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It’s a Japanese word that means “noisy.” But in the pidgin of my youth it was a warning to “Quiet please” Where “Shut your mouth!” depending on the tone of voice used. Our elders barked, “Yakamashii!” whenever we were overly rambunctious or annoyingly talkative. I’ve heard it so many times, I thought it was my nickname.
The Hawaiian Phrase “kuli kuli” has the same double meaning, but “yakamashi” at least for my generation, was used more often and by people of all ethnicities. While conducting an informal survey, I discovered that even my local haole friends knew exactly what the word meant, having heard it from their primary school teachers.
I don’t remember my own teachers using “yakamashii” Where “kuli kuli” to restore order in the classroom. But my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Pacheco, often urged us to “get on the kinipopo.” Kinipopo is Hawaiian for the ball. And in fourth grade, Mrs. Holomalia was begging us to use our “Kabasa”, which is the Tagalog word for head, and “to be akamai” (Hawaiian for smart).
Our multi-ethnic vocabulary is an integral part of pidgin (Hawaiian Creole English) and, I think, one of the most charming aspects of island life. Like the teachers mentioned above, locals have incorporated non-English words into everyday speech, even when speaking standard English. We call on our children – and our pets – to dine with “It’s kaukau time!” (which looks and sounds Hawaiian but actually comes from Chinese slang) and we put them to bed with “moemoe now” (which is truly Hawaiian). And rather than calling someone a fool or an idiot to their face, we use the Portuguese-inspired phrase “babbling” or Japanese “Bakatare”. Much more pleasing to the ear; practically poetic, in fact.
Like our island cuisine, the local lexicon is a feast of sharing, with tasty morsels brought to the table by each ethnic group and shared by all. I know young Hawaiians who use the Japanese word “bocha” for “to bathe,” and older Asians who prefer Hawaiian “at the.” And then there are the Hawaiian words that everyone embraces: aloha, mahalo, kokua, pau, mauka, and makai, to name a few.
Some of the words we grew up hearing aren’t used as often these days, like “Kalakoa” (Hawaiian for “calico,” “multicolored” in pidgin) and “jail” (from Spanish “calaboza” for jail). Same “yakamashii” isn’t as popular as it used to be. But I hope to change that, with a new use of the word.
“Yakamashii!” is the title of an online series that I will be hosting for the Nisei Veterans Memorial Center, starting this Saturday. The bi-monthly program of interviews and trivia will feature a variety of guests from Maui and beyond, via Zoom.
The presentation is free and starts at 1:30 p.m. Go to www.NVMC.org to register and receive the link. By visiting the website, you are likely to find more events of interest, both online and in person. The center also runs a YouTube channel where you can watch previous Zoom chats, including the popular Afternoon with the Author series.
For this inauguration “Yakamashii!” show, I’m going to talk history and make some noise with Alton Takiyama-Chung. As an internationally acclaimed master storyteller, Alton shares local culture and history, from Hawaiian ghost stories to the Japanese-American experience of World War II. Her repertoire also includes a wide variety of Asian folk tales, histories of the Hawaiian monarchy, and tales of the plantation era. Born and raised in Oahu, Alton is of Japanese and Korean ancestry, and I’m willing to bet his parents named him with “Yakamashii!” as often as mine has done to me. We will find out on Saturday.
* Kathy Collins is a radio personality (The Buzz 107.5 FM and KEWE 97.9 FM/1240 AM), storyteller, actress, host and freelance writer whose “Share Mana’o” column appears every other Wednesday. His email address is [email protected]