The Hawaiian Aikane

The Hawaiian Aikane

Finding ‘Ohana has been a story in me, waiting to get out, for about five years now. I felt like I knew the characters and I had seen times in their lives before I ever sat down to write a word. So when my creative writing professor, Susan Palwick, gave me my first big critique on the story, I wasn’t sure what to do with it. She said something along the lines of: “It’s too much that they’re both an interracial couple and a lesbian couple. In fiction, it’s enough for them to overcome one social stigma or the other, but not both.”

We’ll just set aside the fact that, in real life, there are plenty of people who are lesbian and non-white, or gay and lower-class, or any number of other combinations of intersecting identities. For the sake of fiction, every choice needs to have a purpose. Yes, it sounds mechanical, but as fiction writers we need to be able to write with our souls and view our work intellectually. Cinnamin’s is a lesbian because her sexuality serves the story by affecting her identity with her family and as an individual. But, Palwick asked, “Why is Naali Hawaiian?” She challenged me to come up with a reason for it that serves the story, or change it.

Well, like I said before, these characters had just been there in my head. I saw Naali as a Hawaiian, so I wrote her as a Hawaiian. So I was determined to find a legitimate reason for her to be Hawaiian before I could even think about changing her. Once I started researching, I felt that it was meant to be. There must have been some kind of… intuition maybe… that made me see Naali the way I did. The link I posted above is one of the things that made it all fit so well.

Same-sex couples had been honored by Hawaiians for generations before they were invaded by foreigners. Even “the first parents, Wakea and Papa” had aikane in their household. Traditional Hawaiian culture had no reason to view same-sex couples as any less natural than opposite-sex couples. And the aikane of a family member is also family, just as an opposite-sex partner of a family member would be an in-law for mainlanders. There is even a Hawaiian saying, “He aikane, he punana na ke onaona.  An aikane is haven made of loveliness.” (This saying is quoted in Finding ‘Ohana.)

This was better than I could have hoped for! It was perfect for Naali to be Hawaiian. Better than perfect, it was fate. More of Cinnamin and Naali’s story fell into place. I already knew that Cinnamin’s family had cast her out, but now I knew that was juxtaposed by Naali’s family welcoming her with open arms. I knew that they were exactly what she needed to be able to love herself. I knew that now there was no way for the story to go but to have Naali be Hawaiian, and for her family to be deeply in touch with their roots.

When I found info on the traditional Hawaiian perception of family, everything fell even more into place.

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3 thoughts on “The Hawaiian Aikane

  1. With all due respect, your professor is wrong. It’s not too much to have a couple who is diffrent in race and sexual orientation. And she’s very wrong to ask to explain why Naali is from Hawaii. Why not Hawaii? It’s a state in good standing like all other states in the USA. Why does Naali has to be from California or Kansas?
    As a writer you introduce the characters as you wish. But remember it doesn’t matter if the story is about Hawaii, Lesbians or same sex interracial union .. what does matter is that the storyline is good and captivating the reader. Both you and your professor miss the point what’s make a great book. Tell the readers why Naali is interesting to read about her as a human being, not as a lesbian from Hawaii. One of my blog’s follower is originally from Hawaii. Join my blog as a follower and I will connect you with her and if you didn’t live in Hawaii she will help you.

  2. I think my professor’s point was just that the story would be stronger with more cultural ramifications of Naali being Hawaiian. I agree with her on this because the story did become stronger once I started researching Hawai’i and found all the cultural aspects that make Naali who she is.

    I agree with you on principle though. If my research had turned up nothing unique about Hawai’i (as though that could even happen!) I probably would have kept Naali the way she is because that’s how I’ve always seen her.

    Thanks for the offer of a connect! I’ll follow you if you follow me! 🙂

  3. Okay. In that case she is right. Once you introduce Naali is Hawaiian, it’s good to tell to the readers about Haiwaii and its customs. It’s nice to take the readers into a new world and to allow them to learn something new. I clicked on the Follow as the bottom right, but you might want to see if you can put your followers on the website so that agents can see your followers, especially if you have many (I don’t) .. then they are impressed.

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