Wisdom of the Ancestors

Happy Saturday guys. I had quite the morning but hey c’est la vie. We started working on the video for my fundraiser and are going back at it on Monday. It’s really hard to communicate my story in 4 minutes but I have a really good videographer and some friends and honestly in coming here your connections mean everything. Who is your family, where are you from, makes a huge difference to Polynesians.

In fact I have a 10 page essay to write about politics in Tonga and I was struggling with it because Tonga’s press doesn’t talk about corruption and nepotism in Tonga and the sources are from New Zealand. And I have to be honest, when Polynesians leave home, just like any other culture, 3 generations the culture is gone. There’s a huge amount of complexity that the elders have that doesn’t pass down lately because the kids use English and marry wives outside the homeland.

I’m sad at what is being lost and I am proud that I am here now to obtain this life-giving knowledge so even if I don’t ever have children I’ll carry the wisdom of the ancestors of Polynesia with me. And yeah I’m not Tongan or Samoan or Fijian or Maori, but my bloodline carries more than 9 ethnicities. I belong to all and yet to none. I am a gathering place.

Anyways back to everyday life and that thought came to mind because I got my sketchbook back from Papa (my Samoan father) and also spent maybe an hour talking to the head of Tongan village here at the Polynesian Cultural Center and I learned a lot more about Tongan culture than you can ever learn from a book. Polynesians don’t go by the book.

As I was talking to Bad Apple about yesterday on the mainland we see Polynesians like this. They are smiling advertisements. They are entertainment

See the source image

See the source image

We also see them as less intelligent because they largely speak dialects of Pidgin even when they learn English. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard a Tongan man try to say Ping Pong. ^^ hahhaa

But by and large, these people are not stupid. They just have a very different education. A Hawaiian farmer traditionally knew the names and stories of hundreds of types of taro and other crops. Hawaiians had over 200 words for rain because they knew the seasons and rain and stars of every place on the islands and the cycles of the moon and winds, all of which told them when to celebrate, when to stay home, went to plant, and when to harvest. Navigators weren’t just sailors. They knew the names of thousands of stars and had an entire chart of stars and islands memorized. They could read the sky, the wind, and the sea to know where they were coming from and where they were going.

See the source image

A true dancer of hula does not just dance. HEYALL NO. They learn the stories and chants of the ancestors, they learn the meaning and apply it to their own lives. There is a genealogy of hula. Each kumu learned from a kumu leading back thousands of years to the beginning. Nothing written would last in the islands and carving was impractical to capture the complexity of the stories. To be a kumu or a healer or of any importance in the islands, one had to learn from birth the ways of the ancestors before and the elders were the connection to the meanings of the culture.

A hula is not just a dance. It is a story. It is the ike kupuna. It is ka leo, the voice of the people. The reason people think Polynesians are cheap entertainment and uneducated, is because they aren’t listening. They aren’t paying attention. Remember when we talk Cinderella? How you find what you are looking for and it takes some pretty badass magic to get you to change your mind about what you think you see? Well here’s one example

I keep thinking to myself when I come home with my hurt leg and my various mental illnesses, I keep thinking why did I come here. Why did I do this? Why did I choose BYUHawaii?

You know the paths of life are varied and oftentimes we are taken away from everything we thought we knew seemingly for no good reason. Do you think I had any idea 2 1/2 years ago that I would be here? But I feel something pushing me to keep at this, to keep dancing, to keep listening, to keep learning. I don’t know why. It doesn’t look like I’m going to marry a Polynesian anytime soon or open my own luau business or heck, I probably won’t be able to live in the islands after college because how the heck is a Pacific Island Studies Major going to find a job. But there is something I can’t explain that drives me to keep trying to understand these people and learning these things. And you’ll find that even though I’m a 20 year old “white” girl, I fit into this role in very unexpected ways.

It’s not that Western culture is all bad. There are many strengths to our culture, just as there are to other cultures. But for me I realized that with my condition if I had stayed on the mainland I would have died. There was so much emphasis on work before play, so much imbalance in the way we live, so little emphasis on human connection- that for someone who already struggles with self-care and connection it is practically a death sentence. It causes problems when I go home and sometimes with my family and vice versa my Western upfront attitude often gets me into trouble with the Tongans but how can I help it when I was never meant to be just one thing? All becomes one. Noone has to “triumph” or wipe anyone else out. There’s room for all learning.

