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Excerpts from Rainforest Pu'uhonua Back to Territorial Days.

Kilihune Rain Honolulu, summer 2012

I spend just a few minutes outside this afternoon, sweeping sand and leaves out of the open garage, windblown debris tossed around the yard and wedged into crevices in the corners of the house by odd, momentary swirls of wind, not our usual steady trade winds. I place house plants on the cement driveway near the antique white truck turned yard sculpture, huge tires deflated in artsy displays of torn, crumbling black rubber, two-toned rust adding a patina to the great behemoth that no sculptor could dream up.

I look up to gape at the windblown rain torn apart from its wellspring cloud, wind tumbled drops scattering in all directions, tiny drops, no one heavy enough to fall straight down. Wind tumbled rain, whirling dervish, spinning in all directions at once. Look up and you see it dancing through a clear sunny sky, thrashing against the wind, tearing cottony wispy clouds apart, clouds that are see through, transparent, showing blue sky above them. Crowds of fine raindrops arc, turn, thrash along towards the ocean, chasing their parent cloud through a blue sky or racing far in front of it. Leleaka, lelehune, windblown rain.

I watch the wind like a deranged puppeteer scoop up batches of the tiniest, most insubstantial raindrops I have ever seen, throwing them outwards, rolling one bunch backwards, one sideways, one upside down, all at once. It feels like magic when they land on my arms, each fuzzy hair on my arm topped with a wee, glistening drop. I glance at the thirsty plants for confirmation and they reflect back a few drops on a leaf, not enough water to quench a thirsty lady bug, needing to roll over to other drops to unite into the width of the head of a sewing pin, not the large headed pins quilters use.

I can't focus again on sweeping out the garage. Instead I lean against the side of the gently decaying truck and look up, puzzled, hearing ancestral voices, kupuna that say clear rain of out a blue sky, kilihune small drops are always a blessing, a sign hoped for at weddings held outdoors when I was a girl.

I remember taking students to Halawa Valley years after the devastation of the new freeway that destroyed so many sacred sites on the Ko'olau side, including the bulldozing of an important agricultural heiau, as well as here on the Kona side. We toured the valley with kupuna guides, visited the Hale o Papa women's heiau and the men's heiau on the other side, and worked to clear weeds that had overgrown native plants newly planted on a hillside as part of healing the valley from all the misdeeds and desecration.

When lunch time came I gathered my class together. Time now, at noon, to go back to the native plants we had cleared of weeds, to chant the oli we had learned in class. I had chosen a short and simple one for them to learn since they were not experienced chanters trained in a halau.

It was over in a half a minute, a chant half nervous, from students new to the language, a tad unsure of their cultural roots. We stood silent as kili-hune rain fell out of a clear blue sky, a sprinkle that wet our foreheads, made the native plants perk up. No one spoke as we headed back to the rest of the group for lunch, but a few students came up to me on the way home. "Kumu, kumu, the rain fell like you said it might." A shining young face, excited now, a dawning realization that, as you put roots down into this kapu earth, when you honor the sacred in nature, sometimes you get a small kilihune rain, a mahalo, an acknowledgment, a connection confirmed, a blessing.

And this rare present day, kilihune rain, light rain out of pulled cotton clouds racing towards the ocean, taps me on the shoulder and memories of my home in the rainforest come looding back, and with them the longing to return once more to my old plantation house, my pu'uhonua, to the five years I was blessed to live there, a long time ago.

Three Piko

Some Hawaiians greet friends with a question that rings slightly naughty, "Pehea kou piko?" Not "how are you?" but "can you still do it?" and the answer is "Hiki, hiki no" can, can indeed. "Piko" means your "center" and there are thought to be three centers in the body. The first piko is the fontanel, the soft spot on a newborn's forehead, the place where your 'aumakua guardian spirit sits. This piko ties you to your ancestors. In the story of the Pele clan, each sibling is born from a different part of mother Haumea's body. Kamohoali'i, the brother who steers Pele's canoe from "Kahiki" down the archipelago until they find a home in Kllauea, whose kinolau is that of the shark, is born from Haumea's forehead.

