It's A Blackbird
by Graeme Kapono Urlich
I had an interesting online conversation recently about the origins of Huna which I believe to be very
ancient while some believe it was invented, even the word, by Max Freedom Long in 1936. This article
is not so much about that issue but how we come about some of the beliefs that we hold and the effects
they can have on relationships.
The discussion reminded me of when I was 3 years old. It was November 5th and my father was preparing
a huge bonfire to celebrate fireworks night with a dubious amount of help from myself. I was watching
a small flock of birds nearby and I asked him what they were. He told me "Those are
From that point on those were blackbirds in my world and I can remember feeling some angst and an
almost overwhelming urge to correct people when these birds were referred to by a different name. It
wasn't until 30 years later on a visit to Hawaii that I discovered that my father - shock, horror
- had been wrong. They were in fact myna birds but until I knew that, the idea that someone would
contradict what my dad had told me as a child was appalling to me and caused an emotional response.
Ask most people in the world who it was who first achieved powered flight and they will tell you
Orville and Wilbur Wright. Ask anyone in New Zealand who it was and you are likely to be told it was
Richard Pearce who flew his first plane in 1901. This is not accepted as a valid claim because of lack
of physical evidence (it crashed), but it has been proven that his second plane flew in April 1903
some six months ahead of the Wright Brothers. Although this has been researched as a valid claim, it
was decided changing all the history books would be too hard.
If you read the Roman histories about the barbarian Celts you hear stories of disorganised bands of
uncivilised people who went around attacking other societies like the Romans and stealing their stuff.
When you look closely at the archaeological evidence and seriously study the ancient texts that still
exist in Ireland, you read a very different story.
The Celts had a very sophisticated society which some would say far outstripped the Romans both in
terms of governance and social order. They had well defined laws covering subjects like provision for
families, rights of women, divorce, the care of children, and the responsibilities of parents should
the family unit break down. The Celts had a highly organised culture with commercial trade covering
most of Europe including Rome. You would never know this from the way the Romans portray them.
Another example of how we come to beliefs is the story we have of Paul Revere. The historical event
was captured in a poem that told of Revere's riding through the night, warning all the citizens
of the town of the British invasion. The poem says so, so it must be right. Well, if you look at the
real history, there is evidence that Paul Revere only rode to the first tavern and, it was Israel
Bissel who rode through the night carrying the warning to all the town.
Information repeated often enough can become widely accepted as fact, even where there is either no
thread of truth in it, or where there is just enough truth to sound logical. Listen my children and
you shall hear of the midnight ride of Israel Bissel? Nah, it just doesn't work, does it?
My point here is that we tend to evaluate information based on the authority we attribute to the
source far more than on the value of the actual information. Vested interests like national pride and
cultural identity also impact dramatically when we are deciding what is and isn't true. Sometimes,
apparently, it is influenced by the desire to make a poem rhyme.
Nobody in the world is going to convince me that Richard Pearce didn't fly before the Wright
Brothers without compelling evidence, but does it really matter? Does it adversely affect my life
today? I'm not going to let that affect my life and relationships in the slightest and it's no
bother to me but some of us might set out on a crusade to right the wrong. How dare anyone believe the
This sort of situation has caused arguments, fights, and wars. We need to ask ourselves which is more
important, the relationship or being right? Sometimes being right is very important in the context of
achieving a goal but sometimes we just have to agree to disagree for the sake of the relationship. It
is useful to develop the skill of checking out our sources of information and learning to be flexible,
willing to hear a different version or occasionally accept that maybe, just maybe, it is we who could
Graeme Kapono Urlich (Nov 2008)
Aloha New Zealand - School of Huna and Hawaiian Shamanism