In our world, we rarely think about who is around us without physical form. Yet there many spirits assisting and watching over us.
Our ancestors support us in our earth walk and so many cultures recognize this. When we pray to them, they can hear us. If we keep them in mind, we can know of their presence.
In Hawaii, the native Hawaiian people know this as part of life. They know they are supported by their family members who are no longer in a physical body.
They do ceremonies and chanting to honor their family no matter how long ago they lived. They recognize that the “uhane”, the spirit of someone, lives on after death. Aunties, uncles, grandparents are present for the ones living on earth.
When the Hawaiian Islands were stolen over 100 years ago by greedy American businessmen, the new cultures moving in were afraid of the native Hawaiian practices, and so they imposed their beliefs upon the indigenous that were living there. They changed the way the Hawaiian’s dressed, taught them english and new religions, and all manner of intrusions.
Soon these new comers made laws against speaking the native language and most of their practices to make the lives of the Hawaiians more detached from their culture. These intruders just blinded themselves with the assumption that Hawaiians were a simple-minded culture, primitive and needed learn their ways. A good book for what happened during the time of the takeover of Hawaii is ‘Kaiulani: Crown Princess of Hawaii’ (link)
Yet the Hawaiians were never an ignorant race; they are smart and clever, so they hid their knowledge and teachings in Hula; their native dances and the teachings behind the meanings within the dances perseved the ancient knowledge of Life. Here they could teach in private, tell the stories, and teach the sacred sciences they knew and cherished.
Hawaiians worked in harmony with all life. They watched and learned what each species did and their particular life cycles for life form on land and in the ocean. They knew about how to preserve and propagate these lives through natural processes and so they did not need to create farms. They made laws about harvesting so that each species could thrive. When it was mating season for a certain fish, no one would fish for it giving the fish time for their mating and hatching of young, thus keeping the life cycle full and healthy.
They chanted to the plants and kept them happy. If they noticed a certain species was getting sick, they would dive in to the ocean to observe its twin species and find a way to balance and cure the sickness. They knew all plants on the land had a twin species in the ocean, although it was not because they looked alike.
The teachers would talk in layers providing a surface story, one to tell people who did not need to know the deeper meaning, like people of other cultures. The next layer would be teachings for the intermediate learners, and then even a deeper level of knowledge for those who will be, or are masters, the Kahunas. Brilliant!
Kahuna meant a mastery of a certain subjects, much like what a PhD in colleges reflect. It meant the understanding of the more hidden nature of their subject of study, the hidden science.
Learning this first hand when I joined a Hula Halau on Kauai, I had to study so much to create a basis for learning more. I was the only white lady in this group and so I had much to read and learn to even begin to understand a basic foundation. We learned to chant our genealogy and to chant for certain ceremonies.
The interesting part about Hula for me was that I could dance gracefully in the group, and yet while at home practicing, I felt awkward and could not remember all the steps. This was a slow drag that was placing me behind the groups learning as practice at home was required. There was an energy cohesiveness within the group.
I just loved being in the group and dancing. It is similar to being in the ocean and merging with the movement of the sea. I had a special feeling after every class, a calm excitement that stayed with me for days. Something was going on, unseen, unspoken in these practices and also when we danced for the public. It was like prayers, sending out the simple message for all and yet speaking softly to nature in gratitude.
The Hawaiians had names for various ‘winds’ that swept each of their islands, over 220 different names for specific winds. We learned chants for the winds of the island of Kauai. We had to chant our family genealogy, naming all the relatives we could name as far back as we could go. I could chant about six generations back, some of my fellow students could chant back over 30 generations. My Kumu (teacher) could chant all the way back to the days of King David.
One story of the power of the wind talks about the time King Kamehameha I came to power; he wanted to be in charge of all the islands and was using force to take control of each one. He had successfully brought the other islands under his control through war and now he wanted to obtain Kauai one way or another.
When his warriors set off to sail to the island of Kauai, the people already knew of his actions and intentions to take Kauai by force, so they chanted and asked the winds for help. The winds forced the warriors to turn back or go under the sea. The king later traveled to Kauai and negotiated with the people of Kauai to join him, which they did. No war was needed.
Wind is very alive, like you and me, and just has a different form. If you are respectful, the wind will respond to you. It is like that with all life, all life forms, in that you must walk a life respectful to yourself and others. This is Reverence;. Reverence for all of God’s creations.
Hanalei River Dedication
In a very sacred ceremony to dedicate the Hanalei River as an American Heritage River, our Hula Halau was asked to dance. The Hanalei River in Kauai is one of the largest rivers of all the islands that is fed by the constant rain in the mountains.
The river flows north from the eastern slopes of Mount Wai’ale’ale for 16 miles until it reaches the Pacific Ocean at Hanalei Bay.
Between the mountains and the ocean are many Taro patches spread out in these low lands that feed the people.
Taro needs cool running water to grow and this area is perfect for Taro. The native Hawaiians and Taro have a symbiotic relationship. This river is a vital part of the life blood of the Hawaiians.
