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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, June 17, 2001

Wisdom imparted by Tutu-man

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Staff Writer

There is a story that I've heard many times in my life. It's been told at the dinner table, at informal gatherings, and at large events with a podium, microphone and sound system.

When my father was a little boy growing up in Koloa, Kaua'i, at a time when little boys never wore shoes and kids spent many happy hours skinny-dipping in the plantation reservoir, he would pass by the house of a kupuna he knew as Tutu-man. Tutu-man was often on his porch and Tutu-man would wave as the boys went by on their way to and from school.

One day, Tutu-man called out to my father, "Boy! Boy! Come over here!" My dad broke off from the rest of the kids and went up to Tutu-man's porch.

"I going tell you something and I like you always remember," said the old man. Now, adults say this sort of thing to kids all the time and whatever comes next usually goes in one ear and slides right out the other. But not this time.

"You a smart boy," Tutu-man said, "But you have to remember this. You have to learn to use the Hawaiian 'o'o," he said, referring to the digging stick used in farming, "but you also have to learn to use the haole 'o'o."

This had my father confused. The haole 'o'o? What's that, Tutu-man? Tutu-man reached into his breast pocket and pulled something out. "This," he said. "A pen."

When my father tells this story, it's not a statement about culture or cross-culturalism or Hawaiian ways versus Western ways.

For him, it's a story about learning. It's about understanding that there is more than one approach to a subject, and that there is hands-on learning as well as book learning, that there are traditional ways of doing things and new ways, and that both have value.

I wonder if Tutu-man had in mind things like Punana Leo's prolific media department that produces CDs, computer software, even movies to teach Hawaiian language, values and stories; or the stunning work of Tammy Haili'opua Baker, who stages Hawaiian legends and stories in Western theater style; or the way traditional healing practices and modern medicine often come together. There are so many examples.

Every time I hear this story, though, I am more struck not by its meaning but by its effect. That one moment shaped my father's life. He went on to college where he studied agriculture. He learned farming in the field and in the classroom. Later in his career, he taught farming and management in college and with inmates. He shared the story with anyone who would listen.

It's amazing how the well-chosen, sincere words of an elder can affect not only one child's life, but the lives that child touches.

Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Her e-mail address is lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com.