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Looking to the Source in Molokai


By Jessika Picnich, Expedition Guide

The taste of poi on my tongue is creamy and starchy, like an island version of mashed potatoes.

“It doesn’t taste purple at all.” A guest says, her mouth full. We laugh.

Greg Solitario continues with his cultural presentation, which is more like sitting in my Grandma’s kitchen while she makes cookies than any formal presentation I’ve ever been to. He does it on purpose. Pulling our heartstrings is what he does best because it’s the best way to teach. The Solitario family doesn’t teach in schools. Their classroom is the valley, their auditorium the ocean. With fifty generations of wisdom behind his every word, Greg shares his culture with us. Songs, stories, and of course, the pounding of the poi. He teaches here because the words, the ideas are only a small part of knowledge. The sunlight on my face, the wind through my palms and the fish that swirl in the river make up the vast majority of the learning experience. 

“Nānā i ke kumu.” He repeats over and over. Look to the source. It’s a ubiquitous Hawaiian saying that preaches the importance of getting your information from a reputable source, not through the grapevine. For 100 years, beginning in 1893, the Hawaiians were banned from speaking their language and practicing their culture. They were cut off from their source. A lot of the old wisdom, the old songs, the old traditions were lost with each passing generation. Now, the hunt for original sources is on.

Nānā i ke kumu.

In the traditional way, we at UnCruise go to the source. We visit Greg Solatorio and his family in Halawa Valley every week for a traditional “talk story” and a waterfall hike. They are the source. They have been here from the beginning, keeping their ancestral knowledge alive and passing it down from mind to mind in the traditional oral way. In this way, they are mending the chain that was broken by history and as I sit in Greg’s company, we forge new chains as all of us learn from one another, from the source.

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