Bringing Ai Back To Aina

“Loose-moon” by Futurilla via CC BY 2.0

Bringing Ai Back To Aina

by Kahala Johnson
In (re)mapping, we as Native people hold the power to rethink the way we engage with territory, with our relationships to one another, and with other Native nations and settler nations…Mark my words, these imaginative geographies will open up new possibilities and inaugurate new and vital meanings – Mishuana Goeman, Mark My Words

In 2012, the brilliant designers of Kealopiko collaborated with the researchers of The Moon Phase Project to release a lunar journal for customers to record daily observations of their surroundings. A wide array of activities could be archived in its pages including the arts of fishing, farming, weaving, surfing, medicinal gathering, etc. Once completed, customers could return their observations and findings to the project, which would compile the information online for the community and researchers to peruse.

Lesbehonest. When my lunar journal finally arrived in the mail, I immediately did what any self-respecting poly-queer Hawaiian researcher would do: I converted it into a record for logging sexual play under the guise of kaona.

Malama: Makaliʻi
Mahina: Kūlua
     Two maiʻa beginning to swell.
     Ready to place trunks in imu.
    Rain trickling down the pali.

While the exercise was wickedly kolohe, it made me think about how a simple experiment like gauging sexual desire according to lunar phenomena might actually contribute to what Mark Rifkin calls a sovereign erotics. By rejecting the heteropatriarchal limitations of settler law, the concept draws an emplaced and embodied native cartography of reciprocal belonging in which “the land is both desired and desiring, is not a thing that can be priced and traded, is a feeling entity” (Rifkin 2011, 177). He challenges indigenous peoples to consider how erotics can “offer a way of rethinking the meaning of sovereignty, a way of addressing modes of peoplehood and placemaking made unintelligible in U.S. legal geographies but still alive as individual and collective sensations” (Rifkin 2011, 174).

Together with the Hawaiian Moon journal, Kapa Oliveira’s book Ancestral Places: Understanding Kanaka Geographies offers two sexy resources to help Kanaka Maoli tease out Rifkin’s appeal: performance cartographies and sensual knowledges.

According to Oliveira, Hawaiian performance cartographies are oral acts and embodied exhibitions that serve to map sensual relationships between kanaka and aina through voice, movement, and emotion, i.e. dances, chants, proverbs, naming practices, and…..surprise! Moon calendars! Coincidentally or not, sexual intercourse meets these standards but is somewhat absent in her discussion. Nevertheless, it is tantalizing to ask how we could use sexual performance as a queer cartography to explore what a Kanaka Maoli sovereign erotics feels like.

One place to start is with her description of sensual knowledges and abilities. Oliveira asserts that “kanaka knowledge is largely performative in nature, and our bodies are conduits of knowledge…the more we engage in an activity, the more attuned we become to the sense abilities associated with that given practice.” She lists nine types of sensuality for understanding and relating to aina: sight, listening, taste, touch, smell, naau, kulaiwi, au apaapaa, and moo. We can add a tenth sense, the sensual knowledge of ai (erotic relations) through which our bodies experience sexual pleasures.

Using ai sensualities to experience our erotic performances on a lunar basis can help us to develop a greater understanding of the queer kinships and emotional interdependences that serve to join our bodies with aina and each other. Collectively, we can begin to consider the importance to the lahui of restoring orgiastic rituals of pleasure at celebrations like the Makahiki as part of a sovereign erotic. More than just experiments in indigenous sexualities, such work seeks to define our self-determination and peoplehood through our bodies and desires. It’s time to bring the ai back to aina.

Note: For those interested in The Moon Phase Project, it may be time to purchase another journal. This month, the University of Hawaii at Manoa will host hundreds of cultural practitioners and experts at the 2015 Aimalama Lunar Conference. The event will be a gathering to discuss the emerging challenges of climate change as well as the potential for ancestral knowledge and modern technology to collaborate on environmental solutions. One of the central features of the conference that will be discussed is the research of Kaulana Mahina expert Kalei Nuuhiwa whose work on the Hawaiian Lunar Calendar is highly esteemed in the Kanaka Maoli community.


Works Cited:

Goeman, Mishuana. 2013. Mark My Words: Native Women Mapping Our Nations. Minneapolis, Ebook ed. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Oliveira, Katrina-Ann R. Kapaanaokalaokeola Nakoa. 2014. Ancestral Places: Understanding Kanaka Geographies. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University Press.

Rifkin, Mark. 2012. The Erotics of Sovereignty: Queer Native Writing in the Era of Self-Determination. Ebook ed. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.


One thought on “Bringing Ai Back To Aina

  1. Anoʻai ke aloha, my name is Ryan McCormack, I’m an instructor in Hawaiian studies at Hawaiʻi community college, as well as a kumu hula and a grad student in archetypal psychology, and I was enthralled by this piece. I have long taught about the eroticism inherent in Hawaiian relations with landscape and the landscapes that emerge within our personal Eros, but in the privacy of my own classroom or hālau. I honor your courage to bring forth what is a powerful, timely and healing discussion to the public forum. I would love to kamaʻilio more on the topic if you are interested. I have been doing some research and writing on the topic through the lens of the Pele and Hiʻiaka traditions, as well as the stories of Haumea. Please feel free to contact me.

    I māunu wale i ke aloha,


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