Auntie Pua explained that being born from Haumea's forehead was a symbol of Kamohoali'i being the spiritual head of the family. Like Kamohoali'i, your "top" piko connects you to both your 'aumakua and your ancestors, your guides.

The piko in the center of the body is your belly button. Pushed in or pushed out? Whichever, your belly button piko connects you to your generation, to this world as we experience it now, to the present moment.

The piko that is referred to in greeting folks is your ma'i, your genitals. This piko ties you to your children, to the future, to the unfolding generations coming after you.

So in Hawaiian thinking, there are three piko in the body, three centers that tie us irmly to our ancestors, to our own generation, to the future. Is it any wonder that past, present and future time blend together in so many Hawaiian mo'olelo?

Is it any wonder that we are guided by our ancestors, connected to now and to those that follow us, that we have kuleana to preserve the past, to take care of land, sea, and sky; rejoice, revel in our connection to our extraordinary environment, and our duty to keep it whole, to pass it on intact for kama'aina, the children of the land who will come after us?

'Oha - 'Ohana

How far does 'ohana stretch? First, your own family back as far as anyone can remember names, who married Gramma, how he arrived in Hawai'i, what his first language was. Beyond names handed down generation after generation, beyond all the medical men and botanists named Gerret Parmele, Samuel Gardner, the auntie and tutu with Helen Kuia'u. Kina'u was one of Kamehameha Paiea's daughters, the kuhina nui who ruled the kingdom along with Ka'ahumanu until Kauikeaouli grew up and could claim the throne he had inherited at 12 years old. Her name is passed down to the eldest girl in each generation. Beyond what the genealogical records show, beyond that great-great-grandmother named Kauwe who lived tobe 101, for whom kanikau printed in the Hawaiian language newspapers list mo'o ali'i, chiefly lineages intertwined, tying our bit of native blood to so many families, spider web, all encompassing circle, spiral of ancestors, koru, wisps of memories calling out to us, knowing our names, their mo'opuna.

Next come the 'aumakua: puhi, pueo, mano, nai'a, honu are common. Most families remember one or two, adding a few words if the grandkids are lucky enough to be taught, to call out to that single guardian spirit when the need arises, maybe a line or two of chant. Yes, eel, owl, shark, dolphin, turtle are well known clan guardian spirits, but there are less well known ones, rarely mentioned, perhaps a rainbow, anuenue, perhaps loli, a sea slug.

I've heard stories that some folks from Ka'u claim ka wahine kapu herself, Pelehonuamea as guardian/ancestor/guide. I've heard that Tutu Puku'i knew fifty 'aumakua of her family lineage. Some kumu hula pass on lineages and chants to their family, pass on genealogies eight or ten generations back, back hundreds of years.

So from living family to ancestors to guardians to kupua, shapeshifting ancestors who possess godly powers to morph from pua'a to kukui to humuhumunukunukuapua'a, state fish with pig like snout, we spin connections. From pig to kukui tree to a manifestation of Lono, Lonomakua, god of the makahiki, of Ho'oilo, rainy season, Lono, god of thunderbolt, black rain cloud and Kane, god of ka wai ola, fresh water, the water of life.

How about rocks, mountains, reefs and coral head fish condo-tels? Because all of the natural world, even inanimate objects have consciousness and the ability to communicate to me. Can anyone who has stood near enough to a lava flow during these last 30 years really say that lava rocks aren't alive, don't change, solidify, turn black with an occasional streak of deep blue rainbow etched in? Can anyone who has experienced that say that rocks don't carry mana, carry spirit, as do birds and plants, coral, brown speckled leho, cowrie shells, all the wondrous beauty that is our natural heritage?

Do fuzzy grey albatross chicks, moll, stashed hidden under olive green and orange 'ohai blooming on Ka'ena sands, that sea bird/sea life small kine pu'uhonua, do they carry any less significance in this degraded and threatened environment than Hawaiian monk seals, false killer whales, our sweetly scented native gardenia, nanu? Who can choose which is most precious, most worthy of protection?

