Nuku

Glyph of the word 'nuku'.

nuku

  • (n.) a go-between for married couples

E kaneko ie nuku oieika
“The cat is our nuku.”

Notes: HAPPY CATURDAY!!! :D

Keli has a new chair, and she found herself a new little blanket to go with it:

Keli sleeping under a little pillow.

Today’s word is a unique one, I think. The word describes a person integral to Kamakawi marriage. See, when two Kamakawi get married, they have a nuku. This nuku is usually an older woman (though not always) who’s either a widow or has been married many years, and who usually is not directly related to either the bride or the groom. The job of the nuku (who doesn’t live with the couple, but drops by from time to time) is to not only help married people settle in to married life, but to covertly pass messages back and forth between couples—usually things that one doesn’t want to say to the other directly.

For example, let’s say the wife discovers that her husband snores loudly in his sleep, but doesn’t want to say anything. She tells the nuku privately, and then some time later (not the next day, but maybe a couple days later), the nuku comes by when just the husband is there and gives him several bits of advice. She might say, “Always rinse your hands after you’ve been cleaning fish”, and, “Don’t stomp around so loudly in the morning”, and, “Don’t eat opeope right before bed”, and, in addition to all that, “Don’t sleep flat on your back; you snore too loudly!” The husband won’t know which of those things is true, but he’ll know one of them probably came from his wife. Then it’s his job to try to take what advice he can and change things as he sees fit.

Now, due to the nature of their profession, the nuku has a lot of power, and must exercise caution and skill. So as not to be too obvious, the skilled nuku will often drop by with advice that wasn’t given by one or the other spouse. The best nuku will know both spouses well, and so will be able to figure out what advice makes sense for each one—and will also be able to dole it out efficiently over time so as to be able to couch all the real complaints in with the other advice. And, provided everything works out well, the nuku will eventually stop coming around often, and, finally, will simply be a friend of the family.

Of course, on account of the delicacy of their position, it’s pretty easy to be a bad nuku. The bad nuku won’t be able to disguise the true advice very well, which can lead to arguments or hurt feelings. But worse than that is the nuku who comes around too often (and at highly inconvenient times), and doesn’t know when to stop coming around (usually somewhere around year two, or after the first child has lived a full year). Then the nuku becomes a nuisance that the couple wishes to be rid of. Such a nuku is sometimes referred to (behind closed doors) as a paopu (“worm”), on account of the similarities between its iku and the iku for nuku.

Of course, the similarity between the two iku is entirely accidental. The iku for paopu is actually a combination of the iku for pa, o and pu (though it’s hard to tell at this stage). The iku for nuku is quite different.

In examining today’s iku, first take a look at the iku for ho, which is used to mean “man”. Keep that image in mind. That shape is the general shape used for a person (seen also in the iku for ei, “I”, and kupi, “sit”, among others). The iku for nuku actually has those shapes mirrored, facing each other. So rather than being built off pa, the triangle shape is an accident of the combination. The line in between the two essentially represents the nuku: the thing that’s in between the married couple.

And, of course, Keli has always served well in her role. We’re looking to keep her around for quite a while. :)

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2 Responses to “Nuku”

  1. Ka kavaka Anthony ti:

    Keli’s more nuku than cat, maybe. :)

    what happens if the spouse guesses wrong about which of the nuku’s statements is from the other spouse? (the nuku shows up again with another set of false statements, with the original true statement?)

    excellent word; nice photo.

  2. Ka kavaka David J. Peterson ti:

    As I imagine it, the nuku gives general advice that it’s best to follow whether it comes from the spouse or not, so they shouldn’t need to guess: they should just do all of it. ;)

    And I absolutely love photographing this cat. She’s so photogenic. I only wish that sometimes there was more contrast, as her fur is so dark you sometimes can’t make out her specific position…

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