Also sidenote that is part of the reason Bad Apple is driving me crazy besides the fact that he was the first boy who ever held my hand is because I wanted to put him into the sexually desperate Tongan boy box and then I realized he didn’t fit and now my head is trying to work through the ensuing drama. We’re having a Cinderella moment! Because now, I want to understand more about him, not because I want to get with him, but because I think there’s a mindset I need to change about how I see Tongans in general (and him, as he is one of them) and it REALLY REALLY helps prejudice if you shut up and listen to what the other side has to say.

He’s driving me loca!

Off my soap box. So I took Jake out last night because on Fridays I like to get really turnt up so I take a walk with the dog. I took him out without the service dog harness on purpose this time because I wanted to do bonding non-work time to get to know Jake better. The way his owner Genie explained it to me is that when you have a service dog you basically have 2 dogs. You have the dog with the vest and the dog without the vest. I wanted to know both sides just because like any relationship a person is going to behave differently say at work, than they do at Taco Bell with their besties.

So I start to walk him and he resists the leash and I’m curious about why. This is actually not the first dog I’ve had not want to cross that sidewalk, which to me made no sense because on the other side of the street is a gang of pretty mean dogs. So when he stopped for the fifth time I got on his level and tried to get a better look at his body language to see if he had a reason or just didn’t want to go for a walk in general. Deciding it might be something about that side of the sidewalk, I took him across the street and lo and behold he started walking with me.

I took him to an open stretch of grass and did a bit of playing. You know, short sprints and feinting. And he started biting on his leash and I noticed so of course I told him to drop the leash or he would hurt himself and here’s the other thing about why you are in charge is because dogs have dog sense, not human sense. They don’t know on their own the difference between a street and sidewalk, and they forget that the leash will catch on things and other details like that so left to his own devices, Jake would have hurt himself with the leash.

I have to be honest it was fun to be walking a dog. It reminded me of time I spent with Angel on walks. At the beginning of her life she was fast as a bolt of lightning and near the end I would carry her on walks because she was too bloated and in pain to finish a walk around the block. I would set her down to smell things and try to play with her because of how much she loved being outdoors and walks and all the dog things… I’m crying now good job Hannah you made yourself cry again. ANYWAYS.

I didn’t sit there doing drills with Jake because it was play/walk time. However I did have to untangle him and fight him on the leash. I didn’t understand why he was so insistent on biting it, but then I remembered something Genie had said. She had said that she had a hard day and stayed in and I realized this is a 7 month old pitbull and he has a LOT of energy to spare. Of course he was biting the leash. Asides the fact that he wanted to run free he was also full of energy.

Just like me actually. When I get super anxious I get twitchy and I drum my fingers on something or my leg starts twitching. I would go crazy being at home all day too.

Despite that I needed Jake to stay still and stop tangling himself in the rope because if he took off with it wrapped around his legs he could fall. So my command for him to stay still so I could get the rope was for his own good. He doesn’t understand that yet, but I do, so even though I’m a bit of a witch about it I always remind myself that there are things the dog needs to know not to do even if he doesn’t know the reason. I. E Jumping on people at the grocery store with his service dog vest on. He doesn’t know why I’m asking him to sit and stay calm but I do. I know his mom Genie needs him to behave with that vest on or she could lose the permissions to keep him with her in public which would harm her.

You also have to work with where the dog is at but always with the expectation that the dog can be and do more. Everything works in steps. So I understand that Jake will not be perfectly obedient and I ration my commands to his attention span and to necessity. I don’t just order him around for fun and also, as I said, this walk was to work on the play half of the relationship. It is very hard but very rewarding to work with training a dog let me tell you. Half the time I like dogs better than people.

