I Wai No'u (Give Me Water!)

From the artist, Jeanne Bitz:

There are messages of truth and beauty woven throughout our past, present, and future.

Standing up and taking ownership of who we are and what it looks like to travel the path from novice to master is a foundational design element in this piece.
Hawaiian outrigger canoe paddling is a treasure chest overflowing with opportunities to be immersed in experiences of a thriving whole human life.
Expressing the richness inherent in the gift of an invitation to learn the Hawaiian culture, it just seemed so right to cross into a new (to me) but very old language. Sometimes moving out of the platform of communication we are comfortable with and stepping into a new method of discourse can be a powerful place for new growth and understanding.


A story of epic adventures, adopted families, and overcoming monumental challenges, told in my interpretation of Polynesian pictograms.
Boldness or satisfaction as a result of hard work and integration with spirit and nature is a beautiful thing. So much of life is a balance between powerful action and letting go. As I write this the voice of my coach rings in my ear, power in the stroke, relax during the recovery. Every action of putting the paddle in the water to move the canoe forward is power and release, repeat.
Hawaiian poetry has a beautiful structure of layered meanings. You can enjoy the first, simple, most obvious interpretation of the words presented. The prized orators wove layers of meaning that were intended to draw you in to deeper understanding and source of knowledge if you were of a mind to take this journey. Paddling offers this same opportunity. With deep respect, this orchestration of simple to deeper and deeper meaning was the inspiration for this piece of visual poetry.
The sun is actually the sun-moon, the impossible made possible. From novice to master in any endeavor they say takes 10,000 hours. That’s why the name of this piece, I WAI NO’U, (Give Me Water!) is a challenge. We get up, morning after morning, at 4am, and we say “Bring it!” I want more and I’m ready to work for it! One time grand gestures are rarely the basis for great change. It’s one small decision after another made with full focus, intention, and action.
Cutting right through the middle of the painting, a very symmetrical design, is the canoe, family of the wa’a, working together. The symmetry of balance, circles that in many cultures represent the continuity of life, death and rebirth; the full circle of life. The ho’okele keeping the family on course, wisdom of the ancestors/masters passing to the future generations.
Closed eyes on the sun-moon for listening with all of our senses to our environment. The all-seeing eye at the top for awareness beyond the tangible, leading to the opposing paths of the trade winds. The lashes of the eyes are the opposing waves of challenges overcome and the tides that Hina, the moon goddess, presides over. Moving up the lid is canoes; voyages, adventures, cooperation, family, wisdom from ancestors. Next is taro garland, right of passage and wisdom. The swirls are the breath of life, essence of existence accompanied by anuenue, rainbow, messenger from Kane and Kanaloa, the sun and the sea. The lower lid begins with a checker pattern that is love, a paddler on a foundation of ears (be quiet and listen), eyes (watch and learn, observe), hands (get to work). Two hands facing each other represent working together. This is all encased in Wa’as (canoes, voyages, adventures, family), the trade winds again, and finally honu shell (family, protection, navigator).
The seafaring birds are messengers, higher perspective, wisdom from ancestors for the many paddlers in this painting. The lips are; shells representing abundance, prosperity, love; journeys travelled and alliances made.
The sun ray at 12 o’clock tells the story the paddler surrounded by eyes. Repetition, in Hawaiian poetry, denotes importance. The canoe builder/paddler looks, pays attention, there’s messages from nature about what tree to use. An ear to listen as we enter the sacred forest and birds that are the messengers tell us which tree. Then the hand for the work.
Life is balance so at 6 o’clock I have the whale watching ray. Paddlers with blades up to signal a whale in the area so other vessels can use caution. Eyes to see, symbols of love, ocean, and a Marquesan stylized whale.
Manu ehu is the front of the canoe, manu hope the back. The story at the front of the canoe is a brave tiki. Eyes closed for the respect shown listening to the elements and tongue sticking out in challenge. The mouth is stepping stones, achievements, and in the mouth is the eel crest, difficult challenges brought into ourselves and met with bravery. All of this encompassed in a circle of canoes, family of the wa’a creating another sun of abundance and richness in life. If we have the great fortune of the deeper Hawaiian culture experience in paddling, the balance of mind, body, and spiritual food will be what we are perpetually moving into. The first is yam leaf, food and prosperity from land. Next is stars, guidance from above on our journey. Then ipu, gourd, containers used to hold mana. Flax shoots are protection and family, traditionally male attributes embracing the manu ehu, male part of the canoe. Moving into the blue surrounding this ray there is toata, swamp shells, prosperity from the sea. Tuli, footprints of the sacred bird, following the messenger from Kanaloa, god of the sea. The frigate bird leading the voyagers on a path of divine travel.
Each of the paddlers is a real person actively participating in various aspects of keeping rich Hawaiian traditions alive today. The voyagers in seats one and two are students. The circle of the sun intersects between the kupuna at the back of the canoe, encompasses the leaders in the middle, and again intersects between the two students in the front. It’s extremely important that these messages of truth and beauty be embraces by future generations. Seat 3 is a powerful woman in our community patiently and actively gifting skills and experiences to future generations, emboldening them to fearlessly and respectfully embrace the fullness of life. Seat 4, it’s appropriate that the rainbow is on his mind. He is a messenger carrying forward the stories, poetry, dance, and knowledge; the mental and spiritual richness of canoe culture. Seat 5 is clothed in family, footprints of the divine messengers, trade winds, and ferocity. She doesn’t consider for a moment that people in her canoe would want to be anything less than their absolute best. Seat 6 is “just a canoe man”. With all the secrets of the universe unveiled to the dedicated voyager that’s a pretty great title to wear. So, on his mind, his foundation is the mountains and the islands.
The work of caring for farms, the whole terrarium of life, voyages from mountains to islands, goals met. Also, the voyager is who he is and who is on his mind. Leading by example and with powerful confidence, inspiring future generations of voyagers. From his heart to his lips is a mo’o, messenger from the gods, protector. He is clothed in the hand of hard work, rainbow(messenger from Ku and Kanaloa, sun and sea), the darkness to the light of Ku, and the people’s cross of balance with nature. This is the legacy trailing behind him into the symbols at 9 o’clock. Balance with nature and the elements shared with many people of all shapes, sizes, and origins flowing on the foundation of ancestors who have raised the clouds so that we can thrive, on a path of divine messages that go before and trail after, on octopus tentacle threading its way in that we may tenaciously hold these gifts. This swirl of these combined symbols has a seat of honor, called the momoa, at the back of the canoe. The manu hope, the feminine, the birthing of next generations and perpetuation of these gifts coming to rest in the back of the canoe.
The full circle message repeated in many different ways in this piece are: truly see with all of your senses, quietly listen first, work with ferocity owning all of your power, be aware of the time for letting go, respect the divinity in everything (nature, fellow voyagers, ourselves, the strong cord of kupuna who have passed this gift to us). Pride and ferocity built on a foundation of hard work and boundless respect for nature.
Jeanne Bitz, artist

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