The days are shrinking on both ends now, a minute here, a minute there, offering inexorable proof that summer is on the gentle wane. Not so the moon, which shone brightly through my front windows for much of the night, headed toward full on Friday.
It had set, and the sun not yet risen, when Koko and I took our walk in the fresh, cool pre-dawn air. The doves were singing their throaty chorus and a shama thrush let loose with an intricate melody. Koko, head down, immersed herself fully in the splendid world of sniff, and clouds poured like silver waterfalls over the summit of Waialeale, against the backdrop of a pale pink sky.
These, to me, are all sacred things, far more holy than anything I’ve experienced in a church of man’s creation, where I’m boxed in by walls and altars and stained glass and pews. Out here, in the mundane surroundings of my neighborhood, I’ve got a direct line to the source, and I don’t need anyone or any place to serve as intermediary.
I’ve often thought, and more so lately, that a lot of the clashes we’re experiencing here in Hawaii stem from our giant disconnect from the sacred. I don’t profess to be an expert on Hawaiian culture, but it seems to me that at the root of it all was a recognition of the sacred. Chants were an integral part of every action; everything, animate or not, had an acknowledged essence.
The other day I was talking to Palikapu Dedman, the longtime Hawaiian activist who has succeeded in advancing many of his causes, which is probably why the right-wing Hawaii Rag, I mean Reporter repeatedly tries to denigrate him by preceding any first reference to his name with the words “convicted felon.” As if anyone cares that nearly 20 years he was busted for growing pakalolo.
Anyway, Pali — and others whom Nani Rogers so aptly described as the “creme de la creme of na Kanaka veteran warriors” — came to Kauai last week to show support for efforts to preserve the Naue burials. I hadn’t seen him in many, many years, and we had a chance to catch up while they were camping at Waipa.
Now Pali, who is probably about 60, grew up in Ka`u, on the Big Island, where his grandmother, who was raised in the old ways, had a tremendous influence on his upbringing. As a result, his political activism, including the Pele Defense Fund, has always been steeped in the spiritual. We were talking about some of the comments left on the Star-Bulletin articles about the Naue burials. Friday’s piece generated a whopping 177 comments, while Saturday’s follow-up got 137. If that’s any indication, and I think it is, this is obviously a topic of interest for people.
And it’s a topic that to me so clearly expresses the growing divide between those who value the inherent Hawaiianess of Hawaii, and those who live here for reasons of economics, climate or what have you.
While some of the comments expressed dismay at the desecration of burials, others expressed the view — echoed by some in the comments section on this blog — that people should stop blocking “progress,” that bones shouldn’t stand in the way of building luxury vacation homes, that the Hawaiians should just get with it because western culture, with its emphasis on money, is the dominant force in the Islands today.
Palikapu, as you might expect, had a different take on the issue.
First, he expressed dismay that other ethnic groups that immigrated to Hawaii aren't speaking up about the ongoing desecration of Hawaiian burials when all of them come from cultures that revere their dead. It's sad, he said, that they've lost so much in just a few short generations.
“These things can’t be directed by the money, they have to be directed by the soul,” he said. “If individuals want to sell their souls, fine, but when you have the state set up to require everyone to lose theirs, well, that’s where you run into problems.
“What does Hawaii mean? The islands are like eight temples. That’s how it’s supposed to be viewed. It’s very spiritual. It all has to do with spirituality. And if we ever lose that, there really is no meaning to the word Hawaiian any more.”
Do we really want to lose the essence of Hawaii, its spiritual core? Because it seems to me that that’s where we’re headed unless we restore Hawaiians to their rightful place at the head of the table.