Lalau: The Hawaiian Word of The Week
Let’s stray just a little
Ever have trouble staying on track? Does your curious nature lead you off the beaten path, whether physically or mentally? If so, you are in good company and we can lalau together.
Ua lalau aku i kauhale o Hikaua mā – He has wandered off to So-and-so’s house. (Hawaiian Dictionary)
Hang on, let me be clear about what I mean, lest my kāne (husband) get upset. I am not talking about the kind of lalau that one kupuna talked about in her conversation with Kepā Maly when she explained that she was one of many children:
“We had seven plus, plus. You know that time! [chuckles] They go lalau here and there and get this one, get that one.”
That kind of lalau, though common even until my great grandmother’s time (aloha nō ia mau lā), is pretty much a “no go” these days (unless you want your belongings tossed in the street). The kind of lalau I mean is innocent and about wandering mentally – lalau ka noʻonoʻo – or in conversation. Some of us are just that way. We think in many directions at once and can get off the subject. Some people think that is a bad thing, but to that I say:
He lalau! Nonsense! [Hawaiian Dictionary]
The side roads we take can lead to wonderful discoveries and connections, whether alone or with others. Some of the best things I find in the nūpepa (Hawaiian-langauge newspapers) I find because I am, once again, straying from what I am supposed to be concentrating on. I look at one thing and something else catches my eye. The nūpepa is an especially easy place to get sidetracked like that, though. And while I want to be more efficient, I think that it is just in my nature to have a slow and meandering process. Not with everything, but with researching, writing and creating, I go all over the place.
Hōkai ʻo Wawaia ke kūkini holo lalau. – The runner, Wawaia, who ran out of his course, caused hindrance and delay. (ʻŌlelo Noʻeau)
More on this ʻōleo noʻeau: Said of one who does not concentrate and wastes considerable time. Wawaia was a runner who, instead of running on the errand assigned to him by his chief, went on a visit before completing the errand, thus causing delay and rousing the ire of his chief.
Call it wasting time, but some of my best discoveries have come out of lalau. I get it, though, that going off-course and wasting time is just a total aberration to some. The place name Kalalau, for the verdant Kauaʻi valley, literally means “the straying,” so many ʻōlelo noʻeau that have to do with blundering or going off-course incorporate this place name. I distinctly remember Aunty Malia Craver using an ʻōlelo noʻeau about Kalalau in our hoʻoponopono class when talking about how the process can sometimes get off track:
“Hele loa aku i Keʻei, ʻo Kalalau nō ma ʻō. Going way out to Keʻei, Kalalau is far over there. Nothing is accomplished.” (Aunty Malia Craver)
In the context of what we were learning, it made total sense. It was also really fun to hear a native speaker use an ʻōlelo noʻeau that isn’t in “the book.” Her words stayed with me and they ring in my head when I am getting a little too far off task (or a little too “out there” with my thoughts). I am thankful that I can draw on that small piece of wisdom because today’s world can be UBER distracting. From social media to text messages, it can be easy to lose focus and lose precious minutes when we lalau too much.
I guess the take home (since there’s gotta be a hua, o lalau loa auaneʻi) is that a certain amount of lalau will breed discovery and creativity, but too much will result in getting very little done. So lalau when and where it is appropriate, but try not to kui lima (hold hands) with miliʻapa (slow, dilatory), hoʻopaneʻe (procrastination), or lele pā (fence-jumping), cause then you will be off course in a way that doesn’t serve you or anyone else.
E kau pono ka noʻonoʻo i ka hana o lalau! – Concentrate on your work or you are going to make a mistake!
Ma hea lā ʻoe i lalau aku nei? – Where did you go wandering (off course) to?
E ola ka ʻōlelo o ka ʻāina!