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Posts Tagged ‘Hawaiian Language’

Sharing Aloha in our public schools.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Jason Poole, Accidental Hawaiian Crooner, Molokai, Halawa Valley, Anakala Pilipo Solatorio, Midori and Friends, Aloha, teaching artist

My ‘eke (bag) filled with an ipu heke, pūʻili, a shell lei and my ʻukulele.

Last week I had the great privilege of teaching/sharing Hawaiian music and culture at a public elementary school out in Howard Beach, New York. My friends lovingly refer to it as the “far out school.”  But not in a Greg Brady or John Denver kind of “far out” way.  See, this school is about a two hour commute from my apartment. To get there, I’ve got to take the subway for about an hour and then walk approximately 1.5 miles to get to the school through neighborhoods and over footbridge that crosses a busy highway. In previous years, I’ve visited this school in the scorching heat and humidity of early summer as well as the freezing cold of deep winter with icicles hanging from my nose.

But this school is a favorite place to teach/share Hawaiian music and culture.  The students and the faculty celebrate music and diverse cultures. This was my third year acting as a visiting teacher via Midori & Friends, the non-profit music education organization I work with.  When I walked through the door last Monday, it was a homecoming of sorts. (And they always make me feel like a rock star!)

When they ask if I can come and do a residency, the answer is always a resounding YES.

Did I mention that at this school I work with the kindergarten classes? Yup. All of ‘em.  That means I’m sharing Hawaiian music and culture with about 110 students, all of ‘em about five years old.  It’s like doing four back-to-back high energy shows every day. (It reminds me of college-age summers when I performed at a theme park.) It’s wild. It’s exhausting.

And it’s one of the most soul-fulfilling experiences of my life.

It dawned on me a little while ago that most of these kids have only been on the planet for about five years. They haven’t seen all of the touristy photos and movies about Hawai’i that are circulating among the masses. They’re not familiar with with the postcard “paradise” images that so many people associate with the Hawaiian islands–and that’s a blessing. (For one thing, I don’t have to spend as much time convincing them that Hawai’i is real place with real people and not just drowsy-eyed ’ukulele strummers sitting under coconut trees or majestic surfer dudes riding the waves with ladies sitting on their shoulders.)

For a lot of them, I am giving them their first taste of the islands and traditional Hawaiian culture. (But you know, no worries. No pressure or anything!) I have the privilege/honor/kuleana of introducing them to Hawai’i.

I bring my ‘ukulele. I bring maps. I bring lots and lots of photos. I share lots and lots of stories. One of the perks of being an “outsider who became an insider” of Hawai’i and her culture is that I’ve done everything–and I mean everything–wrong at some point. I’ve stumbled and stammered and put my foot in my mouth more times than I care to disclose.  So when I tell them about Hawai’i, I share it from the perspective of a fellow newbie/neophyte. We laugh a lot. I try to make them feel like we’re all learning together.

We sing songs, both traditional school kid-kine songs and my own original compositions. This year, I wanted to write a new song about Hōkūleʻa and how the canoe will be visiting New York City in 2016. I wanted the kids to have a song they could carry and simple hula they could dance–something to share with the crew if they went to visit the boat. (Songs and hulas are free and portable. You can’t beat that!)

I really struggled with the song at first, wanting to make it perfect, wanting to write something profound. But it came down to this: I needed to create something simple and relatable for these kids. I wanted to share 2 things: Hōkūleʻa is sailing around the world. She’s carrying a message of Mālama Honua, taking care of the earth.  Once I got my ego out of the way (Imagine standing in front of the Hōkūleʻa crew with throngs of students all singing the song and doing the simple hula!) the song basically wrote itself. A simple song. A simple hula. And an opportunity to discuss how we all have the responsibility to mālama honua.

All week long, we sang and danced ourselves silly. We laughed at stories of the goofy things that Uncle Jason has done in Hawaiʻi, about being afraid of lizards in the house, about getting a bellyache from eating too much inamona.

I told them about Hālawa Valley and its lifestyle that is so much like the traditonal lifestyle of Hawaiʻi long ago.  We talked about how Mom and Pops Solatorio adopted me into their family, how I look different from all of their children, how ʻohana is family based on feeling instead of bloodline.

