Monday, July 26, 2010

UE #44 Sithee - the Yorkshire Aloha

Hawaiians are a very lucky people and I'm a bit jealous of them. For one thing, they get to live in Hawaii. But more than that. The Hawaiian people are fortunate to still have such a strong knowledge of their native roots and culture.

When I first heard a live Hawaiian band it was in Whaler's Village, Lahaina on the island of Maui. I was moved to tears as I listened to the sweet sounds that those people were making. I still remember every part of the ensemble from the throbbing bass guitar to the sweet Kamaka lili'u ukuleles. There was beauty everywhere. From the steady authority of the large lady on guitar to the delicately suggestive movements of the smiling hula dancer. From the deep voiced male singer to the high pitched falsetto of the other male singer.

The sights and sounds of that experience evoked for me so much more than just the music. I felt I could hear the very landscape from whence these people and their ancestors came. Without even understanding the words of the songs it seemed I was somehow able to reach in and connect with their entire culture.

It got me thinking. Our "western" culture (I'll ignore the fact that Hawaii is west of everywhere) seems to have done its utmost to systematically eradicate every native culture on earth. But what kind of a culture do we have? How many of our songs, the ones we westerners proudly sing, are able to communicate the depth and richness of who we are?

And... Hawaiians have the word; "Aloha".

Aloha - the word that says so much. A fond greeting of both welcome and farewell. An all-enveloping word that expresses the inherent beauty and love that IS all creation.

The Hawaiians graciously share Aloha with all of us. But I have to confess that actually saying the word Aloha makes me feel a bit awkward.

For a start I'm a tall, skinny, white European-Canadian. The feeling I get when I say Aloha is a bit like knowing you have to hug someone when you're not the hugging type. Whenever I say Aloha I feel like I'm borrowing something. A favor which I can't return.

So I started to look at my own life and upbringing to see what vestiges of my ancestry might be salvageable to use with some of the same self worth that the Hawaiians hold.

It was at an opening ceremony of the Wine Country Ukulele Festival in California. Greetings were conducted by the great Liko Puha. A man whose heartfelt presence is enough to imbue even the most motley gathering of humanity with a soulful sense of ceremonial wonder. 

We stood in a circle and each took turns to say a few words. Everyone seemed to make a point of saying, "Aloha". When it came to my turn I said, "In my homeland, by the windswept Yorkshire moors we don't say Aloha we say 'Owdo'." I nodded and resolutely spoke. "Owdo" I said.

I did it with a straight face but at the time I wasn't sure if I was being serious or not. But a little while later it certainly made me smile when dear Liko came to me and asked with grave seriousness to say it for him again. He apparently wanted to get the pronunciation just right. I treasure the memory of this big Hawaiian carefully mouthing 'Owdo' a few times to help him remember. Perhaps he was afraid of offending my people should he ever meet more Yorkshire folk.

'Owdo doesn't quite do the job for me though. Not like Aloha. It's really just a shortening of the phrase "how do you do". After thinking some more I eventually remembered the old greeting from my childhood: "Sithee".

You may be surprised to know that in my village there are still people who use the ancient words 'thee' 'thy' or 'tha' instead of 'you'. The greeting Sithee was (and I hope still is) commonly used as hello and goodbye.

Sithee means 'see you'. "I recognize your presence". Frankly it still doesn't do
the emotional heavy lifting that Aloha can manage but its all I have. I even end some of my emails now with: Sithee, Ralph.
I like it. It keeps me in touch with the inner part of me that will always be near the purple-heathered moors of South Yorkshire.

When the Hawaiian group performed their songs I felt that I knew them. If you think about it every great performer does that.

Think of your favourite performer. I'm betting that seeing him or her on stage or screen gives you a feeling that you know who they are and what they are about. The image, the sound, the moves all add up to a feeling of completeness.

Who are you when you sing? How does the performance that you think you are projecting differ from what the audience is seeing? What can you draw on from your own history and background to make the ever expanding picture of yourself as complete as possible? It's something to think about.

And finally, thank you Hawaii; for Aloha and for ukuleles. Really, what more could we possibly need.




The Complete Ukulele Course DVD series will help you to play and perform better. The DVD is a great way to learn by yourself.

1 The Complete Ukulele Course shows you how to get started with tuning and strumming. It then teaches you a variety of techniques to make your playing more and more interesting.
2 Essential Strums for the Ukulele will give you specific strums and a song to go with each one. These include: samba, blues, frailing, bossa nova, bo diddley, reggae and much more. Essential!!
3 Ukulele Play Along has the chord changes up on the screen and you get to strum and sing along. Great fun and excellent practice at a great price!
4 The Complete Ukulele Course for Kids - Get this dvd and a ukulele for the child in your life and it could change their life. Music is a wonderful way to learn and have fun at the same time. The ukulele is a non-threatening and joyful introduction to music education.


  1. I call myself a naturalised Yorkshireman, as that is the place where I have felt most at home despite not being brought up there. I've always been rather fond of the greeting 'Ey up', so much so that I use it pretty much everywhere without thinking.

    I often sign off emails with 'Toodle pip, John' Not quite sure where I picked that one up from.

  2. Nice post, Ralph. It got me thinking.