Kyla-Marie K. Turner
The big classroom hall lights switch off, the rows of chairs disappearing with the fading lights. Visibly, the classroom is reduced to just the “stage”. Two podiums on opposing side at the front of the classroom, the lights in the front creating a sort of spotlight which shines on my self and my opponent. Both standing behind our respective podiums.
Both knowing it’s about to begin.
My heart is racing, the sound loud in my ears like choppy seas. I close my eyes for a moment, one single moment to calm the ocean. Only then can I see the canoes, full of fishing supplies and a small cooler for the catch, push off the shore into the water. The paddles pull steady against the water’s surface. I open my eyes once more. Ready.
Tonight’s school event is a twist on the open mic night, explained earlier in the night to the gathered crowd full of students looking for a mental break and students here to support those signed up to participate. The event is a mock debate in which students who signed up would be picked both random opponents and topics. Though we knew our opponents beforehand, the moderator of events Anela Ching would pull our topics from a hat.
The crowd watches the hat intently as Anela’s hand slipping into the void, and pulling out the last slip of paper. The final debate of the night She opens it, and beams in delight at what she sees. Once she gets the go ahead, her crisp voice sounds throughout the hall.
“Your topic? Light versus darkness. Adrian, argue for light. Kamoe for darkness. Go!”
The topic is broad. Very broad. My opponent, Adrian, takes the moment of silence to proceed, the floor now in his hands.
“My good people, the fight between light versus darkness has been go on for centuries now. Light versus darkness, good versus evil.” His voice rings out across the auditorium as the lights illuminate the two of us. His hands sit on his podium, his stature neat and proper.
“And time after time, the light always wins. It is the light that guides our way, the light which guides,” he pauses, looking out amongst the crowd, “us.”
Adrian makes some excellent points about the light. I know he does. But something in me just feels wrong about this topic in general. My nose wrinkles at the thought of opposition between the two. Why opposition?
Anela notices my discomfort, and directs the conversation to me. “What is your take on this century old debate, Kamoe?” My head tilts to the side, looking out to the crowd of students. I decide tonight, I’m going to do this my way.
My hands come off the podium, as my head straightens. I smile and address the crowd.
“I think that looking at light as a guiding force makes a lot of sense, especially when considering popular medium of storytelling and expression,” I point out, nodding at Adrian slightly. “Most media uses light as such. A guiding force which guides heroes and heroines to triumph.”
A hum of agreement washes over the crowd at my statement, and I can see Adrian smirk a little. I wonder if he thinks I have no comeback. But my dad taught me better. Never go out into the canoe unless you are prepared. For this, I’m always prepared.
“However, this is a very Euro-centric and Western-centric way of viewing light and darkness.”
My gaze meets Anela’s, who smiles in the darkness, the corners of her lips curling upwards just barely. “Please elaborate, Kamoe.”
I take a deep breathe in through my nose, my own lips curling upwards as I step out from behind the podium. I decide to utilize my half of the stage freely.
“In American and European thinking, there is a fixation on binaries. ‘Light versus darkness’ and ‘good versus evil’, as my opponent eloquently put. This competition of these binaries has been the staple foundation of storytelling in Western and European cultures for centuries. It is no wonder why the narrative of light versus darkness is so essential.”
“Are you saying, Kamoe, that light versus darkness is not a valid argument? Because many stories, including that of older and more classic stories have shown this argument valid.” Adrian says my name a little sarcastically and I watch as his eyes flash something unreadable. I take the moment to reflect on his point, and then revel in his reaction. I am irking him.
“Of course not. Like you’ve just said, Adrian, light versus darkness has been around for centuries. It is as valid as you and I, standing here.” I gesture to the stage, my point cemented by the mere fact that we stand here together. As we share space. “But, I want to point out in many other cultures, this argument does not exactly stand.”
Moving to the farthest end of the stage, I look at the crowd. I point to myself.
“Take Hawaiian culture for example. In my culture, the world started from Pō, from darkness.” To emphasize this, I point to the darkness in the room. Then I see an audience member’s phone screen light up in their hand, and I immediately point in that direction. My smile is wide, my heart full. Oh, how my gods love me! We are in deep ocean now!
“Ah, and there is my Ao! The light which was born from the darkness.” A couple people in the audience, including some of the event crew, giggle softly. I press forward, laughing a bit myself. “Ao, or the light, is born from darkness. Dear audience, see how this is sounding more like a reaction, rather than a competition?”
“But it is still a binary.” Adrian argues, and I think for a moment. Because he’s right. Even with this it is still a binary. But the canoe just reaching its destination. I smile as the idea pops into my head, the risk being worth it.
“You are right. It still is, because there are still two forces at play here.”
I reach my center half of the stage, just before the halfway point between our sides. My body faces the audience, my palms facing upwards in a way that showcases opportunity.