Finding 'Ohana

Go out there, walk on boardwalks over bogs on the outer islands, feel the heat of Kekaha lands in summer in Kona, on Kaua'i, watch humpbacks at Wailea, Maui in rainy season months do a "humongatroid" fish water ballet. Go outdoors, be silent. Note whether the wind is gentle or breezy, how calm or stormy the ocean is, if there are a pair of grey manta ray chasing each other's tails on the surface. Is there limu at the tideline? Pebbles rustling along the shore on a windy day?

Stand still for a while, in silence. Sink roots down into lava rock, into sand, into muddy mountain trails that edge a waterfall. Wait for a second to pass by, or a thousand years, only be entirely there, fully rooted, fully present, open each pore to absorb all that eyes, ears, skin can record, your own inner connections.

Report to the 'ohana that is there in front of you, that old monk seal hauled up on the sand asleep, his tummy streaked green by limu, thick whiskers puffing out as he snores. Pohuehue vines and tide pools around him, thousands of round black pebbles, 'ili'ili he will have to slither over to the edge of the drop off into deeper sea water.

Report to the 'ohana spirits that traipse along beside you, some a bit kolohe, pranksters sticking out a bare foot to trip you, some more ancient showing themselves as a glint that sparkles the edge of your sunglasses when you look out to the horizon. Report to moon and stars, fixed and wandering as they wheel about the sky, if you stay rooted there long enough. A wise woman said once that we can always misunderstand but we can't mis-experience. So go out that door, be rooted, send out signals to the stars, telegraphing who and what your 'ohana is, find out and greet them, each one and in greeting them, ground your spirit to this day, this place, this time: locate yourself.


Start up the trail at Kipuka Puaulu early in the morning, when there is still a bit of chill in the air, and on rainy days maybe a light mist falling, going up the trail that winds through mamaki, pilo, ferns, kopiko, a lush growth of native plants. Where the trail levels off and turns a corner, starting back towards your car on a clockwise, circular path, take a short hike off the main trail to the place where the giant koa tree stands. Sometimes if you bend close to the earth you can smell it, a low to the ground, pale subtle scent of high mountain rainforest. It is there in kilihune mists or in ua loku. destructive rain that pounds black lava rock, trickling down between fissures and cracks to hit magma, sent back up in hissing steam vents along the trail.

Wai anuhea, cold fresh water calling out, mist mixed with the scent of ferns, of maile. This is what calls me back, welcomes me to the rainforest, this glorious place where Pele gobbles up the earth, creates and destroys in fury and ferocity, where the energy of new creation rises out of the earth and into my own body, pounding my temples, assaulting my every sense, sight, smell, touch torn between heat and cold, between destruction and creation. In this vast and ever changing landscape humanity is humbled, of no consequence to the elements, stars mute witness to the eternal battle of lava and ocean water, of Pele and Namakaokaha'i.

I sit on a downed branch of the giant koa, ancient guardian of the kipuka. I look up to encompass a tree five or six times as wide and tall as other koa in the rainforest canopy, my thoughts awed into silence. The branches fan out thirty feet long, round and huge. This one branch itself looks long enough for a canoe carver to claim. I sit quietly imagining what storms, mists, eruptions this koa has endured, a seedling dropped by a bird six hundred years ago, in the midst of a landscape still steaming off the heat of ferocious fire goddess rage, blackening the bleak land all around.

There is much to observe: the bumpy trunk of the giant koa, like wrinkled skin of an old paddler's scaly brown arms, with a hollow, scooped out section, big enough for kids to hide in. I stand up, walk around it, feeling the tough bark, wondering how many hands have touched it since this remote high area became a park in which this giant kupuna tree had already attained an astonishing size, a venerable old age.

Now as I move there is such a slight scent of palapalai ferns, a neat field of them surrounding bumpy koa roots. If there is no noise on the trail, no folks coming this way, I will breathe in waianuhea: fern, maile, high mountain mist, antiquity. I will imagine spirits of the rainforest playing here as countless generations of hapu'u unfurl, as 'ohi'a grow an inch a year to great heights, as maile and pala'a twine along the rainforest floor. I stay silent for a few minutes, long enough to absorb the sanctity of ancientness, of mana still standing in this world, beckoning me back to the time of Pa'ao who built luakini heiau, who so changed Hawaiian ali'i and society. I pat the ancient koa, whispering mahalo, honored to be in its mighty presence, then wander down the circular path back to my car and head off to greet Tutu Pele.

