‘Ava and Cousins
By Mirm Hurula
The wind is cold on my back. Even on the least heavy days, the air was never this cold. My body shudders as another gust of wind picks up on the sail on my outrigger canoe. My mother told me that I needed to pack more for the trip. I didn’t listen to her. I thought that because she hadn’t been on one of these in over 20 years, she wouldn’t know what was going on. The ocean would have changed in those years. The water new from the sky refilling it like my coconut husk after finishing off the meat inside.
It was a Poapoa tradition. Every young child goes on an excursion out to sea for at least few days. It was now my turn as my moon cycle hadn’t reached its pinnacle yet. For those who bled, part of the tradition was to allow the moon—and its pain—to guide us through our journey.
For some, this journey meant nothing. They would drift along the currents of the sea, eventually coming home. While others—if they were skilled, would navigate and find other islands. The Poapoa people never imposed unless they were cousins of ours. But cousins meant that the traveler would pick up more supplies and journey even farther from home.
This was the most important of ceremonies. This is the only way we could communicate with the islands around us. Before, there were many wars. My grandmother spoke of losing most of her children to the islands to the northwest. Our family brutalized by them. So, this ceremony was not only to find new islands but to try and bring about peace across the moana.
For me to come back to the island is what my mother wants. But coming back, to the rest of the village—they’d rather me die at the moana. My body serving a token to the gods above and the islands around as an attempt at bringing peace through my hand—as sunburnt as it would be found. If I were to come back, our family would face shame for many moons. My mother kept telling me she was okay with facing the village. She’d rather me live among our niu than adrift at sea.
But home wouldn’t be a home anymore. Home becomes the last island, old cousins and old land, before finding new cousins or new land. Our village hadn’t lost a child to another island since before my mom went out on her moon journey.
My mom was frightened, thinking of me on this journey. And I, the same. She didn’t want to lose her only daughter to the moana. That was one fear every mother had in our village and probably across the ocean. If I couldn’t find an island before my food supplies were gone, I would die. We both knew this. Everyone knew this.
My aunties, uncles, and almost all the adults in my village told me not to drink the sea water. “No matter how thirsty you would get, don’t do it.” If I did, they’d told me, I’d start seeing things or, worse, die from drinking too much. Once I run out of water and niu, what else was I supposed to do, I wondered.
Like now, what am I supposed to do? I have been out of niu since…and water since…
It is day two of my moon cycle. This meant the unbearable pain in my thighs and stomach would be at its worst during the day and late into the night. My mom packed ‘ava. It usually helped with the pain and always made the day pass faster. I reach into my bag and smile as the smell of freshly ground ‘ava pierces my nose.
“This could be the last I know of Poapoa.” Tears stream from my eyes. I was never a good navigator—and had the worst luck.
I mix and wring out the ‘ava into one of the coconut husks and drink. Immediately, my tongue goes a little numb. That’s how I know it’s working. I need it to work today. I’m already in so much pain I don’t know if I can do any precise navigating today. I lay on my stomach with my arm outstretched over the side of the outrigger canoe. The sun isn’t at its highest yet, so I start massaging my stomach and thighs. I need to rest before a long day of pain and paddling.
I cover my face with my bag, emptying its contents next to me at the bottom of the outrigger. I finish the ‘ava in my coconut husk. My body feels better. The sun sending its rays down to my brown skin. I’ve never felt happier than I do now. I look over to my oar. First, I fail at picking it up. It almost drops into the ocean. I almost jump across the outrigger to catch it and save it before I need to go into the water.
I’ll die out here if I need to get out of this canoe for any reason. At send off, I couldn’t get in the outrigger on the first try. I need to make my family and village proud. I lean up against the post in the middle of the canoe, almost completely missing it and rolling to the other side.
I need to rest today.
I can’t do this today.
The pain is too much in my legs.
They’ve never felt like this before.
I place myself in a nook with the other supplies and place the bag over my face again.
The sun is hot. I want to be shaded by my mom’s favorite palm tree outside of our house. That was my favorite place. I could hear my mom singing and my younger siblings giggling playing with spiders in the back.
I feel like I am cooking. I’ve never felt heat like this.
I turn over placing my back toward the sun. My hand in the cool water. It feels magical. I peek at it from under my bag, the water is the richest blue green I’ve ever seen. It is almost good enough to drink.
But then, my eyelids are heavy.
How much ‘ava did I drink?
My thoughts slow down.
Drinking ‘ava with mother was different.
Time to sleep.
I wish to dream of water or drinking ‘ava.
I’ll be ready in the morning.
Do I have any more water, or ‘ava?
There’s no pain.
‘Ava is great for pain.
My whole body feels numb.
I didn’t think ‘ava was like this.
And I drift to sleep.
I wake to the sound of distant drums. Now, the sun is high and blinding. I look out to the distance and see an unfamiliar island. My tongue still feels numb from the ‘ava, but the pain in my thighs has not lessened. It is seeping through to the way I stand. The empty coconut husk in my hand is filled with sea water.
The island is something only passed down from the older generations. Land stretching as far as the sky. Peaks too high to see from the canoe. All is in one place. I feel at peace. The drums getting louder and faster as I pull my canoe through what feels as thick as aloe.
I know these must be my cousins welcoming me home.
Mirm Hurula is an emerging author and poet taking their time to slowly investigate and write literary genres they've been interested in since they were in elementary school. In their fiction writing, Mirm tends to gravitate toward science fiction and fantasy as these are their favorite genres of scripted media. They received a fellowship for Martha's Vineyard's Institute for Creative Writing's Conference in Summer 2021. In August of 2022, they were accepted and participated in the Anaphora's Writing Residency, now labeled as one of their fellows. Mirm incorporates Brown and queer stories into every piece they work to give representation they craved as a younger avid reader. They hope that their stories can uplift and center voices that have never been a part of the mainstream.