"Hawaiian Legends of the Guardian Spirits,"
by Caren Loebel-Fried
(University of Hawaii Press, 2002, 109 pages, $16.95)


Familiarity with Hawaiian legends
helped an author connect with nature

Local writer's tale is a real highlight
On the Cover

by By Nancy Arcayna

Growing up on the New Jersey shoreline, Caren Loebel-Fried never quite felt as if she fit in. She spent her days exploring the surrounding woods in her neighborhood and roaming along beaches. One thing she had difficulty understanding is how many people had become so detached from the natural world.

Legends made sense to her in a way that nothing else did and she became particularly interested in cultures living at one with nature.

The woodblock print illustrates the myth "Twins of the Gourd," which tells of a chiefess who died when she was pregnant. A gourd vine sprouted from her navel, and eventually, twins were born from two seeds inside the gourd.

"Legends gave me a sense that even though people are from very different places and different upbringings, they can still be quite similar. That was very comforting to me," she said. "Deep down inside, people feel the same way and want the same things."

Loebel-Fried visited the Big Island in the 1980s and immediately felt at home.

"I was awakened by the forces of nature. It was a real rush," she said. "I had a heightened awareness of the plants, birds, clouds and the lava flowing under the earth. It felt like I was present and awake in a dream."

The feeling didn't quit.

"After returning to New Jersey, I yearned for Hawaii like a dear friend," she said.

She purchased a home in Volcano, and her family visits Hawaii about three times a year. The remainder of the year is spent in New Jersey, where her son attends high school.

Her interest in learning more about island myths led her to write "Hawaiian Legends of the Guardian Spirits." Many of the stories in the book were found in the Bishop Museum archives.

"These are stories that hadn't really seen the light of day," she said. "I'd pick up the paper and get chicken skin just sitting there holding this link to the past."

WHEN LOEBEL-FRIED began her research, she was frustrated by the lack of material written from a Hawaiian perspective. Then she discovered Mary Kawena Pukui's books.

"I started to get a real sense of early Hawaiian life, philosophy and spirituality," she said. "Mary Kawena Pukui worked hard to get it down on paper -- this oral tradition that was threatened with extinction. I appreciate her work so very much, and that is why I dedicated my book to her," Loebel-Fried explained.

Sixty woodblock prints by the author -- some in color -- bring the ancient tales to life. The art form is one she learned by watching her mother do woodcuts.

"I have many memories of her carving her blocks at the beach in the summer, very focused and relaxed," Loebel-Fried said. "It was fascinating to see the image as it gradually appeared. Equipped with my mother's old tools and advice, I began working on the medium of block printing. Through experimentation, I have developed a technique that works for me, and Mom is always available to answer questions as they arise."

Guardian sharks were a popular topic of Hawaiian stories. The sharks were said to rescue shipwrecked people and return them to shore on their backs. Ancient Hawaiians observed the pueo, or short-eared owl, above, for guidance given in the wave of a wing or flip of a tail feather. Also illustrated is Ku, an ancestral god who buried himself in the earth to prevent starvation in his village, and a breadfruit tree sprouted from the place where Ku's head had been buried.

THE BOOK EVOLVED from an art exhibit at Volcano Art Center in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which led Loebel-Fried to a study of 'aumakua -- "the intimate bond between people and nature."

The stories link Hawaiians directly to nature. In her prints, Loebel-Fried shows how 'aumakua appeared in dreams, as in the legends of "Twins of the Gourd" and "The Birth of Pakaiea," which tell the tale of a green shark.

Each Hawaiian ohana had an 'aumakua or ancestral guardian spirit for protection, comfort and spiritual support. The spirit guardian watched over the family and could take almost any form. For some it was the shark, sea turtle or lizard; for others, the pig, an owl or plant. It was thought that spirits could communicate to the living through dreams and often appeared in the form of the family's 'aumakua.

Notes are included that put the legends into context both historically and culturally.

People need an understanding of the places and people who first told the legends, said Loebel-Fried. The stories are definitely for those who want to learn more about the legends or just revisit them.

IN THE BOOK'S foreword, Nona Beamer said, "'Hawaiian Legends of the Guardian Spirits' will enrich the hearts and minds of readers. You will feel uplifted and fortified with mana, the essence of Hawaiian spirituality."

Beamer was chosen because Loebel-Fried wanted to find someone who was Hawaiian to read the manuscript.

"I wanted to make sure I was on the right track and that it was very authentic," she said. "Nona humbly and graciously answered all of my questions and really helped in my efforts to get the feeling right in the legends. She has also become a great friend and has taught me what aloha truly means."

When ancestors are living in the earth and sky and people are literally related to all aspects of nature, they can't help but protect and preserve it, said Loebel-Fried. One of her main goals was to communicate the legends to many different cultures through both words and pictures.

She added, "Wouldn't it be wonderful if people from all cultures felt the same connection with nature and the desire to protect it? Hawaii and her legends have done this for me. Perhaps the legends will do the same for others."

A kolea, or plover, was a bad omen for ancient Hawaiians. A bird circling a home while uttering an eerie cry was a sign of death.


Local writer’s tale
is a real highlight

by Nancy Arcayna


Pam Calvert is a local author who has a great passion for writing children's stories. Her newest venture is a short story entitled "Just My Size" that appears in this month's issue of Highlights for Children.

"I loved reading Highlights as a young child. When I became a children's author, I especially wanted to write for Highlights, since more than 2 million children would read my work. My dream is to touch a child through my words."

Now in its 56th year, Highlights for Children is geared toward children ages 2 to 12. The stories in the magazine are intended to stimulate the imagination and let children "have fun with a purpose."

"Just My Size" is a story about a Chamorro girl who tries to convince her father that the canoe he is building would be perfect for her. The story conveys the message of a girl who wants a canoe, even though it was a traditional practice for only boys to own them.

"Living on Guam gave me a special interest in the Chamorro ancient culture. I'd always been intrigued with outrigger canoes," said Calvert.

Through her research she learned that girls could own canoes if there were no sons in a family, and a woman was allowed to own canoes if she lost her husband.

Calvert's work has also appeared in Guideposts for Kids, Odyssey and Nature Friends magazines. Three other books she has published are "Flying Saucer," "Mystery of the Stolen Spider Stone" and "Legend of the Old Canton Railroad."

She has four children and is studying Hawaiian culture for future tales.


on the cover

This woodblock print from the story "The Birth of Pakaiea" illustrates the legend that explains the connection humans have with the earth and the sea. The story is among the myths retold in "Hawaiian Legends of the Guardian Spirit" by Caren Loebel-Fried.

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