We did have one patch of trouble. Jake at one point was very upset at having his leg tangled in the leash and I kneeled down, making sure he saw me, and I tried to fix it, and Jake jumped at my face and nearly bit my hand. I was afraid because of course when a dogs jaws are coming towards your face you will feel a bit of an inclination to say a Hail Mary and wonder if eye patches come in assorted colors, but I instantly remembered that my fear would not alleviate Jake’s distress and he was acting of distress. He mistakenly thought that I was kneeling down to play with him because I had not told him to stay and in his efforts to bite his leash, my hand happened to be in the way so he nipped me. He may have already been distressed because he had tried to jump and the rope had snapped him back. He moved too fast for me to adjust and of course I hadn’t wrapped the leash around his leg. It was out of concern that I was kneeling down to try to help untangle him but he was panicked.

So when I remembered I instantly decided to not be afraid.

Yeah so a young dogs teeth were coming for my face and he’d already nipped me and I didn’t move out of the way or flinch.

I guess that was being brave but in the moment it just occurred to me that I had to calm him down and if he bit me so be it. And then I untangled him, stood up, and I ordered him to sit down and stay. I told him I was very unhappy with his behavior and that he had been a bad boy and I used a very specific tone of voice. You have to respond to a dogs behavior within the closest time frame to the bad behavior that you can because dogs forget why they’re being punished within a few minutes. Long punishments like an hour in the garage, nah. So this was my equivalent of a short timeout for Jake just to remind him who is top dog.

I had to say it three times but he obeyed me which let me tell you, most people, he doesn’t listen to. When I said it I kept in mind that I have the other end of the leash, that this is for his own good, and that I am top dog. See once I have told him to sit, if I let him get away with not sitting, he will stop responding to the command to sit because then when I order him to sit he’ll wonder if I actually mean it this time or not and test me.

Soon after that I took him home, not because I was angry with him, because in the few minutes after the incident I realized I was part of the problem too. I had not given him the right signal and I had underestimated his level of distress. His behavior was still unacceptable, but another thing you’ll find with dogs who have some level of training, is that they don’t go against that training for no good reason. Sometimes the reason is the handler, sometimes it’s an outside cause, sometimes because they are injured or afraid but just like people, they always have a reason for their behavior.

Overall my night out with Jake I felt was a success because the goal of the endeavor was to learn more about interacting with Jake and communicating on his level, and I accomplished that, and the other goal was for him to spend more time with me. Every interaction with a dog teaches you more about that dog, just like you know people better if you spend time with them.

And also I got to keep my face, which was nice.

Pitbulls are notorious for being aggressive and it hasn’t yet been determined if that is just handler error or if they are just that way due to breeding. But there you are. A Cinderella moment. I was thinking about a talk I read one time by President Monson of the LDS church and he said something about meeting people where they are at, but always reminding them of who they could become. I feel the same way about Jake and why these first months are important is because I see that he can become a very, very good ESA but I can also see where he needs the support. It’s the other reason I was very positive about our trip to the grocery store the other day is because I set goals based on where he is now and we did work to get him to the place he needs to be.

Of course I am not his owner, Genie and her husband are the owners and top of the chain, but because they trust me to spend time with Jake and because they want him to become a very good ESA, I want my experiences with him to be focused not just for helping me get through a rough day but also for them and Jake. His obedience training is important to their lives too and the more reinforcement he gets in good behaviors now, the better. Plus if they ever have to leave him with someone, he has experience being obedient to others too.

The German Shepherd personality is real. That was my concern about GSD versus golden retriever plus the dog in general is that I am figuring out not just emotional, physical, and other aspects of the dogs care, but I am figuring out how well I would do as a handler if I need an easier dog or if I need a dog that wants discipline and a lot of activity. My instinct is screaming German Shepherd but we’ll see.

When I write about training and handling dogs you can’t see the full effect of the interaction on the dog but when I see videos of me and the dogs I spend time with it’s very obvious that I do have a way with them. Plus I did a lot of training with Angel and then I’ve also worked with other people’s dogs at various stages and had quite a bit of success in that area as well. One example is my sisters dog Willow who is such a cutie but is also a rambunctious ball of energy and love, she’s still a puppy. I met her for one week at Christmas and already she listened to me better than my brother in law. He’s had dogs, but he doesn’t get dogs, you know? Plus he hits her. Not like injuring her but a pretty hard hit and let me tell you that does not earn respect. That just harbors bad feelings and ire.

ANYWAYS I have to skype my mama and then write that 10 page essay and take a test so LATER.

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