“This is where I would like to pitch a different word to describe the relationship between the two. Duality.”
The first time my dad ever took me out on the canoe, it was a lot like this. Trial and error, test and succeed. Tonight after years of practice, I get to put my work to the test. The hook is tied, the line cast, and I can feel the nipping of the fish, just waiting to bite.
“Duality? How does duality describe light and darkness any differently than binary? If anything, there is more opposition proposed in that word than binary.” Adrain offers, the connection between the two clear for everyone in this sense. I’ve tied my hook well.
“That’s just it. ‘And’.” I look back at Adrian for a second, smiling softly. Our eyes meet, his full of indifference, mine of excitement. I turn back to the crowd, using this as extra line for my hook to set.
“In the Hawaiian culture, there is no light versus darkness, good versus evil, for that conveys that there is only one ‘living’ or being at a time. That in times of peace, there is no chaos.” My fist close and I pound it softly against the palm of my other hand, saying firmly, “This is how binary is used and explained in American and European stories.”
Where my voice was hard pressing and firm just now, it turns soft, careful. “Duality offers that one is never without the other. It is light and darkness, good and evil, peace and chaos.”
My kupuna’s blood rushes through me, the blood of fishermen and ocean people. My dad used to say that the ocean is the world’s greatest storyteller. He also used to say that with how often I insisted on going out on the canoe, I am its most devoted student. I was born just one among many in this sea of deprived youth, begging for a story.
Anela is smiling again as the crowd sits in silence. Then she shifts her attention to Adrian. I take that as my cue and walk back behind my podium. We are playing the waiting game once more.
“Adrian, Kamoe brings up an excellent point about different cultural views on light and darkness. As you were talking earlier on stories that showcase light versus darkness, could you give an example of a story and prove their validity?” This I know is a loaded question, and there are many sources he could pull from. I watch closely.
“ Just like you can never predict the sea, never underestimate an opponent, or you will surely lose.”
My dad’s voice echos in my head and I smile. I was waiting for him to join me.
Adrian simply nods and begins talking about the classic European fairytales. He mentions Hans Christian Anderson and his Little Mermaid, the Grimm Brothers with their Hansel and Gretel, and the many other stories they wrote and collected. I listen as closely as I can. But as his subject moves to talk a bit more about the fairytales themselves and their more recent film adaptations, I watch.
His hands, folded and unmoving, never leaving the podium. Nor does he. He is stoic, as well as a fine academic who is obviously well versed in the content of ENG 302 Myths and Folklore. A class I thoroughly enjoyed last semester.
But he is just that. Stoic. There’s no life in him as he references different modern retellings and how even those play into elements of light versus darkness.
It takes me this whole this time to realize it…his passion is practiced. Learned. I stare knowingly, feeling something tug within me. I think something might be on my line.
“And besides, the topic is to argue about light versus darkness, not talking about the ‘and’ aspect of their relationship.”
Murmurs flood the audience, because they know Adrian is right once again. In being right, he skillfully takes away my ‘and’.
When I was a child, there was one fishing trip where I let the line sink too deep, and my dad had to take over for me. I remember it feeling like this. The ocean and sky turning dark, the canoe shuddering against the choppy waves. The line feeling like it was just running out of my hands. I was inconsolable.
Yet, with a steady hand, my dad reeled it back in, reeling me back into perspective. He taught me to feel the line sinking deeper and deeper, the lead weight diving until it’s pulled taunt by the line. By me. He told me I was the master of my line. It was up to me to do right by ocean, by my family, to get our catch. And I will.
I feel the line sink deep under the waves as the seas once again turn rough. For a moment, I think the seas turned too rough to secure my line. For a moment, I think this catch might have gotten away from me. But then dad’s voice comes back and I steady the line once more. Even as the ocean crashes against my hull, my smile widens. Feeling all I need to feel.
“My ‘and’ argument does not diminish the opposition that light and darkness often find themselves, especially in Hawaiian moʻolelo and myths.” I pause, and look at Adrian. He watches me intently. And I can see as we shift. As this time together shifts from a competition to an ‘and’.
“It just acknowledges the necessity each have of the other.”
In this moment, all I can hear is my heart and my breathing. One is racing, the other is steady. And all I can do is smile.
Adrian’s voice is the first to break the silence. “So how would argue then, Kamoe, for the event’s sake, that you are on the side of darkness?”
My answer is immediate, for this answer is my life.
“Women are made from darkness. We are the pō. It is from us that the ao is born.” I look out amongst the crowd, watching the darkness shift as the crowd takes in my words. Then I look to Adrian. I can see the spark, the small kindling of light within his eyes. Maybe its just the fluorescent classroom lights shining down on us or maybe it really is something in him, something coming to life. He speaks next.
