Intercultural Christmas music: Hawaii

Christmas music can mean so many things.  One of my favorite
Christmas music memories is listening to Hawaiian Christmas songs in
Hawaii at Christmas time.  Some are traditional Christmas carols
sung with Hawaiian lyrics, others are original songs in English with
Hawaiian and English words such as “Mele Kalikimaka.”

Many years ago, when my Auntie Rose still lived in the Nuanu Valley,
just outside Honolulu, our family would visit her at Christmas
time.  It was at one of these Christmas visits that our family was
invited to the Lau family Christmas luau on Kaneohe Bay.  In the
afternoon the family had put the Kailu pig, smothered in
leaves, in the pit to roast with hot rocks, Grandma Lau was
cooking squid in a huge pot.  By dinner time, the sky had gone
dark, and the Christmas party was outdoors underneath Christmas
lights strung up across the back yard.

Uncle Tony was dressed up as Santa Claus, and he laughed with a
thick Hawaiian accent.  His daughters and nieces sang Hawaiian
Christmas carols and played guitar.  And all through the Christmas
season, you could hear the Beamer Brothers or the Brothers Cazimero
sing songs on the radio.  After becoming associated with the
Hawaiian culture, I used to cringe whenever Bing Crosby would come on
the radio singing his popular music sanitized version of “Mele
Kalikimaka.”

Hawaii is a very multicultural society now.  It's history
is very similar to the Vancouver area.  Similarly visited
by Captain Cook, and subjugated by British traders and
missionaries, the native populations were nearly wiped out by measles
and other viruses, quickly becoming the minority, in a white dominated
settlements.  I learned all about the Hawaiian independence
movment, very similar to the Native Land Claim settlements in BC –
sometimes they were peaceful, and sometimes they were occupational
protests.

In the late 1970's and early 1980's, Honolulu felt more like home to
me because there was a healthy mix of Asians, Caucasians and local
Hawaiians, everywhere – all living in relative peace.  On the
television news shows there were newscasters of colour… Chinese,
Japanese… Filipino… Hawaiian…  Wherever I went, I was
accepted as a kamaiaina “local or old-timer.”  Nobody ever asked
me where I was from, like they did in my native Vancouver, where my
family had lived for five generations.  Hawaii was
different.  Hawaii was special.  And that was why I fell in
love with Hawaiian culture, and continued to occasionally dress
Hawaiian even when I came back to Vancouver.  That, and I met a
girl there…  with whom we would send each other letters when we
were 17 and 18 years old.

In Hawaii, there are so many people who belong to blended
families.  Many of my friends were Chinese-Hawaiian,
Chinese-Caucasian, Japanese-Caucasian, Chinese-Japanese… and that's
just the way it is.  Inter-racial marriage was an evolution of
cultures merging, and while it depleted the pure blood lines of the
Hawaiian race, it also spread it further, so that more people could
claim they were Hawaiian descendents thus, often helping to further
expand Hawaiian culture, and further validate it's respect and
inclusion in mainstream culture.

I still listen to the old Hawaiian records occasionally, having
replaced some onto cd when I last visited in 1991.  On that last
visit, I spent Christmas on the big island of Hawaii, on a belated
honeymoon that year.  My then newly married wife and I,
listened to Hawaiian Christmas carols on the radio, we learned about
Hawaiian culture, we hiked the volcanoes, we visited with local friends
in Honolulu.  And she fell in love with Hawaiian culture
too.  So much that after we split, she moved to Hawaii for a
year.  After living in California's Monterey Bay and Vancouver,
she again moved to the Big Island, where she and her young children are
learning all the nuances of singing Hawaiian Christmas songs, with such
words as “Melekalikimaka is the thing to say in the land where palm
trees sway…”

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