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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.

Kevin O’Leary, who writes fiction under the name J. Freen, has lived in the Islands since 1970. During the 1970s and ‘80s he had several plays produced by Kumu Kahua Theatre. As a freelance journalist, he has written feature articles for the Honolulu Weekly and has published numerous short stories in Bamboo Ridge, including “The Copper Thief,” published in late 2009. He lives in Kalihi.

More myths, please!

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

Timothy Dyke's NO LOOK BACK



Christine Thomas' PLACES OF ENTRY


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


J. Freen


O‘ahu Nui was a Hawaiian ali‘i who lived a long time ago in central O‘ahu. A bunch of newly arrived Tahitians, known as Lō ‘Ai Kanaka, move into O‘ahu Nui’s neighborhood after being thrown out of nearby Waialua due to their cannibalistic habits. The ‘Ai Kanaka, hoping to get on O‘ahu Nui’s good side, invite him to dinner and serve him up some human fare. Over the space of a few months, O‘ahu Nui develops a taste for people. The problem is that O‘ahu Nui’s subjects are not dumb—they notice when Uncle goes out to collect hīhīwai in the stream and never comes back. Everybody knows the ‘Ai Kanaka M.O. by now, and O‘ahu Nui’s priests put pressure on him to cease visiting the cannibals, stop eating humans, and generally behave himself.

O‘ahu Nui tries, but the lure of human flesh is too great. He decides to eat his sister Kilikili’s two young sons. He sends Kilikili’s husband on a fake errand, has his retainers kill the two kids, and eats them for dinner. Kilikili’s husband returns, sees what happened, and kills O‘ahu Nui and Kilikili, who, along with anyone else who aided in the killing and consuming of the two boys, are turned to stone by the angry gods. The unusual-looking rocks are still there, of course, in an all but forgotten location near Wahiawā.

Who could resist writing a story about cannibals?

* * *

Try GoogleEarth 1188 Bishop Street, Honolulu, Hawai‘i. Take off from above the mainland, cross the Pacific in a second or two—makes you kind of dizzy the first time. Before you know it you’re above the harbor, coming in, coming in, mouse in hand—hold it—hovering above the office tower on the corner of Beretania and Bishop, at the gateway to the city’s financial and legal district. Lots of stuff goes on here, interesting stuff, but to find out you need to climb out of your computer screen, put on some clothes, some shoes, and hit the street for real.

It’s a toasty January morning in the city. You feel the sun on your face. You are standing on the corner, looking up at the steel and glass tower. In front of you is a short, dark-haired fellow dressed in a bland aloha shirt and neatly pressed slacks—the uniform of the local businessman. His name is Case Izumi. Follow him. He won’t notice you because, actually, you’re still back home, staring at the screen, dressed only in your underpants. I was just kidding about making you do anything realworld today.

His finger is on the button for floor number 21 and up we go. Suite 2110 is to his right, the door with the tasteful sign that reads: Alvin Alakawa, Attorney at Law. Push the door open, and the warm and pleasing face of the receptionist greets the visitor.

Her name is Kilikili, which means “fine misty rain” in Hawaiian. The kind of rain that often fills Nu‘uanu, the big valley behind downtown, in the morning and evening of a day like today. Kilikili’s last name is Pulena, a famous name in Hawai‘i, the family name of a long line of kings and nobles. She is proud of this but more proud, truth be told, of her two sons, Kai and Kawika, aged six and seven—kids she has raised as a single mom ever since their dad took off and left her to fend for herself, which she did, landing a job with big-time attorney and politician Al Alakawa. For six long years now she has been Al’s factotum, a fancy Latin word that means slave treated like dirt.

She smiles at the visitor, who she takes for yet another local Japanese businessman here to beg her boss for something because her boss is not just a lawyer, but a Senator, too. In a small state like this one, with a legislature that’s in session for just three months, politicians wear several hats, rain or shine.

Kili’s smile is so genuine that the visitor is taken aback, accustomed to almost everything being faked. Plus, he knows that Al Alakawa is one of the biggest assholes in this small pond. “He’s been expecting you,” the charming Kili says, opening the inner door to the boss’s immaculate office.

“Great,” he says, catching a whiff of perfume as he passes. How does such a prick keep such a terrific employee, he wonders, taking hold of Alakawa’s sweaty brown paw. Earth to Izumi, Earth to Izumi: employee has two kids and rent to pay, you jerk!

