On my first bicycle trip, I left Jasper with a too-heavy trailer and made only 35 kilometres the first day. When I reached camp, I was so tired that I set up tent, ate an energy bar, and fell unconscious on my thermarest. I awoke later to the brilliant Milky Way–traditionally a “navigation chart” for travelling through this world as well as the great cosmologies and spiritual traditions. The next morning I was consumed with doubt — could I really complete a 5000 kilometre solo trip through British Columbia? Four months later, I rolled into Lake Louise, Alberta completing the route. The trip and its conclusion paralled the roads taken: lots of ups and downs, detours, change in plans, fears and strangers that became friends, unexpected encounters, smiles and tears, joy, and moment-by-moment grit and gratitude.
For my sabbatical in Hawaiʻi, I chose my Brompton folding bicycle as the main mode of transportation. With few exceptions, I use the bicycle for getting to-and-from classes and meetings, shopping for food or apartment furnishings, running Zander, exploring the neighborhoods, or getting take-out meals. Walking, occasional use of a ZipCar, and bus are secondary choices–and often not as convenient as the bike.
Bicycling constantly exposes me (and Zander) to the natural environment–wet when it rains, struggling against the winds, careful in the dark (even with lights), and hot, sweating in the sun. We also become entangled with the “local scene”–the woman who does sudoko outside her apartment always looking for help; the couple on their lanai who wave as they enjoy their daily coffee; dipping my head under the ulu
(breadfruit) hanging low on the tree; recognizing flowers (plumeria, mock orange, white ginger, or night-blooming cereus) by their fragances–or lack of; or tracking the sun and moon rising and setting on the horizon. Reading street signs is like a “whoʻs who” of Hawaiian history and a constant opportunity to practice pronouncing Hawaiian words. Wednesday and Thursday evenings are shopping at two local farmerʻs markets: Zander surveying the vendors from his perch between the saddle and handlebars and delighting in the attention from other shoppers!
The Hawaiian word kuleana often comes to mind. English translations rarely do it justice, and English words struggle to capture the interconnected, spiritual, ethical, and relational qualities integral to this concept. Even as I think I am beginning to understand its breadth, I am not sure, as a haole (foreigner), I can truly understand the fullness of its meaning. Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) writers begin with broad contextual phrases: an understanding that begins with participating in context-based responsibilities and positionalities located in interdependence of people and place (Goodyear-Kaʻōpua (2013). Specificaly, kuleana connects with responsibilities, obligations, reciprocal and respectful relationships. Kuleana is about the proper way to be amongst humans, ancestors, unseen forces, ka ʻāina (land and ocean), animals and plants, and the universe. Importantly, it includes the concept of privilege as in it is a privilege to be in a position to share one’s gift, to contribute, and hold a particular position. When kuleana appears in conversations, discussions and stories revolve around how individual lives nourish the community, how we honour our ancestors and and gifts, how we contribute to the well-being of the whole. As far as I understand, it is a concept that begins and ends with an embodied way of being enmeshed in each other.
As a haole and daughter of an officer of the occupying military, my reflections include a deep understanding of how my birth at Tripler Hospital in Honolulu, travels to Hawai’i as a visitor and tourist, and interest in Kanaka Maoli practices are all haunted by the harm experienced by Kanaka Maoli through illegal occupation, land reforms, and privileging wealth over relationships and environment. My contemplations around kuleana are infused with a desire to allow Indigenous worldviews (especially Kanaka ‘Ōiwi) to change what I think and who I am. I am still piecing together the embodied and enacted meaning of kuleana, but cycling creates a space-time for me to reflect and be entangled in everyday human lives and natural/built environments that call out for kuleana. Surprisingly, these are often momentary and mundane encounters.
I live near two private schools, a seniorʻs home, two medical centres, and two off-on ramps to the freeway. The traffic can be horrific with blocks of cars inching along and adjusting for parents dropping children off at school, ambulances, or older and slower pedestrians. Typically just before and after school, three traffic cops, a host of mothers helping children in and out of cars, parental chauffers, and alert drivers keep people safe and the cars moving at a steady pace. I, too, merge, measuring my cadence, become part of the alternating pattern, and use hand signals and waves to thank drivers who see me safely through. It is a dance of taking care of each other. It is a subtle pattern that makes a tedious routine more comfortable–often bringing smiles.
I have begun to see kuleana as an outward perspective that focuses attention on what is and what can be contributed to life at that moment–even traffic! The more I contemplate and look for it, the more opportunities appear. I realize how intertwined I am with the world and how every action has a ripple effect. Bicycling viscerally places me within this net of life forms and energies: a lost key found where I dropped it next to a bicycle rack; people who offer water to Zander; students in class who generously share notes and study time; the cashier who reminds of me of sales or loyalty cards to save money; the gardener who shares a papaya from her tree; fellow cyclists who are homeless stop to help or provide hints on thrift stores. Cycling provides space-time to understand on how little I need or how to choose activities that nourish the land, sustain others, and honors the genealogy of Kanaka ʻŌiwi. And a day filled with cycling leaves me relaxed, active, and content. As Zander and I are slowly knitted into local communities, I pay careful attention for opportunities to contribute to their lives and futures.
Notably, kuleana circles back to things! On long distance bicycle trips, I learned to reduce what I carried; too much stuff makes it harder to pedal and slowed me down. This sabbatical is restructuring what I need materially and having little actually provides a sense of freedom and relaxation. And this opens up more space-time to be, to focus outward and contemplate my intersection with others, time to play with Zander and others. Although I am not convinced of the accuracy of my interpretation, simply struggling to understand another worldview and its spiritual and ethical implications has already shifted my sense of self–and how out-in-the-open-cycling contributes to a life of service, acceptance of the privilege and responsibility, and care for the ʻāina and others met along the way.