Ancient Advice: Pay Attention, Like Our Ancestors Did

Cultural Practitioner and SEARCH Hawai‘i Co-Star Kainoa Horcajo contemplates the Kaulana Mahina – the traditional Hawaiian calendar – as he enters fatherhood.

On Father’s Day of last year, my partner Summer gave birth to a baby girl. For the 9 months prior, the questions replaying over and over in my head were about the perils and opportunities of raising a child in the world today. Throughout the pregnancy, I thought about what I would want to teach our daughter, what values we would instill in her and how we would deliver these lessons to her as she grows.

12063527_10153207412951705_4569849697719631851_n (2)Parenting, much like life itself, is something that can only be learned by doing. But as we seek the correct course of action we fall back on what we know, what we are familiar with. And luckily for us here in Hawai‘i, the kūpuna and ka po‘e kahiko (the elders and the people of old) have given us today much wisdom to look to. This wisdom has guided me and it will guide how I raise my child in this modern world.

Last year, in the early stages of pregnancy, Summer and I attended a conference on O‘ahu dedicated to better understanding the traditional Hawaiian calendar system, sometimes called the Kaulana Mahina or the ‘Aimalama (which was also the name of this conference). Being there, learning about the patterns of the moon, sun, and stars and how they affected every aspect of our life was a gentle nudge of the way in which we were determined to raise our child. As this little sprout of life blossomed inside of Summer, we listened to farmers, fishermen, and cultural practitioners from all islands describe the different times that life blossomed in their homes.

Everyone had something to add. The best of them had already spent years learning from their kūpuna and training in the traditional calendars. They understood when the fish were spawning, when the flash floods would come, when the best time to plant certain crops were. They could connect these events with the flowering of certain flowers, the ripening of certain fruit and the rising and setting of the moon.

We learned about the monthly drift of Box Jellyfish and Portuguese man-of-war into our waters at the same time every month, about 8 days following the full moon. We learned about those little but numerous dots of clouds that look like little pigs or dogs running across the sky. They mean that rain will come in a few days’ time.

This traditional calendar system observed the movement of the stars, sun, moon, and all natural phenomena to create a holistic place-based resource and behavior management system. It not only outlined what could be gathered or harvested at what times in what ways, but it oriented the individual within a framework of patterns found in the natural phenomena that was a part of, and integral to, the life of that individual within the particular land area, family group, and larger community.

This is the genius behind the Kaulana Mahina. It recognizes that different things happen at different times in different places. It recognizes that principles will always win over techniques. Most importantly, it recognizes that one of the most useful skills a person can have, both at home and on the road, is the ability to “Pay Attention.” Perhaps this too is part of the essence of the Wake and Wander philosophy. It is not just a technique of going into new environments but a principle of opening oneself to truly experiencing everything one encounters, a commitment to being unapologetically curious about anyone one meets.

Yes, I want my child to be strong, to be beautiful, to be smart, to be kind, to be compassionate, to be cautious, to be courageous, to be adaptable. But most importantly, I want her to understand on a deep level the hidden lesson of the calendar system. That in order to be each of these things at their appropriate time, she will need to cultivate a heightened and unwavering continuity of attention to all things.

Children learn fast, and I too will need to pay attention. Let’s just hope I can keep up.

How to Make An Old-School Seated Coconut Scraper


 Having a bench-style grater on hand makes shaving coconuts efficient and relaxing.

The Thai are often credited in historical explanations of the coconut grater, attributing its invention – or at least its gained popularity – to the use within kitchens across the country. To be sure, these tools were used, in some form, by all people across Asia and Polynesia. Today, they come in all different versions, from simple, handheld scrapers to more mechanical, modern graters.

Someone – maybe a Thai, maybe someone else – decided that they could be much more efficient, and certainly more comfortable, if they use a seated, bench-style grater to clean out coconuts. Ultimately, it became one of the more popular styles, and for anyone that’s ever cleaned a coconut with a handheld tool, one use is sure to show why.

It’s a simple concept. A person sits on what is essentially a small bench, and the physical, metal grater is fastened to the edge of that same bench, which comes to a point at the end. The user sits astride the bench and grates the coconut, using the hard brown shell as protection from the sharp metal teeth. The shredded coconut drops into a bowl below the grater.

There’s a beautiful sense of simplicity to the device that makes it as much of a home decor item as it does a useful tool. They are very straightforward to make, even for the mechanically challenged. Here, we provide instructions, along with a quick-and-easy coconut milk recipe. Let the (green) curry cookoffs begin.

Step-by-Step Instructions to Build a Seated Coconut Scraper

1. Buy a coconut grater, like the one pictured. Amazon sells them for less than $5. You can look for them in Chinatown or general stores, but they are hard to find.

2. Select and purchase wood. The higher quality you use, the more stable (and good looking) your scraper will be. A one-by-six inch board is sufficient for the bench.

3. Cut the 3 pieces of wood – the top bench and two legs – to the desired length. Usually, two feet is a comfortable bench length. The height of the legs depends on your measurements.

4. Cut the bench board so that it tapers down to a point at one end. The width of the point should be the same size as the width of the metal grater. You can be creative in designing how the bench tapers down to the point. If you don’t own or have access to a saw, ask your local hardware store to cut it for you.

5. Screw the legs into the bench. Screw the grater onto the pointed edge of the bench. Add fasteners as needed for stability.

6. Add flair to your bench with carvings or design details. Get shaving.

Quick and Easy: How to Make Homemade Coconut Milk

1. Shave coconut.
2. Measure out 2 cups of water for every cup of coconut shavings.
3. Bring water to the brink of boil. Remove from heat and pour into blender.
4. Add coconut shavings to water. Let it steep for a few minutes.
5. Blend shavings and water on high for 2-3 minutes.
6. Strain mixture with a cheesecloth.
7. Use immediately or refrigerate. The coconut milk will separate after a night in the fridge. This is normal. Let it reach room temperature and stir before using.