LANGUAGE OF THE GECKOS by Gary Pak - Excerpt from DON'T LOOK BACK



Don't Look Back

Hawaiian Myths Made New – An Anthology of Modern Mo‘olelo. In this one-of-a-kind anthology, old meets new as Hawai‘i’s best writers present favorite myths and legends in surprising contemporary settings.


Gary Pak is a third-generation Korean American whose grandparents, fleeing an occupied Korea, arrived in Hawai‘i in 1905. Published in numerous anthologies, magazines, and literary journals, he also authored The Watcher of Waipuna and Other Stories (Bamboo Ridge, 1992), A Ricepaper Airplane (UH Press, 1998), Children of a Fireland (UH Press, 2004), and Language of the Geckos and Other Stories (University of Washington, 2005). His children’s play, Beyond the Falls, was produced by the Honolulu Theatre for Youth in 2001. He holds numerous awards and fellowships, including the Elliot Cades Award for Literature and the Council for International Exchange of Scholars (Fulbright). He is a professor of English at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.



More myths, please!

Read excerpts from other tales in the Don't Look Back anthology:

Timothy Dyke's NO LOOK BACK

J. Freen's IF YOU GOOGLEEARTH 1188 BISHOP STREET

Darien Gee's PELE IN THERAPY

Christine Thomas' PLACES OF ENTRY

A.A. Attanasio's SEX, LOVE AND THE MIGHTY FINE STRUCTURE CONSTANT


The perpetuity of myth and legend is, and has always been, paralleled by a lively tradition of distilling, retelling, and recasting the epics and grand tales in completely new, often abbreviated, contemporary forms. These recast stories are themselves brand-new and sometimes spontaneous productions. With themes and dynamics drawn from the classics, the characters are often contemporary and may barely reflect the original heroes and gods, the settings are intentionally familiar, and the issues and actions are intentionally current. The myths, in their “classical” forms, connect the common roots of human society from times ancient to today, while the recastings make the longevity of those attitudes, principles, and ethics immediately relevant.

The contemporary tales in this collection are presented as chants of celebration, arias of advice, and revelatory refrains, composed in resonance with the tempos and scales of stories long known and legends long told.


— Dr. M. Puakea Nogelmeier, foreword to Don’t Look Back


LANGUAGE OF THE GECKOS

Gary Pak

INSPIRED BY ‘AUMĀKUA TALES OF THE MO‘O

In the evenings, when I was small, I would look out the screened windows of our house at the geckos, their translucent undersides sometimes showing an egg or two. Geckos covered the outside of our house, scurrying this way and that, calling or challenging each other with staccato voices, and once in a while one would find its way inside. I never was able to see it inside; it was just too elusive, too fast, too deceptive. But once in a while, its call would give it away, or in the morning I’d notice droppings on the kitchen counter or along the inside of a window. Geckos were all around us all the time.

Back then, I never knew about their significance to the ‘āina, what they represented, their connection to Hawaiian mythology, or how some believe the mo‘o to be their ancestor or ‘aumakua (guardian spirit). It was something I never thought about. Like the spirits and ghosts that freely meandered all over the land of my birth, I just lived with them. They were just a part of me, and perhaps I could say that I was a part of them. Only later, as an adult, did I learn that geckos, or perhaps only some of them, were considered mo‘o and an important part of Hawaiian mythology and the Hawaiian ancestral belief system.


* * *

The geckos were all over Gabriel Ho‘okano’s house, but it didn’t bother him for the simple reason that they had always been there. Generations and generations of geckos had populated the Ho‘okano property, even before the house (which Gabriel had built himself) existed. Gabriel knew the genealogy of the geckos, or the mo‘o as he would correctly call them, since he regarded their lineage and his to be one and the same. He would call particular geckos Uncle or Aunty; and with the death of his wayward brother, the newest gecko to appear on Gabriel’s nightly screen was given the name Kopa, Jacob’s childhood nickname.

It was amazing that even with a failing memory Gabriel never forgot the names of the hundreds—perhaps thousands—of geckos that surrounded him. What was even more astonishing was his ability to communicate—rather, “talk story”—with the mo‘o, with the exception of the new one, Kopa, who had never once kah-kah-kahed since his advent at the Ho‘okano house (though he had taken a royal share of termites, flies, mosquitoes and other resident arthropods).

Even if Kopa never talked to him, Gabriel made it a habit to talk with him anyway, for he knew Kopa was hiding in some nook of the porch and listening. In the early evenings, after finishing the supper that he now often cooked, and while Mary and Harriet were washing the dishes and talking stories (Harriet had taken up the habit, as requested adamantly by Mary and not so enthusiastically by Gabriel, of having her meals at the Ho‘okano residence; for the most part, she had moved in, taking quarters in the back bedroom of the house, which was ideal for her since the room gave her a near panoramic view of her pasture [with the old garage partially blocking the right side] and it was but a one-minute stroll to her beloved cows), Gabriel would talk stories to Kopa. He’d relate the day’s events, and if he could not remember what had happened, then he would make them up. This was done with an understanding of his brother’s situation: Kopa, frolicking in the spiritual world that made him know almost everything, would know how to interpret Gabriel’s stories and turn them into truths.

Gabriel noticed how boisterous the geckos had become over the past few days (with the exception of Kopa, though Gabriel did note how he had become a bit edgy at times, skittering back and forth across the dusty screen faster than usual, as if anticipating a big storm), with the geckos on the mauka side of the house being contentious with the geckos of the front porch. They’d meet at the intersecting corner of the house, usually near the eaves, and have it out. Most times Gabriel heard them argue about how many more termites the other side was getting, though once there was a savage fight that involved two geckos locked in each other’s jaws. Gabriel, who couldn’t stand the sight of a family fighting (there had just been too much of that in his immediate, human family), shooed them off with a bulldog look and a loud kah-kaht! But the next evening, Gabriel heard more racket, this time coming from the makai Diamond Head corner of the house. And this continued for the next three days. (Or was it four?) Something was definitely bugging the mo‘o, and Gabriel found no rest when the mo‘o were in such a troubled state.

* * *

Gary Pak's story "Language of the Geckos" appears in its entirety, along with 16 other tales, in the anthology Don't Look Back: Hawaiian Myths Made New, edited by Christine Thomas.

All stories in this anthology reprinted by permission with copyrights retained by individual authors. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information retrieval systems, without prior written permission from the publisher, except for brief passages quoted in reviews.