“Mister, uh, Izumi, right? Have a seat, have a seat.”

“Thanks for finding the time, Senator. I know how busy you folks are right now.”

“Yeah, got a vote on the floor at ten.”

“Good thing you work just walking distance from the Capitol.”

“Walk? That’s for haoles and fags.”


“Joke, joke! Here, have a cigar.”

“Uh, thanks.”

“Now, what can I do for you, in, like, seventeen minutes?”

“Senator, I represent an organization that maybe you’ve heard of, but maybe not. We like to keep a low profile. We find we can be much more effective that way.”

“And does your organization have a name?”

Al Alakawa is blowing smoke all over his office, obscuring the spectacular green view of Nu‘uanu Valley out his floor-to-ceiling windows. Case Izumi, who doesn’t smoke, is feeling a bit nauseated. Al is never nauseated—has, indeed, never thrown up in his entire life; however, he has no problem making other people sick to their stomachs.

“‘Ai Kanaka.” Izumi says, letting his voice lower into the cigar cloud.

“Oh. Oh yeah. I hearda you guys. You got that big old mansion up in the valley. You’re in my district,” he says, nodding toward the mountains. “Used to be an embassy or something.”

“The former Korean Consulate.”

“Whatever. I hearda you, although I thought you’d look a little different, you know, because of your organization’s name. Everybody’s gotta be Hawaiian these days, yeah?” Al pauses for some kind of effect, lost on his guest. “Somebody told me you guys have, what, a clubhouse up there? Whattaya do? Sit around and yell banzai a lot, sing Misora Hibari songs late at night…?” Case Izumi must be looking at him sharply, because Al grins and quickly says, “Hey, no offense. I’m a quarter Japanee myself. I just look like a friggin’ moke.”

“None taken, Senator,” Izumi says, returning the display of teeth. “And you’re not that far off the mark. We are a kind of club—of local investors.”

“Your name—shit, my Hawaiian sucks. I know ‘kanaka’ is, uh, ‘man’…”

Izumi is nodding his head the way people do when they’ve been asked a familiar question and can’t wait to get to the prepared answer.

“Very good, Senator. See, we—well, our leader actually—wanted a name that really described us as a group, and as individuals, who share certain values.”

“You’re gonna tell me what ‘Ai Kanaka means eventually, right?”

“Senator, you’re familiar with the expression ‘dog eat dog’?” Izumi asks without asking, taking Al’s impatient nod and running alongside it. “Well, as you know, that is merely a figure of speech, isn’t it? What we’re really talking about is the world of men, going mano a mano, survival of the fittest. Who cares about a couple of dogs mixing it up?”

Al is looking at him with an expression he reserves for people who waste his time. Hell, when you hit fifty you realize life is short and then you die. Izumi, who looks about forty, hasn’t tumbled to this yet.

“That’s why our leader decided not to beat around the bush with our name. Why not tell it like it is? You’re right—kanaka does mean ‘man.’ Man, or human. And ‘ai means ‘to eat.’ Get it?”

“Man, eat…” Al has always hated puzzles of any kind. He finds them … puzzling, which really pisses him off. “Eat, man… Man-eater?”

Izumi is smiling triumphantly while thinking: boy, is this guy frigging slow, or what?

“That’s us. Somebody gets in our way, tries to beat us in a deal, take away our business, whatever—they get eaten, simple as that. We’re the cream of the local business community, Senator. Our careers are littered with the carcasses of guys who went head to head with us and lost. We take no prisoners. ‘Ai Kanaka!”

“‘Ai Kanaka to you, too.”

There is a pause while the two men look at each other. Al is thinking how it’s amazing, the amount of bullshit that comes out of such a short Buddhahead like Izumi. Izumi is thinking this guy is so dumb, I wonder how much of that he got and should I go over it again or what?

“And you know, Senator, you were right about another thing. We do have get-togethers—we’re a sociable bunch. In fact, we’d like to invite you to a dinner we’re throwing tomorrow night. No strings, no commitments. We just want to get to know you better, and vice versa. You know, we heard you like to eat. We have in our employ the finest chef in the greater Pacific Rim. Can we set a place for you at the table, Senator?”

Al spends some additional seconds staring at the visitor through the haze of smoke.

“Sure. Why not?” he finally says.

“Say, eight o’clock?”

“Ate o’clock. Ha! Joke, joke.”

* * *

J. Freen's story "If You GoogleEarth 1188 Bishop Street" 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.