmental degradation.” Never mind “Ulei Pahu,” “‘Au‘a ‘Ia,” “Kaulana nā Pua,” “‘O ‘Oe nō Paha Ia e ka Lau o ke Aloha,” “Lai Toodle,” and “Kēlā Mea Whiffa.” It characterizes his oversimplified description of Hawaiians prior to the 1975 Kaho‘olawe and Mākua Valley movements as caught in a “century old, three generation colonial slumber.” Never mind J. Kaulia, the Nāwahïs, and the 21,269 Kānaka Maoli who signed the anti-annexation petition of 1897; never mind the ‘a‘ali’i kū makani who followed – the Pukuis, Pakis, Brandts, Mitchells, Holts, Pi‘ianaias, Kauahipaulas, and Ka‘ananas. It resurfaces in his review of “Hawai‘i ‘78” as “the signature anthem for…a whole generation of Hawaiian activists.” Never mind “Kaulana nā Pua,” “Aloha Kaho‘olawe,” or “All Hawai‘i Stand Together.” It puts what John Berger calls a “very odd spin” on Carroll’s last words on the the break-up of the Mākaha Sons of Ni‘ihau: “Israel didn’t leave the Mākaha Sons. They left him behind, trapped in his skin in the hospital with pneumonia, and packed their bags for Carnegie Hall.” Never mind . . . everything else. And – finally – it undercuts the already impressive nature of Iz’s funeral by elevating it to the status of “public mourning unseen since the death of Hawaiian kings and queens more than a century ago.” Never mind Lili‘u’s funeral in 1917, Kūhiō’s in 1922, Iolani Luahine’s in 1978, and Maiki Aiu Lake’s in 1984.
This is more serious than lumpy poi. It reminds me of my 8th grade teacher, Mr. Chuck Granger, who could only eat poi if he doctored it up first with cream, sugar, and nutmeg; “poi cocktail” is what he called it, and he ate it like pudding, with a spoon. Carroll seems intent on serving up an Iz cocktail. Israel’s story, plainly told, is somehow not big enough to fill the gut with minamina and the eyes with tears – not heroic enough, not marketable enough for pop tastes and eBay consumption. Condiments are necessary: overstate and ignore. Aloha ‘ino.
I read Iz on a flight home from the continent. At one point near the end, my wife nudged me and asked, “If you don’t like the book, why do you keep crying?”
“Because Israel is still in here.”
He is not my voice, Mr. Carroll. But he is one of our voices, one that I love. Your book, when I knead the lumps and drain off the topping, helps me to remember something that Pierre Bowman wrote about another of our voices: Gabby’s. “Over the years, it remained in tune with the cliffs rising behind his home, with the wind blowing briskly from the nearby sea, with a world that can sing even as it mourns.” That can sing even as it mourns. I say, I say.
1. “Kāwika” was composed for, not by, Kalākaua. The Sunday Mānoa version of the mele opens with pahu beats to which ipu slaps and ‘ulili rustles are subsequently added.
2. “No ke Ano Ahiahi” uses the imagery of an ocean voyage to describe a loversʻ tryst between William Charles Lunalilo and a woman whose name is given in the original chant as Pua Rose.
3. “We have been hearing recently that ‘ilima leis were reserved exclusively for royalty, but I doubt that very much. . . Probably the story stemmed…from the fondness that Princess Abigail Kawānanakoa had for these blossoms.” Mary Kawena Pukui, “Aspects of the Word Lei,” Bishop Museum transcript, Feb. 24, 1964.
4. Both statements are debatable at best. Anyone who has spent time with the senior women of Ni‘ihau is unlikely to share Carroll’s opinion of a male-dominant society. As for claims to high rank, the elders of all our islands would be quick to remind us: “Mai kaula‘i i ka lā.” Genealogical status is not for an outsider to hear or share.
5. The Kamakawiwo‘ole home, as pictured on p. 12, is a subdivision home, a “Hicks” home, not clapboard or plantation style at all.
6. Among the most memorable of Kamae’s collected songs are “Mauna Kea” (verse 1) from Puna, Hawai‘i; “Lā ‘Elima” from Miloli‘i, Hawai‘i; “Huelo,” “Moe Kokolo,” “Mauna ‘Olu,” and “Kēlā Mea Whiffa” from various Maui locations, and “Waipahe‘e,” from Keālia, Kaua‘i. I know of none from Waimānalo, Ka‘a‘awa, or Ka‘ū. Kamae did, of course, compose the music for “Ke Ala a ka Jeep,” Kawena Pukuiʻs celebration of their visit to her Ka‘ū homeland.
7. Carroll’s claim is contradicted by the first track of Live at Hank’s Place. “Aloha ladies and gentleman, welcome to Hank’s Place in Kaimukī. We’re a group called the Mākaha Sons of Ni‘ihau, and . . . Ladies and gentlemen, we are Hawaiian.”
8. Each generation of Hawaiian musicians has its innovators, assimilators, and synthesizers. George Helm belongs to a long line of these old-but-new geniuses.
9. Traditional Hawaiian music was not limited to place songs. Carroll is also incorrect in assuming that such “waterfall and volcano” songs are void of political content. Amy Stillman has argued convincingly, for quite some time now, that place songs are highly political: they cling defiantly to threatened names, landscapes, and relationships; they resist, in subtle aloha ‘āina fashion, those responsible for threat, displacement, and change.
10. Although Carroll implies that Guava Jam was filled with new songs of Hawaiian pride and sovereignty, only Ron Rocha’s “He Hawai‘i Au” meets those criteria.
11. “One of the most persistent and pernicious myths of Hawaiian history is that the Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) passively accepted the erosion of their culture and the loss of their nation. . . This book refutes the myth of passivity through documentation and study of the many forms of resistance by the Kanaka Maoli to political, economic, linguistic, and cultural oppression…” Noenoe Silva, Aloha Betrayed: Native Hawaiian Resistance to American Colonialism, 1.
12. At least a few of us would argue that an English language song can never qualify as the signature anthem of the Hawaiian resistance.
13. “Carroll’s account of IZ’s abrupt departure from the Mākaha Sons of Ni‘ihau in 1993, less than a week before their big Mākaha Bash 6 concert, is less than complete. It is a matter of public record that…IZ’s allegations of financial wrongdoing were without merit. Carroll doesn't mention this. It might well be true, as Carroll states, that the other members of the group… wanted to play more shows outside Hawaii and that IZ’s failing health limited their ability to do so. But the fact that Kauakahi and the two Koko brothers all worked full-time day jobs was also a limiting factor. Carroll’s statement that the group "left (IZ) behind," when it was IZ who quit the group a few days before their biggest show of the year, puts a very odd spin on an unfortunate event.” John Berger, “IZ What It Is,” Honolulu Star Bulletin, August 15, 2006. I should note that Berger’s critique takes up a small part of his otherwise very positive review of Carroll’s book.
14. This is actually a short version of a paraphrase offered by Jay Hartwell in the “Louis Robert ‘Moon’ Kauakahi” chapter of Hartwell’s book Nā Mamo: Hawaiian People Today. Hartwell’s essay on Moon and the Mākaha Sons of Ni‘ihau provides a model of accurate, understated, very moving writing that Carroll would have done well to follow.