It isn’t just the largest telescope in the world on top of the earth’s tallest mountain – that false dichotomy between the scientific versus the sacred. “It’s the remnants of our culture,” a young Native Hawaiian was quoted in the news yesterday. Sobs diluted her rage.
It isn’t just greedy corporate profiteers - and their enabling state governor - feeding the State University’s coffers and pretending it’s for a “higher purpose” than the essential, sustaining sacred. “It’s the remnants of our culture.”
“The mountain is their victory lap,” said elder and cultural practitioner, ‘Iokepa Hanalei ‘Imaikalani. This telescope is a brazen icon to their domination - Mauna Kea, the largest mountain in the world.
'Iokepa and I arrived home from our four-month book and speaking tour at the exact moment that the mountain - Kilau'ea - at the heart of the Island of Hawai'i erupted. The frantic (and generous) emails descended immediately after our first night's respite at home.
Initially we assured: we were well and at the other end of the archipelago on Kaua'i; the wind blew the poisonous gases away from our Island; our friends and family on the Island of Hawai'i were unharmed. But the rest of our message struck many as callous.
I was contemplatively hurling my Pellegrino bottles into the Kaua'i community recycling bin, last week, when I heard my name called. I turned to the open-arm welcome of an acquaintance newly returned from Macchu Picchu. This is a woman, who, I am aware, treasures the living truths of indigenous culture - not far removed from one herself.
She wanted me to understand the hopes she'd invested in her dream journey to the relics of the Inca nation. She told me, she'd hiked the old Inca trail to the mountaintop, eagerly anticipating communion with these ancients. She wanted me to know, too, how horribly she'd been disappointed .
For those of our friends and supporters who have followed 'Iokepa Hanalei 'Imaikalani and my journey- our Return Voyage to cultural and personal authenticity - there is really no need for background here. But I always anticipate new readers, and so for those folks and others who may have missed last year's post, I insert a link. http://returnvoyage.com/wordpress/na-kaa-mea-change-in-the-winds/
As a matter of fact, as a matter of principle, as a matter of Native Hawaiian cultural authenticity - 'Iokepa Hanalei 'Imaikalani does not point fingers. Better to assume responsibility than to blame As a matter of fact, as a matter of taste - he does not plaster our cars with bumper stickers. He believes that actions, not advertised opinions, speak louder than words. And yet, he is about to make an exception.
The ancestral grandmothers have spoken. ‘Iokepa Hanalei ‘Īmaikalani and I are on the edge of our seats with excitement. Huliau–the Return Voyage is about to shift into an entirely new direction. The goal remains the same. Within the authentic Native Hawaiian experience lies the answer for a contemporary world tormented by rage, greed, and war. It is ours to seize the ancients’ gifts – to return to that which all of us are born knowing. We carry it in our very bones, this memory of another way.
So, Hawai'i - as in, 'I've always dreamed of...' or 'I will go before I die...' or'I once went and it was incredible...' (versions of which'Iokepa and I hear daily) - becomes the metaphor.And that metaphor is not just the fantasy of a tropical Island paradise - beaches, coconuts, and aloha. It is the fantasy of the way life can be lived, should be lived, once was lived - without greed, competition, judgement, fear, racism, war - and strangers regarded as the other.
When 'Iokepa and I completed our ten year preparation--what the Grandmothers called, our grooming, what I call our immersion into the authentic, aboriginal Hawaiian culture - That language, history, and the reality of experience of 'Iokepa's brethren - we were asked to take what we had learned on those tropical beaches to the people of the world, and to begin in the continental United States. That was two years ago. We landed in Seattle; our next stop was Portland. Portland was also the city where I had, for some years, reared two teenage sons, written professionally, and taught writing workshops.
‘Iokepa and I lived on Hawaiian public beaches for years. We slept on the reclining seats of a seriously aging 1991 Camry when there wasn’t gas enough to get us to the tent. Picnic tables were our dining room furniture; outside showers were our bathtubs; filthy public toilets were our dressing rooms and more.
'Iokepa and I know, quite well, that it is a very fine line that straddles messages that are purely "Spiritual" from those that are somehow tinged with the "Political." Theancestral Grandmothers have been adamant over these years. The movement that 'Iokepa Hanalei 'Imaikalani represents is not a political one. It is simply a return to the cultural values of the ancients, the wisdom of his kanaka maoli ancestors.
We - every last one of of us - build walls that we hope, pray, and assume, will protect us from life's vicissitudes - from the winds of change. We call them: career, family, home, reputation, insurance policies (health, house, automobile... more). We'veheard about folks who were terminated from jobs they'd held for a lifetime. We know that divorce happens, and that children disappoint. We've read that people's houses are foreclosed, that they declared bankruptcy. We have seen respectable people exposed for shameful behavior. We realize that human bodies get sick and (Don't speak of it!) die.
I am feeling - on this mid-summer early morning - the refreshingly cool, crisp air in what a bit later will feel like a wall of heat and humidity. I'm loving that breeze on my skin. It evokes, in a cellular way, childhood memory - summer mornings on the urban sidewalks of Baltimore. From that deep reservoir these thoughts emerge. We - materially-privileged Americans - have very recently reached the extreme limits of confidence in our ability to control both the political world and the natural one.
This heading is more than a lovely Hawaiian word that rolls off the tongue like music. It is an even lovelier – or rather, a more potent – life-changing cultural mindset, by which the kanaka maoli, the aboriginal Hawaiians, will potentially instruct the world. It is the means by which these people refused the possibility of war for more than 12,000 years. Ours is a world sorely in need of some guidance. By its smallest measure, ho‘oponopono has been labeled an ancient Hawaiian mediation technique.
'Iokepa and I have mothers on each coast of the American continent. They were both born in 1912. You do the math. (My mother still lies about her age--and she can easily get away with it.) We've called them the bookends: Tiny women who've held their own in this lifetime--forces to be reckoned with; with full lives and distinct opinions, who've cared for and about other than themselves all of their adult days.
The Hawaiian Islands are overwhelmingly populated by folks who followed their dreams to the tropics. It's hard to blame them. Rainbows are are an hourly fact of life; sunsets against the Pacific take away words and breath. Pristine white sand beaches are ubiquitous. Hot lava pours into blue water. This is the stuff of fantasy. The number of movies filmed on the Islands attest to it. Largely, the new settlers come from the western half of the United States: from California, of course, and Colorado, Oregon and New Mexico.
Last night, 'Iokepa's daughter gave birth to her second son. We got the phone call from Honolulu at this motel in Oklahoma City. It was a quick and easy birth. The baby is strong and well. But we know that our new grandson is much more than just that.
We call these past eleven years our, walk of faith. On the tropical Hawaiian Islands, that has meant sleeping on beaches in tents (thirteen tents and eleven air mattresses); eating oranges, avocados, and mangoes that fell from tree to ground (on the street side of the fences)--and being led, always, by the ancestors.
“It’s not that we have a right to life, but rather we have a responsibility for life.”
Several months ago, ‘Iokepa and tall, imposing Tiokasin GhostHorse shared a conversation across the radio waves in New York City, on Tiokasin’s First Voices: Indigenous Radio. This morning, after a particularly intimate and probing gathering, I am remembering the prominent Lakota’s words.
It did not feel good,” Maxine Hong Kingston wrote in Hawai‘i One Summer, “To be a writer in a place that is not a writing culture, where written language is only a few hundred years old.”
The rich oral traditions are lost to our Western world. We’ve made false idols of the written word. We assumed that what was written carried a weight, that what was spoken did not.