Volcano House

I must have been nine or ten the first time my family stayed at Volcano House. Back then we lew into Hilo Town on the old prop planes. I have only vague memories of pre-tsunami Hilo, plantation green wooden buildings on the ocean side of "front" street, Kamehameha Avenue. They blocked out the ocean view but if you went inside for "see moi," crack seed, candy or yard goods to sew, you could see the ocean out the window, straight down, waves crashing against rocks right below you. What stays in my mind is the forever long drive up to Volcano, three torturous-to-kids long hours on the old Stainback Highway sliced through native forest. Koa, 'ohi'a, sandalwood and silence crowd in on us, the only car on that two lane road with no shoulders, no emergency services, no gas stations, no food or water, only an oppressively thick forest till you reach the remote park entrance and the only hotel there is.

Volcano House has always been the same, with a huge fireplace always lit night and day, something strange and new to us. The pink and gold raised nubby wall paper remains the same. What was important was that we could see into the caldera through the picture window as we walked in, the black and gloomy vastness of lava rock that was too ugly to live with. We kids loved that we could step outside any door of the hotel and start walking on a paved trail, ones that circled steam vents. Those intrigued us, small enough for our minds to encompass, noisy steam swooshing out at us, moistening faces, laying thick drops all over our sweat shirts as we hung onto the metal rails all around, wondering why a hapu'u fern would choose to grow out of that blackened puka that went straight down to the center of the earth, into the lava lake there.

That was a wonder to ponder over. We also looked out the wide picture windows, asking each other each morning of our stay if there was an eruption yet, one that we fully expected to see from the hotel. After all, the old man was still there, Uncle George, who told vivid stories of Pele, who offered her gin, whole bottles full, such an extravagance. How did an old Greek man come to be in charge of the hotel, convinced he had seen the fire goddess whose realm this was?

Mama walked all day in the chilly air that reminded her of her New England home. We kids, Honolulu natives, were shaking with cold and ran to see what the outdoor thermometer read each morning, whether it was 40 or 50 degrees. Papa stayed inside because of his gimpy leg and talked to Uncle George, hearing story after story of Pele, of how Uncle George ended up living at the edge of Kilauea Caldera, a long way from his own far away islands of Greece.

On Christmas Eve or New Year's, I would step with bare feet onto Papa's shoes and "dance" with him to a real band there in the main room, taking turns with my sisters, wearing frilly dresses, looking pretty and feminine, something tomboy me never did.

Ka Makaopuhi Eruption

A few years later there was a real eruption along the Chain of Craters Road. So this Christmas visit, after spending a day recovering from the horrid torment of three hours on the Stainback Highway with nothing but thick trees crowding towards the car, Papa and I set out to find the eruption. We were excited to witness lava spouting out of the crater, having no inkling of what that meant. We turned onto the road, passing the park maintenance area, plantation green cottages set off the road, past the stink of the sulfur banks, past KMC, the large military camp there within the park, past the observatory and on down part way around the circle, to the parking lot at Halema'uma'u.

There was a wooden platform jutting out over the crater. It was built close to the edge of the parking lot, so that you could take a few steps and peer down at the five hundred foot drop to the bottom of the crater, black and ominous so far below, with a red crack steaming up at us. I was instantly terrorized and clung to the wood railing for dear life, staring down at the abyss below, one that I could fall down into for way too long a time if anything should happen.

Papa, deeply satisfied that we had found the "eruption" so easily, stood there absorbing it all, unaware that I was terrified, trembling, holding on to the dark grey wood railing. That day there was only one other person out on the small wooden platform with us, standing silently behind us, nearer the edge of the crater. Papa turned to him and said, "Eh Brah, some eruption, huh?" but the reticent man only shook his head.

