Dis Bon Connected to da Mem’ry Bone

Liddo Bitta Tita

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Kathy Collins

Listen to this column read aloud in pidgin:

Tita Kathy Collins

My mos’ fav’rite ting about summahtime on Maui is bon dance—one a da bes’ t’ings da Japanee culture wen’ t’row in da Hawaiian stew, along wit’ rubbah slippahs an’ Spam musubi. All summah long, you can go bon dance every weekend; all da Buddhist churches take turns hosting.

Bon dance is part a da Obon Festival—dass one Buddhist tradition fo’ honor your ancestahs. In Japan, they clean house, put out food, and light da chochin (paper lanterns) fo’ welcome da spirits back home. An’ den, when Obon time pau, they hang da chochin in da cemetery fo’ guide da spirits back to their graves. But befo’ they say sayonara, gotta make party. Obon is like one big family reunion, even if you stay ma-ke die dead.

Like my Okinawan grampa, my ji-chan, who went ma-ke when I was four years old. I only remembah liddo bit about him; in fact, just his smile. But every summah, to dis day, me an’ Ji-chan dance togedda at da Pa‘ia Rinzai Zen Mission, da one by Baldwin Park. Da Rinzai Zen one is da only Okinawan bon dance on Maui. Da music mo’ jazzy, wit’ live musicians playing sanshin, Okinawan banjo. I been going dat bon dance evah since small-kid time.

Back then, had couple dozen graves next to da church. All da fam’lies would come clean ‘em up fo’ bon-dance weekend. We set up our goza (straw mats) in front da graves an’ eat dinnah by da light of da chochin while da ol’ folks, da issei, stay at da church services. When da service pau, da priest come out an’ lead da drummers an’ da dancers, single file, all t’roo da graveyard, up an’ down every row, befo’ we go back inside da church an’ down da front steps to da bon-dance ring.

Dass why, small-kid time, I thought was bone dance. But not like Halloween, wasn’t spooky. My bes’ friend’s ji-chan was buried right next to mine’s. We would run back to da graves in batween dances fo’ rest an’ eat andagi (Okinawan donut). Sometimes we play hide an’ seek around da tombstones.

Today, mos’ a da graves been moved to biggah cemeteries. Only get Ji-chan an’ couple odda guys left. Nobody make graveyard picnics nowadays. But I still get dressed in kimono an’ light da senko (incense) at Ji-chan’s grave. And when da taiko drums start pounding, I close my eyes, an’ I still can see him smiling.

Dis year, da Rinzai Zen bon dance is August 21st.  Ji-chan an’ me, we see you there!
Tita’s taking a bite out of the Big Apple! If you’re in New York, see her perform at the Lincoln Center Out of Doors “La Casita” on August 14 and 15!

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