Aina Hanau / Birth Land

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‘Āina Hānau / Birth Land is a powerful collection of new poems by Kanaka ʻŌiwi (Native Hawaiian) poet Brandy Nālani McDougall. ‘Āina hānau—or the land of one’s birth—signifies identity through intimate and familial connections to place and creates a profound bond between the people in a community. McDougall’s poems flow seamlessly between ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i and English, forming rhythms and patterns that impress on the reader a deep understanding of the land. Tracing flows from the mountains to the ocean, from the sky to the earth, and from ancestor to mother to child, these poems are rooted in the rich ancestral and contemporary literature of Hawaiʻi —moʻolelo, moʻokūʻauhau, and mele —honoring Hawaiian ʻāina, culture, language, histories, aesthetics, and futures.

The poems in Āina Hānau / Birth Land cycle through sacred and personal narratives while exposing and fighting ongoing American imperialism, settler colonialism, militarism, and social and environmental injustice to protect the ʻāina and its people. The ongoing environmental crisis in Hawaiʻi, inextricably linked to colonialism and tourism, is captured with stark intensity as McDougall writes, Violence is what we settle for / because we’ve been led to believe / green paper can feed us / more than green land. The experiences of birth, motherhood, miscarriage, and the power of Native Hawaiian traditions and self-advocacy in an often dismissive medical system is powerfully narrated by the speaker of the titular poem, written for McDougall’s daughters.

‘Āina Hānau reflects on what it means to be from and belong to an ʻāina hānau, as well as what it means to be an ‘āina hānau, as all mothers serve as the first birth lands for their children.
“Saturated in rare immersive allure, this mesmerizing, transformational poetic delivers tremendous visceral impact. Āina Hānau brilliantly entangles every aspect of kinship to birth land (water, air) integral to generations with succinct critical challenge and complete belonging embrace. Each entry deepens the experience in the pathway to an essential case laid out for justice for the peoples of the place, with matriarchal coragem guiding the way. The aunties definitely prophesied this songway. A prizewinner all the way, taking no prisoners, suffering no fools, this book makes manifest ground zero resplendent truth. What an awakening!”—Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, author of Look at This Blue

“In the tradition of poets singing, since the earliest of times, to assemble their communities in the most stirring public manner, Brandy Nālani McDougall beautifully calls forth the gathering of a people, encouraging their embrace and relearning of Kanaka ʻ Ōiwi culture, doing the work, in its sophisticated yet hectoring strophes, of necessary transmission and glorious praise. Yet, in the manner of late twentieth-century African, Arabic, and Caribbean poets of global consciousness, her work includes the incisive critique of political and economic hegemony, the ongoing American geographic and cultural occupation of Hawaiʻi, while at the same time providing social and personal pathways for individual decolonizations of mind. She writes as a mother, a granddaughter, a poet of politics, and a poet of elegy, ignoring no responsibility, fully aware of the range of her familial, social, and political identities. There is grandeur here, great hope, a true voice of aloha ʻāina gifted with plaintive lyricism in lament and, in critique, an heroic righteousness.”—Garrett Hongo, author of Coral Road

“Brandy Nālani McDougall’s second collection of poetry ‘Āina Hānau / Birth Land is a poetry that sings healing down to the realms of the occupied and to the people enduring the ruinous ‘gifts of Western civilization.’ Through intimate address to the poet’s own people and to her daughters, we behold a retelling of a creation story where birth is synonymous with ‘āina, where responsibility to land and community winds form and stanza into a ‘rope of resistance.’ Watching McDougall’s intimate act of reclamation and proud assertion of a sovereign heart, I am left in wakeful wonder of the connections of spirit to place, and of the poet’s kuleana to a practice of radical freedom that more than resists colonization—it dismantles it line by aloha ‘āina line.”—Rajiv Mohabir, author of Antiman: A Hybrid Memoir

‘Āina Hānau / Birth Land is a collection of poems that could only be written by an Indigenous Hawaiian mother; they fight to create space for Indigenous life. These are poems that speak to and for a community that contests the colonization of everything Hawaiian today—from language to bodies to homelands.”—Dan Taulapapa McMullin, author of Coconut Milk

“There is a great and meticulous care with which the poet immerses herself and her reader in the love language of her people, the heart language that speaks its own truth in its inimitable ability to represent the histories, present desires, and future hope for a resilient nation.”—Lehua M. Taitano, author of Inside Me an Island

“I delight in sharing one of my most eagerly awaited poetry titles of 2023. McDougall’s propulsive second collection about Hawai‘i’s culture, Kanaka ‘Ōiwi identity, memory, and parenthood gripped me so. Fascinating illustrations by Allison Leialoha Milham foreground each of the four parts. My mind keeps returning to 'Symbolism,' 'This Island on Which I Love You,' and 'Prepositions,' to name only a few poems. If you haven’t already, order this breathtaking book for yourself and a friend."—Connie Pan, Book Riot

“Kanaka ʻŌiwi poet Brandy Nālani McDougall’s second collection offers an urgent mapping of her birth land and its history. The 'how-to' poem meets Google Maps in a tour of who gets access to sacred landscapes without payment or proof. 'Stand here,' the speaker commands, placing the reader at sites of violent occupation, including where 'Americans drilled and cracked / the reef and bombed coastal cliffs / to build battery after battery / for seacoast guns' before 'decommissioning them all.' This is a book of resistance as well as love, rendered most powerfully in a poem that moves from creation of a land to the speaker’s experiences of both birth and miscarriage."—Rebecca Morgan Frank, Literary Hub

“These poems are the story of all of Hawai‘i: land, plants, animals, every ancestor, every child. This expansive collection stretches across Hawai‘i’s history while McDougall, the Hawai‘i Poet Laureate for 2023-2025, shows how all living things are interconnected.”—Ann Amicucci, Center for Literary Publishing

“It will anger you, invigorate you, and educate you. It is not a collection to be missed.”— Amm Larks, Kelp Journal


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