Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Members of the Samoan Club of Brigham Young University Hawaii made their way down Kalakaua Avenue last night during the 2002 Waikiki New Year's Parade sponsored by the Shrine Club of Hawaii. Such New Year traditions across cultures have a common bond in celebrating a renewal of life.

Diverse New Year
traditions share a
regard for life

By Mary Vorsino

Lomilomi massage practitioner Kapono Aluli Souza will walk from Kailua's Ulupo Heiau to Waimanalo Beach Park with 15 other people today in observance of Makahiki, the native Hawaiian New Year.

Tomorrow morning, after midnight services at First United Methodist on Beretania Street, the Rev. Sione Ngauamo will join dozens of relatives at his home to direct them into the new year, in traditional Tongan custom, by advising them how to capitalize on their strengths and how to right their wrongs.

A few hours later, George Tanabe, a professor of religion at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, will just be joining his family as they eat ozoni, a traditional Japanese mochi dumpling soup, for good luck and share a cup of sake for potency.

Cut away the customs and their names, the traditions and their origins, and this diverse bunch has a common bond: the celebration of a new annual cycle and a symbolic renewal of life, Tanabe said.

"The basic meanings" of New Year's celebrations "are very universal," Tanabe said. "There are certain changes. People can put little twists. And all living traditions change; if they don't, they're dead."

But the fundamental components -- family and food -- are the same. Later come blessings, customs and traditions, he said.

Kumu hula John Keola Lake agreed. Lake will be employing Makahiki traditions -- playing native Hawaiian games and telling ancient stories -- when he celebrates New Year's Day with his family.

In ancient Hawaii the Makahiki season was four months long and began around mid-November. It was the time of Lono, the native Hawaiian god of healing and symbolic of the winter season. During the festivities, native Hawaiians did not work and were forbidden to wage war. The customs give the land time to recuperate from eight months of agricultural use and allow celebrants time to give thanks for the harvest, Lake said.

At least once a year, "You've got to plug back into a piece of you," said Souza, who first celebrated the native Hawaiian holiday last year. He said he decided to walk around the island so his festivities and message could travel with him and so he could grow closer to the land.

Makahiki "(is) not a weekend," he said. "It's not food, games and prizes. This is very new. (But) we are practicing something very old."

Souza is part of a growing population who are breathing new life into the native Hawaiian New Year's celebration, which was practically absent from the islands for almost 200 years before a resurgence on Kauai and Molokai over the past decades.

After Souza's New Year's Eve walk, he and others will camp at Waimanalo Beach Park for five days to share food, welcome onlookers and play traditional games in the spirit of "peaceful competition."

Lake added that the traditions' roots mirror other cultures' New Year's practices -- like the Japanese custom to pound rice (the staple for life) to make mochi -- and their appreciation for their crop's yield.

And even though Makahiki is observed from November to February, rather than in one week or in one day, "it still is celebrating the coming of spring," Tanabe said.

For Ngauamo, New Year's is all about "getting together, feeding the land and feeding the people," regardless of which cultural traditions are being celebrated.

"It's a time of new beginning," he said, "a time of reconciliation, a time of renewal." New Year's is about reminding family members that "you have to take care of each other" and that "money and housing and all those kinds of things are not the first priority."

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