Christen Marquez on her quest to understand her 77-character given name

Filmmaker Christen Marquez Unravels Her Woven Name

Rebecca Jacobs
3/31/11

What's in a name? For Christen Marquez, quite a bit.

The story of her film “Haku Inoa: To Weave A Name” began before she was born. In traditional Hawaiian culture, individuals are not given a name. Rather, names are woven by their families like moena (fronds) in Native Hawaiian leaf mats. This sacred inoa (name) contains a story of both heritage and fate.

And this is no short story; Christen's full name is Christen Hepuakoamana‘a ekapunokamalie -o- nonali‘iemekahanohano amauana‘ia Marquez.

In her film, Marquez, Native Hawaiian of mixed ancestry, is on a quest to find the meaning of her name and, at the same time, to realize her own destiny.

“I feel like the making of this film has fulfilled the prophecy of my own name,” she said.

Marquez’s search, however, has not been as easy as it may seem. Marquez and her brothers were raised by their father in Seattle, far from their mother, Elena, who created Christen's name. Elena, who lives on O‘ahu, was diagnosed with schizophrenia 20 years ago, and the family split had been tumultuous. When Marquez began work on the film, mother and daughter hadn't seen each other in a decade.

Had she stayed in the islands, Christen may have gradually learned the mana’o (meanings) woven into her name as well as the cultural practices and protocols necessary to the naming process. However, due to the distance and reason for the separation, Marquez has struggled with her Hawaiian identity.

“On the continent, you run into people who are like, ‘Oh, you’re Hawaiian, wiki waka wooka.’ Or they say, ‘What’s a Hawaiian? Those don’t exist,’” she explained.

These types of comments, felt by many displaced Hawaiians, she said, are sources of shame and loss of cultural and personal pride.

“I have been disconnected from that cultural side. When I was young, I had a birth certificate with my name on it, and when I would get lonely or sad and missed home, I would sit in my room and look at my name and memorize it,” she remembered.

By the time she was 12, Marquez could recite the 77-character name.

“I could say it, but I didn’t know what it meant,” she said. “There was a big missing piece in my life, and that was the catalyst behind starting this process,” Marquez explained.

Approximately four years ago, after studying film and creating several successful documentary and entertainment shorts, Marquez set out to create her first full-length film about her own life.

In her first-person documentary film, Marquez and her siblings return to O‘ahu to reconnect with their mother and learn the meaning of their individual names. After days of repeated inquiries, Elena, a Kumu Hula (Hawaiian cultural practitioner and dancer), presents the names of each brother. But Elena withholds the meaning of Christen’s name, forcing her to feel even more shame, this time about her lack of Hawaiian knowledge and culture.

“She was reluctant, because I think she was afraid we would come back, find out the meaning of our names, and then leave again,” Christen said. “I was trying to force my city girl expectations of asking questions and getting answers into my mom’s world of watching quietly, learning slowly and patiently.”

In order to connect with her mother and discover the meaning of her name, Christen needed to better understand her culture and her mother.

Finally, only after Christen devotes herself to her Hawaiian roots, does Elena explain the meaning of her daughter’s name:

He pua koa mana‘a (a child who has great strength and power like the fire Goddess Pele)
o ke kapu o ka ma lei hi‘eh‘ie (bestowed with sacred affection)
o no nali‘i (of the nali‘i lineage)
a he lei onaona (may she be sweet and alluring)
me ka hanohano (cherished)
a mau ana ‘ia (by her mother, forever)

The way this unfolds on screen, however, has yet to be determined, as the film is still in progress. With the Native Arts and Cultures grant, Marquez will work to complete the project’s filming with an anticipated release date of January 2012.

Through the film, Marquez hopes to examine cross-cultural identity issues, bring about recognition and awareness of Hawaiian traditions and culture, and investigate the impact of cultural and traditional loss on Native Hawaiian peoples.

Marquez said she has chosen film as her medium of expression due to its accessibility to individuals of all segments of the population.

“If I capture the right moment, it’s easy to say a lot with five seconds, or 10 seconds, and I feel that I have a lot to say. So, I’m glad I have an hour’s worth of pictures to say it with,” she said.

Marquez holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in film and video production from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. She has screened at the Sundance Film Festival’s Gen-Y Studio, The Media That Matters Festival, and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.

Marquez operates her own non-profit film business called Paradocs Productions through which she creates video content for small businesses and non-profit organizations.

Details about “Haku Inoa: To Weave A Name,” its cast and development, as well as a video excerpt are accessible on the film’s Web site: hakuinoa.com.

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