I gave them a very basic introduction to the Hawaiian language.

And these kids! Ah! I’ll tell you, they’re so wonderful they can make your knees buckle with their smiles and enthusiasm.

There are kids in the classroom who don’t speak English very well. But you’d be amazed to see that these are the same little kids who give you a shaka and an “Aloha, Uncle Jason!” every morning when you greet them.  There are other kids who are part of the special needs program who shock me by coming up to me and saying, “Uncle Jason, did you know there are three ways to say Hawai’i (Ha-WHY-ee, Ha-WAH-ee and Ha-VAI-ee) and also I love you.”

And when I walked down the halls of the schools in between classes, I felt like a celebrity. Those shining faces with bright eyes, those little hands giving me a shaka wave and their voices ringing out, “Aloha, Uncle Jason!”

Come on! Does it get any better than that?

On Friday, all four of the classes gathered in the school’s auditorium for our big “show.” My friend, Kaina, came to dance hula for them. And they were so excited to share the songs and keiki hulas they’d learned with her!  Imagine a school’s auditorium, nearly-filled to capacity with kindergarten students (and some fifth graders who’d recently done a report on Hawai’i), all singing and dancing.

Incredible.  It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it.

You know, I freaked out a little bit when Pops gave me the title of Kumu Hawaii a few years ago, when he said, “Now it’s YOUR turn to be a teacher.” I asked him what I was supposed to do with that heavy responsibility. I hadn’t grown up in Hawai’i.  I didn’t think anyone would want to learn from someone like me.

But that’s where I was wrong. I was hung up on my skin color, my background, the fact that I’m not Hawaiian. He had trained me and tested me. He trusted me. I needed to trust myself.

And I remind myself of that every time I do a new residency, every time I have the opportunity to share what’s been so graciously and lovingly shared with me.

When I walked away from the school on Friday, I knew that I’d planted seeds of Aloha. Some would grow. Some might not. Some kids may remember my name someday. Some might not. But I’ll bet a lot of them will remember that a man came to their school when they were kids and he brought an ‘ukulele and wore wild shirts and leis. He sang songs and taught them to hula. And he taught them that Aloha doesn’t mean “Hi” or “Goodbye” but it really means, “I love you my friend.”

And if that’s all that they remember, then I’ve done my job.

A blessing, indeed.

Mahalo for that, kids.

Right on.



jason poole, metta, lovingkindness meditation, halawa valley, pilipo solatorio, compassion, aloha, molokai, hawaiian language, kumu hawaii

The other day, someone asked me:

“What’s the Hawaiian word for compassion?”

August has been called Metta Month or Lovingkindness Month. (Metta is the word for lovingkindness or compassion in an ancient language called Pali.  Not to be confused with the Hawaiian word pali which means cliffs.)

And lately there’s been a lot of buzz on social media about compassion, mostly about offering traditional phrases associated with a metta meditation practice:

May I be safe.

May I be happy.

May I be heathy.

May I dwell in peace.

In the meditation practice, the phrases are directed inward, toward the self, first.  Then they are directed outward, toward another individual.  And then they’re directed toward all beings everywhere.

So when I was asked what the Hawaiian word for compassion is, I had to stop and think about it for a minute.  Why? Well, because I couldn’t remember Pops and I ever talking about compassion with each other, at least not in a formal sense.  And because I didn’t have my Hawaiian dictionary with me.

I’m not a native Hawaiian speaker. I started learning the language late-ish in life from Pops.  (A little backstory: When my “official studies” in Hālawa Valley began—even before I even understood they were beginning—he suddenly refused to speak English to me. He only spoke Hawaiian. I tried to explain to him that I didn’t understand what he was saying and he said that was ok. I could learn by observing. And the only way I’d learn how to speak Hawaiian would be if I HAD to use it to communicate.  More on that whole experience in an upcoming blog post.)

So I imagined being in Hālawa Valley and trying to communicate with Pops.  Not having a dictionary has forced me to be resourceful and creative with the language. (Note: Pops assures me that this is how people used to speak a long time ago, figuring out how to convey what they meant to say on the spot, even though vocabulary varied from island to island or even district to district. I trust him. Kind of.)

How would I convey the word compassion to him?

