The haunting sounds of Hui Ohana

I’ve always been fascinated by the Ocean and how it so succinctly reflects the rhythm of Life and the passage of Time.

Many years ago, I was fortunate enough to be part of a media trip by sea to Ono in the Lau Group.

It’s a trip I will never forget.

I spent the nights of the three-day boat ride (one way) lying on the deck just staring awe-struck at the star-studded heavens. Now and then, I’d feel my way around the railings to watch the waves plough back into the sea leaving behind trails of bleached white foams that seemed to manage a smile just before melting away into an almost melancholic denouement. I remember feeling such a strong connection to the sea, as if I had been there before. Everything about the Ocean was familiar and then as I gazed into the unfathomable depth of midnight blue, I had a very strong sense of being “home”.

Throughout the trip, visiting a few other islands nearby, that feeling persisted. There was just something about the islands – the gentle swaying of palm trees, the lazy feel of the day, the dim flickering of lights from kerosene lamps as evening descended, softly subduing the voices of conversations and laughter and carrying them away as if it was dutybound to store them in a hidden vault of sounds. I remember wondering if I would be able to see or experience those moments again in 20 years’ time and if that were not to be the case, I remember feeling so fortunate to be a witness to an experience so bizarrely endangered it both scares and excites.

Then on the day before we left Ono (after visiting all its inhabited islands), we were treated to a meke performance by the villagers.

Ono, you see, is a group of islands that lie closer to Tonga than to Viti-Levu so it was well-known that the natives are more Tongan in nature and appearance than Fijian (more Polynesian than Melanesians). Like other aspects of their local culture, their meke and songs were heavily steeped in Polynesian accentuation. While watching them perform, my mind drifted back to the rhythm of the Ocean, the rhythm of swaying coconut trees, the rhythm of laughter and conversations, the rhythm of Life. As my attention returned to them, I was deeply touched by the rhythm of their spirit as a people.

Over the years, I’ve explored as many sounds as I can in Pacific music but there is still something so moving about the music of Polynesia. Somehow in my mind, they would always take me back to that trip and re-ignite in me a deep longing for “home”.

This is my favourite song from the Hawaiian group Hui Ohana. A lullaby that never fails to transport me back to several years ago, on a boat with nothing else but the ocean all around me and the skies all above me.


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