This week I’m posting an interview with Linda Ballou and her book based on Hawaiian history called Wai-nani: High Chiefess of Hawai’i.
What brought you to this story?
While I was living on the north shore of Kauai a special issue in the local paper about Captain James Cook caught my attention. The fact that Captain Cook was killed in the Islands intrigued me. I wanted to know why. I was curious about what was happening in the Islands when Cook arrived. I wanted to know the Hawaiians side of the story. Most accounts depict the Hawaiians as blood- thirsty savages who ganged up on the world’s greatest explorer. I learned this was not an accurate picture and felt that the Hawaiians had gotten a bum rap.
Cook made a lot of mistakes that eventually led to his demise. I wanted to show the dynamics of the Hawaiian society and tell the story from the Hawaiian point of view. This brought me to Kamehameha the Great/ and his favorite wife Ka’ahumanu.
Kamehameha was one of the warriors that greeted Cook. I found his story fascinating. The day he was born a comet lit the heavens marking the birth of a great chief. It was prophesied that this chief would unite the Hawaiian Islands. This story reminded me of the story of the star burning bright over the manger leading the wise men to baby Jesus. It was also said that the warrior who lifted the Naha Stone, a huge volcanic boulder, would be a great chief. Kamehameha, an athletic warrior lifted the stone when he was a teen. This seemed akin to King Arthur pulling the sword lodged in stone.
Joseph Campbell was alive at the time. I read his books and became fascinated by universal myths and legends. I felt this story was every bit as powerful as any in western annals and warranted re-telling.
What are people going to learn from this book?
Bare minimum they will come away with a better understanding of the Hawaiian point of view and a greater sensitivity to the nuances of the culture. They will be able to decide whether Ka`ahumanu should be revered s the Mother of the People, or whether she should be remembered as the “flaw that brought down the chiefdom.” I have tried to capture the poetry and sensual beauty of the Islands as well as the deeply spiritual aspects of the Hawaiian people. Hopefully, the reader will feel that they have been on an epic journey in a time and place that they can’t get to any other way.
Was there a pivotal event in your life that brought you to writing?
Yes, when I was thirteen my parents took me to Alaska. I left sunny Southern Cal an honor student trying out to be a cheerleader. When I arrived in Haines, population 2,000, with twelve kids in my class and only 60 kids in the entire high school, it was a shock to my psyche. Even though I had fun being the new girl in town and was into the extreme beauty of the place, I was lonely. I turned to books for companionship. People who read often become writers.
What was your greatest opportunity in life?
I was able to take a year off in Kauai to think about things before committing myself to a career pattern. I graduated with a B.A. in English Lit. I wanted to find out for myself if I was a writer, so I gave myself a year of unfettered, lazy time to contemplate my life plan. After putting myself through school selling real estate in California, I felt I deserved it!
This wonderful year was a turning point for me in many ways. I had a spiritual awakening, got my priorities straight and have been a more centered human being ever since. The seed was planted on Kauai for Wai-nani. I decided that, yes, I am a writer, but that I would support my eating habit selling real estate. This would allow me to be an artist free to write about what is important to me. Of course, it also meant it would take me ten times longer to get anything done in the writing world. I believe that money is a corrupting element in art. I did not want it to tear myself apart trying to fit into a commercial mold.
I identified with her spirit of adventure and rebellion. During the sixties and seventies women were breaking out. I am athletic outdoorsy and independent and childless by choice. She was childless not by choice, but she found other meaning in her life.
She questioned authority and the established ways of her time.
She insisted on having sexual freedom
She stood shoulder to shoulder with her warrior husband and was a source of strength for him.
She was strong brave, athletic, sensuous and deeply spiritual. In short, I saw her as the forerunner of the modern woman.
I learned after writing my first draft and sharing it with a Hawaiian scholar that even though she was loved by the common people, she was a controversial figure. She was perceived by male power figures, namely priests, as a threat. Some people even believe she was part of a conspiracy to kill Kamehameha the Great and remember her as “the flaw that brought down the chiefdom.”
I thought Michner pretty much covered Hawaii. What does your book offer that his didn’t?
His story begins where mine ends. He touches lightly on the pre-contact days and dwells on the impact of the missionaries who arrived in 1820.
What was the biggest challenge for you in writing this story?
It was difficult to write the story without using modern words that would jar the reader back into the 21st century. Keeping Wai-nani’s voice consistent over a 40-year time frame in which European contact brought huge changes to the Hawaiian point of view was difficult.
What was the hardest thing about writing this book?
Trying to represent the ancient Hawaiians who were filled with contradictions in an honest, even handed way. Even though they lived under a harsh and extreme caste system that included slaves and called for human sacrifice, as a whole they were nurturing to one another. They shared the fruits of their labors in a communal, caring way. The Ohana, or extended family, was the most important unit and no child went unloved. When troubles came there was a time for talking things out. “No job is too hard if it is done all together” is a basic Hawaiian precept. Even though the high chiefs siphoned off the riches of the commoners they were also the first conservationists. They placed kapus, or restrictions, on fishing during spawning seasons to ensure enough for all.
What has given you the most pleasure in the last year?
Getting Wai-nani out of my drawer and into the streets. She deserves it, and I need to move on to my travel collection Lost Angel Walkabout.
How can someone buy your book?
Go to www.LindaBallouAuthor.com and click on books.