I thought about what the practice really meant, about what those phrases were really saying.  And it came down to this one word: A L O H A

Aloha is love. And yes, it can mean love in a romantic way. But really it’s love at its most basic essence.  Love between friends. Family love. Some might even say Divine Love.

I added the words I love you in front of the four classic metta phrases and it made perfect sense:

I love you. May you be safe.

I love you. May you be happy.

I love you. May you be healthy.

I love you. May you dwell in peace.

That got me thinking about the four traditional metta phrases.  Did anything exist like that in the Hawaiian culture?

The answer came to my mind immediately.  Not four individual phrases.  Only one:

Aloha i kekahi i kekahi.  Love one another.

Pops always says that’s the old Hawaiian way, the old Hawaiian greeting.  Aloha i kekahi i kekahi. Love to one another. Love to us all.

I explained this all to the poor soul who’d asked me. I’m sure I gave way more information than she was looking for. But it was good for me to think about.  And it was great to find a way to share that with another person.

Later, when I got home, I pulled out my favorite book, the Hawaiian Dictionary (Pukui & Elbert) and looked up the word compassion. I wanted to see what they wrote, to see how far off the mark I’d been.

And you know what the first Hawaiian word in the definition was?


A L O H A.

Right on.

Aloha i kekahi i kekahi.  Love one another.


Video Blog: I am ‘umeke.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

It’s time for a new Video Blog! And this week, I’m excited to open a discussion about ‘umeke.  What is an ‘umeke?  Why does that image continue to inspire me and totally rock my world?

I’d love to hear from YOU!

And please check out our other videos on our Youtube channel:

Happy Aloha Tuesday, gang.


Hui!  Aloha mai!

Did you guys catch the webcast of the 2013 Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards the other night?  Wow! It’s amazing to be able to sit in an apartment 5,000 miles away from the ceremony and still be able to tune in.

(Ok… I’m only a little bit jealous of those of you who actually attended the show.  Only a little bit…)

It’s no secret that I love Hawaiian music.  I value it as an art form.  I believe in its ability to heal a person from the inside out.

I love and respect the artists working so hard perpetuate this incredible musical tradition.

And when all of the year’s greatest Hawaiian artists come together for an award show, it’s unbelievably cool.

For those that don’t know what I’m talking about:

Every year, Hawai’i has its big Hawaiian music awards show, the Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards.

(*Note:  Please see comment from Auntie Maria below–she helped me to clarify what I was saying.  Hawai’i and her music/musicians are a diverse crowd, for sure.  And the Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards celebrates that diversity.)

Produced by the Hawaiʻi Academy of Recording Arts, this beautiful event honors the best in Hawaiian music.  The cream of the crop.

(Note: In Hawaiian, Nā Hōkū means “the stars” and Hanohano means “exalted, glorious, honored, distinguished.”)

The voting members of HARA certainly had their work cut out for them this year.


With all of the jaw-dropping talent that was nominated for awards, I don’t know that I would have been able to choose a winner in every category!  I mean, the talent is STELLAR!

Categories include Album of the Year, Entertainer of the Year, Female Vocalist of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year, Graphics, Liner Notes, etc.  (Very similar to some of the award shows I grew up watching here on the mainland.)

And then… they have other categories like Haku Mele of the Year which celebrates a composition written in Hawaiian.  And Hawaiian Language Performance.  And Hawaiian Album of the Year.

I was going to post a list of the winners, but the I realized that our friends at have already done an amazing list–including links to the albums/artists that won!  It’s fantastic.  Truly.  And you can check it out by clicking HERE.

Please continue to support Hawaiian Music and Hawaiian Artists.  We are all working to share some Aloha with the world.

Right on.


Jason Poole, Accidental Hawaiian Crooner, Molokai, Halawa Valley, Pilipo Solatorio, Anakala PilipoWhen I woke up this morning, one thought jumped to the foreground of mind.

It was like a flashing neon sign:


Time is moving so quickly!  (I hear that’s a sign of aging…)

Heading back for a couple of weeks.  Lots of work to do with Pops.  Lots of work to do with the upcoming documentary.  (Have I told you about that yet?  Stay tuned… It’s gonna be so cool!)