“Then why do people fear the dark?” His question is half defensive, but I can tell this is also a genuine question. He is curious. I think for a second, as this question could be answered in many ways. A soft smile comes across my face. I’ve found my answer. I start to reel in my line, feeling my catch securely on my hook.
I indulge him.
“Because we are human, and our greatest fear is the unknown. And heights.”
Small laughter is heard in the darkness of the classroom hall and a small smile graces the young man’s lips on the opposing podium. I continue softly as the laughter dies down.
“In the light, the unknown finds ways to hide, usually hiding in plain sight. It is innovative. And yet in the darkness, because we have a harder time seeing already, we place more distrust in it. It is a little unfair, if I am being completely honest. I’ve seen far more monsters in broad daylight.”
I take in a deep breath and leave my podium once more. I walk just left to the center, keeping on my half of the stage. However, I don’t address the audience. I angle myself so I can speak directly to Adrian.
“What about you? Why do you think people covet the light so desperately?”
He takes a moment, pondering how to approach this. Then for the first time during this entire debate, his hands unfold and the podium reveals the young man who was standing there this whole time. The man behind the words. Adrian moves and stands just right to the center of the stage. Mere feet from me.
“Maybe because we have learned to blindly trust what we see. The light is tempting, and it lights the way in life.” He addressed me directly, waiting to see if I have a response. I do.
“Light cannot shine without darkness, just as darkness would go unnoticed if not for the light. To see through only one lens would be to doom yourself to an extremist’s view.”
“Do you believe you don’t have an extreme point of view in regards to darkness?” Adrian asks curiously, and I can feel the room holding its breath. I simply nod my head.
Simplicity answered with simplicity warrants deeper answers. I oblige, turning back to the crowd.
“I am a woman in a man’s world. A young Hawaiian woman raised and living in a modern world created by and for men. I am the pō forced to live in the light. I am very familiar with the ways of the light. What works, what doesn’t, what’s tailored by the light, for it, for us with limited knowledge on how darkness works. I know it well.”
There’s a warmth flowing through the room and my heart pulls me back to Adrian. My gaze meets his and he smile widely at me. I’ve caught my catch. It’s time to return home.
Anela pulls the both of us back and has us give our final remarks. Adrian starts.
“The light is a guide which has proven in many forms of story and media to shine through darkness every time. The world is nothing without the light.” His final line is smart and concise. He ends with a line, a statement, that I cannot refute. Anela prompts me for my final thoughts.
“The world as we’ve known it, as the generations in this room know it, have known this view of light and dark our entire lives. It’s in our stories, our movies. Everything is a war. But it doesn’t have to be. There can be a balance. My ancestors, the Hawaiians, lived with a balance. They understood moderation, balance, self-sustainability in all aspects. Because they knew that the light is nothing without the dark.”
I pause, looking once more at Adrian as I return that wide of his with one of my own. Between us now, there is nothing but ‘and.’ The canoe has returned to shore.
“That we are nothing without both.”
The room is enveloped in silence.
But then, clapping starts to my right. Adrian is clapping, his body angled so he is almost entirely facing me. He is clapping for me. The room follows suit, erupting into applause that resounds throughout the entire space. My hands move almost instinctively, clapping along with everyone for a mock debate event well done. I clap with them, but my eyes stay to my right. My gaze never leave his.
Anela takes control of the room once more thanking us and the other student debaters for such riveting debates. The host professor makes one final remark, and the event is finished. There is the rush of students filing out to get to the dorms or cars, some staying back to talk to the debaters. We all get stopped by a numerous amount of students congratulating us.
After a while of conversing though, it gets late, so we get booted out into the open hall. The wind whips at us, earning shrieks from a couple of the debaters and student gathered. They run to the library lanai to be safe from the wind.
I pause letting the wind blow over me. Being able to enjoy windy evenings in Hilo is rare. But as I look behind me, I realize I’m not alone. Adrian is just exiting the classroom, the professor saying his goodbyes to the both of us as he passes.
The two of us stand in the hallway. Together.
The air is cool, charged like lightning. I look down at my feet, about to speak, but he beats me to it.
“You were impressive in there.” His voice here in the open hallway is much quieter, much gentler. The sea turned calm once more.
“You were as well. You had great comebacks.”
My gaze lifts to his eyes, truly seeing his eyes for the first time. They were warm shades of brown and gold, sunlight streaming through the ʻōhiʻa forests up mauka. I smile a little.
“Comebacks that just barely stumped you, might I add.” The jest is a little pointed, but the smile shinning through the ʻōhiʻa trees says it was anything but aggressive.
“Adrian Kawela. Business and English double major.”
Adrian holds his hand out towards me, extended in a friendly gesture. I take the offer. My hand is on fire.
“Kamoeʻuhane Williams. Anthropology and Political Science double major.”
Our hands continue to shake as we acquaint ourselves. Then the wind blows us forward, onto our next destination. And the fishermen return home with ocean’s latest moʻolelo.