All his life Papa was way too proud to ask directions, never asked strangers which way to go, just set out to seek his destination with an excitement that was infectious, that has inspired many a wandering off the trail in my own life. I never asked Papa if he believed in Pele. No one except Uncle George seemed to defy the derision heaped on anyone who mentioned old ways, old customs, old gods, ancient hula back then. But Papa didn't need to say anything. So much was conveyed unspoken, a look, a gesture telling much to those who could read them.

For sure, standing out there over a 500-foot drop on what seemed a flimsy wooden platform intruding out over the edge of the crater, we three Hawaiians, the silent stranger, Papa and I felt the kapu, watched the koa'e kea, koa'e 'ula crater birds, long white or red tails trailing behind their swooping circles. Looking at how long a fall it would be, straight down, my legs and my breath came fast as my hands held onto the wooden railing, waiting for Papa to say we could go. There was no roar or explosive sounds, no boiling orange fire below. But fear, awe, kapu, reverence, each one in turn, cycled through me, through Papa as we stood silent for more minutes than I cared to count.

Pride too mingled with relief when Papa turned to go, me scrambling back onto solid black rock as quickly as I could. We were proud that we had "found" the eruption all on our own, without help, being independent. Only later we found out that Makaopuhi, Eye of the Eel crater was nowhere near where we had stood at Halema'uma'u crater, Pele's home.

Did Papa believe in Pele? I'd say yes. We missed the Makaopuhi crater, the real eruption altogether, but we were thrilled at what we had seen, shivering with the chill wind and with a bit of terror, looking so far down. In the many intervening years since, Halema'uma'u crater floor has risen much higher towards the rim. It is still a breathtaking crater to edge near, to peer into, to watch the red tailed tropic birds sail through, but I retain a special, spooky scary and delightful memory of Papa and I off on a hunt for a live eruption and our great satisfaction with what we found.

How to be Hawaiian

We are tied to our 'aina, our land that feeds us, feeds our spirit, by a lifetime of listening to kupuna voices, ghostly sighs up mauka trails, knowing where we are by the feel of the trade winds on our faces, our arms, aheahe makani on sunny days. On stormy days winds blow tall green canes of sugar into a frenzied dance up and down acre after rolling acre of plantation land. There is 'ehukai, ocean foam-capped waves, ocean froth bubbling piled up onto beach sand. Then we seek 'aumakua, 'iwa bird blown way off course, high up along a mountain ridge, causing my cousin to tremble as it glides ominously near, so wide a wingspan once you see it close up, six feet with a black V-shaped fold.

Nobody taught us in words, sat us down in a classroom, told us here are the ABCs of being a Hawai'i born, a kama'aina, a child of the land no matter what your blood. For years I felt cheated, being forced to turn to the haole side, to the Western world, being straightjacketed into believing that the only way to learn is by being told stuff, by reading books. So I was always conflicted, sensing something very at odds with that cumbersome way of learning when I walked in the drenching rain of my valley, slipped in the red dirt mud along the mountain trail up over boulders a five-year-old can't climb over, or watched malolo ish spread their webbed ins and fly over the ocean at Ala Moana beach. That was my Disneyland, my TV way back when we had no electronic toys, no 7-Elevens, no McDonald's.

In my family we girls were forbidden to dance any hula other than hapa haole kine, "Little Brown Gal" or "There Goes My Tutu E." We were forbidden to chant, to hear the language that first echoed of these mountain streams, this ever-changing ocean, exquisite damsellies and dragonlies, Happy Face spiders, kahuli snails. We never heard of making offerings, of leaving ho'okupu by those pure fresh water streams that tasted of gritty limu from rocks in the streams, specks of leaves borne downstream. Those cool sweet mountain waters today are polluted with leptospirosis, waters that now we are forbidden to drink.

We were taught, though. In spite of everything Hawaiian being trashed, being not OK, we were taught. And though it took me most of my adult life to recognize it, we were taught in a very Hawaiian way. We were taught by folks who understood silence, who understood that keiki are to watch and do, but not to ask questions. We were given the opportunity to tag along, to be present at blessings, at church, at lu'au, at the annual gathering of the missionary "cousins."

