I just finished reading Sarah Vowell’s Unfamiliar Fishes. It was a fascinating read, not to mention a sad one. The version taught in school, if taught at all, favors the victors. Though the book is full of thoughtful observations, a few toward the end really stood out to me:
A Hawaiian word can have so many meanings and associations that each noun becomes a portal into stories and beliefs, like how the word for wealth, waiwai, is just the word for water spoken twice.
Language so clearly reflects a cultural value. Here, I take this to mean that water is essential for life, and to have more water is to be wealthy. It’s simple but powerful. (As an aside, I also love the word haole, because it’s one of those great words whose meaning is so perfect for its sound.)
In keeping with the theme of powerful words, there’s also this:
[Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole’s] “Over the Rainbow” is as sweet and soft as trade winds rustling through palms. It is the perfect song for Hawaiian vacations because the tranquility of its sound captures the feeling tourists flock there to find. Even though it’s a song that is actually about the human inability to be happy where one is, the suspicion that joy is always somewhere else.
I’ve always loved his version of the song. It was recorded in just one take, according to the above-linked Wikipedia page. Here’s the video below, and it’s equally beautiful. The video celebrates both his life and death by including fans scattering his ashes into the Pacific ocean. Very moving.