Posted in Family, Home

Project Petroglyph

my sketch of Keoni (whittling a stand for one of his petroglyph carvings)

Keoni and I make a running joke about his age—not because he’s incredibly old (though of course that’s the joke), but because he was in college when I was born… So I tease him that when he used to carry girls’ books after school, they were clay tablets… Or that his birth certificate was chiseled in stone…

Maybe my teasing sparked an idea, because he recently picked up some pieces of sandstone that have been piled in a roadside heap since the dismantling of a wall at the entrance to our neighborhood. He started looking up traditional Hawai’ian petroglyphs, and next thing he was playing with his dremel tool and carving into his sandstone squares.

In Hawai’i you can find petroglyphs (literally, “rock-pictures”) near sites of old villages, around the volcano, or the sacred grounds of heiaus. I’ve always enjoyed the fact that they aren’t cordoned off or marked out like museum-pieces; you can just be poking around a lava flow and realize you’re standing on a story… The petroglyphs (or, to use the Hawai’ian term, ki’i pohako) tell stories about the sea life and plant life of the islands, family and social relationships, birth and magic and food and sport (Hawai’ians invented surfing, of course)… As a writer, I’ve always felt a special affinity for these enduring image-stories.

L to R: the “bird” petroglyph (carved by Elena Grace), the pu’eo (owl) petroglyph, and “paddlers” petroglyph

We’re both familiar with many of the traditional petroglyphs—hunters and fisherman, canoe paddlers and boats, and of course the honu (turtle) outline that’s all over the merchandise in tourist shops. I hadn’t realized until he started researching, though, that there’s a petroglyph for the owl, my own totem. So the owl was his first carving, followed by a pair of paddlers in memory of my Hawai’ian friend Al (an outrigger canoe steersman, whom I wrote about last year on the anniversary of his death).

He went on to make a pair of carvings for the two youngest kids, each one representing a family name we use for them. I nick-named Christian “Turtle” when I was pregnant with him and didn’t know know his gender, so honu is the obvious choice for him. Keoni carved a sandstone version, and then another on a circle cut from a gourd, which he put on a braided cord for a necklace.

Petroglyph of Honu (turtle) for Christian, and our made-up Monkey for Elena Grace

Elena Grace was trickier to match with a design, but she’s been a “monkey” since I first saw the movie Curious George… She was two years old and so exactly like George that I jokingly began to call her by that name when Christian and I came home from the theater. I didn’t anticipate the repercussions, though. For a month or two afterward, she insisted on being called George, persistently referred to herself as “Jooj,” and wouldn’t answer at all to her given name! If I felt ridiculous about the incredulous looks I got when I addressed her as “George” in public (because she wouldn’t acknowledge any other form of address)—well, I guess it was my own doing…

She was also born in a Year of the Monkey, which she particularly celebrates because she has that in common with Keoni. They’re the Monkey-Twosome of the family… But sadly for us, Hawai’i doesn’t have endemic monkeys, and therefore no monkey-petroglyph in the traditional line-up. No matter, though—we made up our own, adding a tail to the conventional “man” symbol.

Elena Grace carving a bird (and wearing her monkey necklace)

The kids were thrilled with their carvings, and I got even more of a kick out of Elena Grace’s determination to try her hand at carving herself. She went through the stack of index cards on which Keoni had drawn different petroglyphs, picked out “bird,” and after a quick demonstration of the tool, went to work on a piece of sandstone. Maybe that one is for the chickens we’ll be adopting soon.

We have a pile of sandstone left, so the carvers are still at it. We’re thinking of pua’a (wild pig) for Kapena, since he’s so passionate about his “pigskin” (football)… Now we just need to figure out the other four kids, and the three grandkids, and we’ll have the whole family line-up in story-stones.


I am... a writer, an explorer, a coffee-drinker, a recovering addict, a barefoot linguist, a book-dragon ("bookworm" doesn't cover it), a raconteur, a sailboat skipper, a research diver, a tattooed scholar, a pirate, a poet, a spiritual adventurer, a photographer, a few kinds-of-crazy, a joyful wife, a mom... a list-maker! :)

43 thoughts on “Project Petroglyph

    1. I love that image! We always do refer to our ink as “stories”… (And of course, tattooing is a Hawai’ian tradition as well–Westerners picked it up from the Polynesians…)
      You’re right—the Hawai’ian phrase for traveling storyteller is “ha’i mo’olelo kama hele.” :)


    1. I’m smiling—we have a painted rock on our front porch (the “crafts” area) that says, “Please excuse the mess; our children are making memories.” :)


    1. We’re laughing out loud! Keoni actually went to high school with “Barry” (Barry Obama, that is—he graduated with Keoni’s younger brother), so WE know where he’s from… ;)


  1. Kana,
    Allow me to be a tad off-topic here… Most banners on A Clown on Fire were done by fellow bloggers and artists. I am always honoured and proud to showcase other artists, and in return, I get great banners… I think your sketch of keoni is fantastic… Would you be willing to do a header for A Clown on Fire?
    Le Clown


      1. Kana,
        That’s great! Only theme is always A Clown on Fire… Unicorns are welcome – something absurd like that… And dimensions are 1000*288. The rest is all up to you!
        Thank you………
        Le Clown


  2. I love it when kids get inspired and are encouraged to try something new themselves, in this case EG trying her hand at carving a bird. Thanks for sharing the results as well as your spot on sketch of Keoni carving. You’re such an artistic family! In my house when I was a kid my dad was usually passed out asleep in his chair as I watched moronic sitcoms on the tube.


    1. I think that’s why we DO revel in our current life so much—your picture of chidhood DOES describe our household when we were drinking! Rather a difference when we’re Sober… ;)


      1. My dad wasn’t passed out drunk. He was passed out exhausted from a demanding job and I was a typical high energy kid. Ours was just an ordinary household in the sixties. Glad that you’re sober now though!


        1. I apologize! I didn’t at all mean to infer about your Dad, only to comment about US. That didn’t come out well at all–I’m sorry!


  3. A beautiful story, and I love the carvings. The painting is especially moving to me. I love the blur of the fine details, almost like drawing someone from memory long after you’ve seen them.


    1. Thank you–I’m pleased to know that it’s moving to more than just myself. (Of course, I’m also pleased that it HASN’T been long since I’ve seen him…) ;)


  4. I don’t have much capacity of brain, come the evening when I have time to peruse blogs, but once in a while I am able to spend time reading. I have enjoyed your family series….chicken coops, petroglyphs, ode to a sister, and poker games. Fun stuff!


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