My sisters and I went with Papa to the cemetery to lay a single red rose on his mother's grave. We watched how he slipped a secretary some money, one who had come to him crying about some family pilikia, slipped it to her held behind his back so no one could see. We watched him get drunk at lu'au, inspired in rare moments of deep drunkenness to get up and hula, doing an 'ami as graceful as any large-sized male dancer could do; Papa's only hula step, worth watching along with the silly grin on his face. We were taught by tagging along, by holding Papa's hand, by feeling the chemistry that lowed into our hands from his, gauging his reactions by a slight frisson, a shake of his head, a tightening of his grip. To come with him meant not talking, but listening keenly, watching, by observing with all our senses.

I still resent it, you know. Still get nuha that no one explained things to me, said it in words. In Hilo there was a student who came to my class when she was over sixty, still yearning to learn her language, though she was too late, too old to memorize words. She came to me in tears, telling me that she had been the youngest of seventeen children and as the youngest, the only one not allowed to learn Hawaiian, the one the family pinned their hopes on, that she would be a success in the modern world of America's mid-Pacific territory with its territorial governor and sugar cane agricultural empire.

We both shed tears when I reluctantly had to tell her that age had robbed her of the power to memorize words, to speak Hawaiian fluently. I understood her yearning, the unbearable sadness of being one of the last ones left of her siblings, being denied connection to her own native language shared by them all, except her. How cruel. And I understood her heartbreak, the one that lasted all her life, that deep grief shared by generations of Hawaiians.

And for a long time I resented my father, resented what I knew he could have told me, all the questions I raised that he refused to answer, turning our suppertime into a battlefield. "What was my Tutu like? How did she die? Who were her parents? Why is our Hawaiian name Akana?" "Haole way now, don't look back" was the only response, became a litany, words lashing my spirit, making me angry, making me cry.

And on the verge of being labeled a kupuna myself, only a few years ago did I finally get it, understood that I had been taught in a very Hawaiian way. I observed everything I really needed to know by being with my father, being taught in silence, in all those shades of understanding that Western words can't convey, being taught to be open to spirit, to possibilities, to subtle shades of meaning, going directly to the kaona, not getting caught in the words. And now I can say mahalo nui Papa, please forgive me for being so dense, so lolo as to not recognize, not "own" what you taught me, how deeply Hawaiian you really were. Mahalo piha.

Throwback/Haole Way Now

A riff, a refrain of "No, you can't do that," "forget the old ways," "why are you asking me that?" echoed throughout my childhood. I was born with an insatiable thirst to know precisely what my parents, not simply my family but most Hawaiian families wanted to hide from their children, the shame of being descendants of so called "ignorant, uneducated heathens." Papa took us to the yearly meeting of "cousins" at the Mission Houses Museum, made sure we met our relations, fellow descendants of missionaries. Why, even Mama couldn't't come, not being a "cousin" of Wilders and Judds like we were, like Papa, born into pride in those ancestors while we never heard a word about those few specks of koko Hawai'i in us.

It took great persistence, you could say po'o pa'akiki, stubborn headedness, maybe even stupidity, but I never stopped asking questions. It was an urge prompted I guess by an instinctive connection, wordless yet real, to my Hawaiian side. I needed to know or my soul might crumble if I didn't know who my Hawaiian Gramma was, who her ancestors were, why this deep grief for all things Hawaiian was implanted, born in me.

I asked a lot, cried a lot when no one wanted to answer. 'Where was Gramma raised?" 'Was her mother really a Chinese princess who sailed to the big island on a Chinesejunk?" "How come Tutu didn't teach you Hawaiian, Papa?" 'Were there any ali'i on our Kona side?" When her frustration with my constant questions would boil over, Mama occasionally called me a "throwback." Sometimes I thought she meant that I was a "throw away" child, as my sisters teased. "Yah, let's send her back, we don't want her."

Papa had his own litany, the answer he gave to all my niele questions. I want to study Hawaiian, Papa. "Haole way now, don't look back." Is there a heiau up Pupukea side? "Haole way now, don'tlook back." I want to go meet this man who says he is kahuna. "No! Haole way now, don't look back."
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Author:Wight, Kahikahealani
Publication:Bamboo Ridge, Journal of Hawai'i Literature and Arts
Article Type:Excerpt
Date:Sep 22, 2013
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