The ceremony on outward appearances was to dedicate the Hanalei River as an American Heritage River. This would allow special preservation and management by many governmental departments.
Yet the Hawaiians were well versed in how the US government can mess things up. They began to say prayers in order to keep this river protected in total harmony with the native Hawaiians, the lands and water. Although having more funding to assist the local people in managing and maintaining this river was greatly appreciated, there were also concerns about losing it as a natural resource in which the locals thrived on.
So to bring this all in to balance the indigenous Hawaiians used their sciences to work. The elder Hawaiians prepared offerings, ho’okupu, with special prayers to bind the government officials to honor their agreements and to do right by the river and lands.
They chanted to appeal to the forces of nature to protect the people, lands and waters. They placed prayers within the offerings that the government officials would present to the altar, the sacred duty of honoring nature so that when it came time for the officials to make choices, nature could influence them to do the right thing.
I helped clean Ti leaves that the Kapunas (elders) would then use for these offerings. These offerings contained Awa (Kava kava), some sweet potato, taro, and other special gifts. This was a time of serious work and very few words, as the chanting placed within these offerings were specific, setting the subtle energy tone of this whole ceremony.
The Kapunas were gathered around a table and no one was to bother them. There were intermediate elders who brought them what they needed and they were silent. I was on the outer fringe with many other young Hawaiians, washing as I was instructed anything that they placed before me, and we all were also to be silent. No loose words.
Power of the Chant
The ceremony was attended by government officials, many Hawaiian families from the other islands, tourists and many local people.
This ceremony was held at the mouth of the Hanalei River on the sandy beach that touched both the ocean and the river.
Our Hula Halau danced three dances in honor of the river, land and the indigenous people. It looked like entertainment for the visitors. Next it was time for the offerings and prayers.
The government officials were the first to walked up in pairs to place the offerings prepared by the Kapunas on to the altar by the river mouth.
The altar was made out of wood and things from nature, made just for this day. It looked like a very tall table, higher than the heads of anyone, as it was a reflection of this sacred reverence the Hawaiians have for all life. Those officials probably had no idea that gift they held in their hands represented a binding contract with the land, water and the Hawaiians to do right. As anyone approached the altar, they would bow and sink their head to be lower than the altar and offered the ho’okupu.
Next in this procession were the native Hawaiians families to give offerings. As each native Hawaiian family stepped forth, they chanted as they walked in a sacred manner.
The Wind was different with each family.
Soft warm winds came from the south with one family, as they chanted and walked to the altar.
A strong fast wind blowing straight from the north started as another family chanted and walked as a group to place offerings.
A large family from the island of Oahu chanted and the wind was so strong that I had to steady myself. Their voices matched this wind with its might and power!
The winds were thick with their ancestors presence. I saw so many spirits in the wind, each different group had unique quantities of spirits.
I could feel the uhane of the families present within these different winds. It gave me chicken-skin! I had a lei on my forehead that I slid over my eyes a bit so these spirits would not see me as some blue-eyed white person. I felt such intimidation from the pure power of these ancestors presence, and such a deep respect for them and the winds.
One family stepped forward, chanting, and it rained ever so lightly, gently as they said their prayers. When they stopped chanting, the rain stopped with them.
Another family chanted and the wind was spiraling and swirling so much I thought I would lose my haku lei. The wind came from all directions, puffing strong, to soft, like a long outbreath.
It was at that moment I could feel that defining sense of how small people really are in the world of nature.
How little we know and how much we ‘make up stories for things’; pretending them to be inanimate objects instead of being alive.
How childlike humanity was in the world of nature.
This day confirmed what I had already known but in a way that, now, no one could ever persuaded me to think differently.
Everything has life. With respect of one another, we can co-create and do wonders.
(picture of me after the ceremony -> )
I now felt humility and honor for being a part of this day and to be representing this astounding Hawaiian culture.
Each family placed offerings on the altar filled with their prayers and intentions.
At the end of the ceremony, I was speechless, in awe, and finally understood that outsiders have no idea how deep the Hawaiian sciences could go. I had privy to a glimpse only.
There was plenty of food to share after this dedication made by the families in the area, and yet, I had no appetite. I walked the long buffet of food in an very altered state, smiling at those who were serving the food. I was grateful.
I left quietly to go sit with my experience. I said more prayers of my own to protect the native Hawaiians and their lands.
As a former Navy brat, I was told a fictitious story of how Hawaii became a state, only to move to Kauai and hear how it was stolen and how the people were decimated.
My heart was so full and yet I was feeling so many feelings; the prayers of the families were still swirling around my head, in the Hawaiian language and somehow, it was affecting me as though it was in my own language.
Our ancestors are present all the time, and they can protect us, guide us and help us.
Take time to thank them in your life. We are never alone!
Nature is participating in our lives as well. Be respectful, be alert!
Life is reaching out to love you.
~ Carolyn Thompson
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