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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, November 24, 2001

Hawaiian mythology designed for the coffee table

By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Staff Writer

"Hawaiian Goddesses, 'Alua — Second Generation" by writer/photographer Linda Ching; large-format hardcover, $35

 •  'Hawaiian Goddess, 'Alua, Second Generation'


• 11 a.m.-1 p.m. today, Bishop Museum Shop Pacifica

• 10-11:30 a.m. Dec. 1, Basically Books, Hilo

• 1-3 p.m. Dec. 1, Cook's Discoveries, Kamuela

• 1-2 p.m. Dec. 8 Vagabond House, Ward Centre

• 12:30-1:30 p.m. Dec. 14, Bestsellers Downtown

• 5-7 p.m. Dec. 14, Bishop Museum Twilight Craft Fair

"'Alua" is an expanded version of Linda Ching's "Hawaiian Goddesses," first published in 1987. Ching, a photographer and writer who publishes her own works, has created her own genre: interpretation of myth and history through a combination of nature photography and ethereal set-up shots. Her previous books have explored Hawaiian mythology, the monarchy period and a Chinese classic, "Dream of the Red Chamber."

It wasn't what she meant to do with her life, however. When the then-fashion photographer began to make photographs of island women in the early 1980s, she had in mind a "fantasy fashion book," designed to show the world the beauty — and chic — of Hawai'i's women.

Her vision, yet unformed, was to somehow morph the women into flowers, animals and natural scenes, and she had a vague idea that there were such stories in Hawaiian mythology. Research soon convinced her "there was a bigger, better story to be told."

A product of Honolulu public schools, Ching was amazed and disappointed to realize that students weren't being told these tales, which she found amazingly complex and revealing of the Hawaiian world view. (She is delighted now that public schools teach Hawaiian studies, and often visits schools to discuss her work.)

That first book took her five years to research, with the aid of mentors such as kumu hula Kaulana Kasparovich and the late Ho'oulu Richards of Kameha-meha Schools, who reviewed the text for accuracy.

At times, Ching questioned why she should do this work, so far from her training and her own ethnic background. But, she said, "with any book project of that scope, it seems to inhabit you. I hear a lot of authors say that, and it's true. ... But I realized that it was taking me so long because I had so much to learn. I had to research the stories in order to dream the images. In the end, I'd feel like it had a path, and a course, and I've kept on it all these years."

"'Alua" means two or second (it's an alternative to the more familiar counting word 'elua) and, in this revised work, Ching has added 20 images, many of them of a second generation of models — children of her original models or children of people who have worked to perpetuate the culture. (Nalani Keale, musician Moe Keale's son, is seen as Maui. Members of the Kinimaka clan are five mythical sisters. Keola Dalire, daughter of kumu hula Aloha Dalire, is the goddess Hina.)

This is a coffee-table-type with something to teach; there are stories here even those familiar with Pele, Hi'iaka, Hina and Maui may not have encountered.