Hunger, and the thunking-thumping, rustling-rummaging of a rat — which still has Koko whining and pacing — woke me up early, so we went out walking beneath a sky where Orion was directly overhead and the Big Dipper, handle down, had risen not much earlier in the east. It was a comforting celestial continuation of the sunset action of the past two nights, where flashy Venus has been cozying up to a golden crescent moon.
As we walked, the stars gave way to clouds and the struggling sun turned the sky above the still sleeping Giant the yellowish-purple of an old bruise. Sheets of traveling rain drew a thin curtain over Kalepa Ridge and drifted our way, dampening us, but not our spirits.
It was easy to feel the spirits of those who came before, as well as those who are here now, while sitting on the grass at Ka-ulu-o-Laka heiau at Ke`e yesterday afternoon. As a man chanted and tapped out a steady beat on a pahu (drum), traditional ho`okupu of ti, taro, sweet potatoes and a garland of lauwa`e fern were placed on an altar dedicated to the goddess of forest and dance. In the background, waves broke on the rocks and birds occasionally broke into song.
As a helicopter droned overhead and lifeguards shouted orders through megaphones to tourists on the beach below, I found it remarkable that Hawaiians have managed to hold on to their culture at all — the chants, the dance, the language, the rituals of protocol — amid the continuing crush of Westernization that nearly extinguished, and still threatens, their race.
It was heartening to see that a halau hula (hula school) had been there earlier, leaving its own offerings of ti-leaf lei. This is one heiau that is cared for and still used in traditional ways, although it gets its share of well-intentioned, but inappropriate, offerings like crystals, “rock laulau” (pohaku wrapped in ti leaf), oranges and heliconia.
At the end of the ceremony, one of the men spoke of the importance of caring for the ancient sites, the sacred places that serve as a physical representation of the culture and offer a link to the past. So many have been lost, and most are under the auspices of the state, which tends to have a different idea than Hawaiians on how they should be interpreted and maintained.
Several tourists were among us at the heiau, and many more had gathered earlier to watch and take pictures when the lua boys arrived with their offerings at the beach. All but two complied when asked not to take photos during the kava ceremony, where the offerings were dedicated, and they all joined hands, then sat in a circle with the rest of us. Afterward, many came forward when Dallas Watanabe, who manned the kava bowl, invited them to try the traditional drink.
It was nice that they were included, and it struck me that these tourists, in the Islands for just a few days or weeks, expressed more interest in and respect for the Hawaiian culture than many folks who were born here or have lived here for years.
Because it’s clearly a lack of respect that prompts people to build their homes on top of burials, to pursue developments that make it economically unfeasible for Hawaiians to remain in their homes and homeland, to promote unrestrained tourism that drives locals from their beaches, to pursue an ostentatious lifestyle so at odds with local culture.
I missed the dawn blessing that paid homage to the iwi kupuna, the bones of the ancestors, now encased in cement on the Brescia property, but I stopped by there on the way home and looked in and saw the offerings and lei that had been left on the burials, never mind the locked gate.
Aside from the foundation, no additional construction has been done on the house. I don’t know if they’re waiting for materials or the final decision of the Burial Council or what, but it’s obviously on hold, unlike the giant eyesore being built right next door. This used to be one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline on Kauai. Now it’s a rich person’s ghetto, packed tight with oversized, overpriced houses that completely miss the point of their stellar surroundings.
It’s become, like Ke`e, a place where what’s happened to it makes it a place where I no longer want to go, and I thought of how many desecrated places like this there are around Kauai now, and throughout the Islands, the world, and I wondered, as I often do, whether those resisting the madness, the disrespect, will be overwhelmed, or somehow prevail.
And then the lyrics of a Mana Caceres song came into my head:
They took the land, they took aloha, overtook the Queen even though they didn't know her, suppressed ikaika, evict kupuna from the `ohana, but they couldn't take the mana, but they couldn't take the mana.