I’m in crunch-mode as I prepare to head out.  I feel like a college kid prepping for exams.  Cramming everything in.  Making sure I’ve gotten some key knowledge “written on my bones.”  Making sure to pack all of the things that I’ve been meaning to share with Mom and Pops.  Brushing up on my Hawaiian language speaking skills. (There are plenty of days when Pops will look at me and say, “You know, Iakona, I think you and I will only speak in Hawaiian to each other today.”  The BEST way to learn, for sure!  A gift.  But when you have rudimentary-at-best language skills like me, it’s scary!)

So that’s the latest newsflash.  Will try to post more as the week develops…

Happy Monday, gang!

What’s the latest newsflash in YOUR world?



Word of the Year (2013)

Monday, January 7, 2013

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions.

I haven’t made them in years.


Well, for starters, I’m really bad at keeping them. I have the best intentions. I give ‘em lots of thought before I make them. And then, about a week into the New Year, I realize I’ve failed. Somehow I’ve managed to screw them up. And I abandon them, feeling like a failure.

And I don’t like feeling like a failure.

So I’ve adopted a new practice, instead.

My buddy, Quinn McDonald, introduced me to it last year, via her blog. She calls it: Choosing Your Word of the Year.

In a nutshell, here’s how it works: You choose a word that will symbolize the coming year for you. It’s not the same as choosing an intention. This is simple. One word. Something you can remember. But that word is charged. It carries weight. It has mana.

A word that will strike a chord in you when you hear it. A word that will continue to resonate all year. A word that will echo.

She likens it to a “verbal amulet.” (I love that image!) You can read more of her description of the practice by clicking HERE.

Last year, I chose the word LISTEN.

Before I’d even finished reading her blog post about the practice, it came to me. I heard it in my mind’s ear. Yes. The word for 2012 would be LISTEN.

I even opened up a draft of an email and typed the words: listen to the echoes. I had no idea what that meant. I didn’t address the email to anyone. I just saved it. It sat in my DRAFTS folder all year–and I opened it regularly and reread the words.

I reminded myself all the time: You need to listen, Jason. Become an active listener. You don’t need to talk so much. Listen to what others are saying to you. Listen to what the world is saying to you.

Toward the end of the year, a series of events seemed to unfold simultaneously. Projects that I’d only dreamed about suddenly sprang to life. Wild synchronicity.

Now, I’m not saying that the word LISTEN brought about some kind of magical happenings. But I will say that had I not been constantly reminding myself to LISTEN, I might have missed the opportunities to hear what was being said–and missed out on these opportunities to work.

So as 2012 drew to a close, it was time for me to choose a new word for 2013.

As a word nerd, I wanted to choose something in Hawaiian this year.

I’m always trying to learn more. To find ways to put the language to “everyday use” here in NYC.

I wanted another action word.

I scanned the Hawaiian dictionary for the word that summed up how I hoped to direct my focus for the coming year. I want to see things grow–but I’m not naive enough to think I’d have fully-realized dreams by the end of the year. Not necessarily a flourishing garden, but at least some sprouts.

In Hawaiian, the prefix/causative HOʻO is put in front of a word to–well–make something happen.

The Hawaiian word for sprout is KUPU. So the Hawaiian word for “to sprout” is HOʻOKUPU.

I loved it. It was perfect. I wrote it down.

And then it dawned on me: I know the word HO’OKUPU in another context. HOʻOKUPU is also an offering. When I’m on Molokai, Pops will always have some sort of hoʻokupu/offering to bring to someone when we go to visit them. Especially if we’re visiting elders/kūpuna.

HOʻOKUPU, an offering, is exactly what I’m working on. Offerings to the people interested in Hawaiian music, language and culture. Offerings to my Hawaiian family. Offerings to the people of Molokai. Offerings to the Hawaiian teachers that have come before me and will come after me in the future.

How cool is that? A word with a double meaning that’s perfect in every way?!

So my word for 2013 is HOʻOKUPU.

May it continue to echo all year long. May the projects begin to sprout and take root. And may I be reminded me of the purpose of these projects; inspired to work from a place of giving and not from a place of self-service/ego. May my work be a benefit to others.

Right on.

Is this a practice that speaks to you? What’s YOUR word for 2013? Drop me a line! I’d love to hear from you.