By Neola Caveny
Day 1 – Thursday PM
After lunch, we all participate in the hi‘uwai, a purification in the ocean. Standing in a semi-circle on the beach, the kua chanting, we are all asked to let go of any personal problems and negativity in our lives, so as not to transmit them to the pōhaku (chosen rocks) that we are about to handle. Swimming out into the bay, with a view of Maui, Moloka‘i and Lāna‘i that I have never seen before, I feel the insignificance of my pilikia (problems) and let the ocean wash them away. It seems to similarly affect everyone else, from kua to malihini, for, as we reconvene in the meeting area, we walk up to the work site in almost total silence.
Kalei, `Ohana member and “cultural technician” from the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC) who had given our Maui group the required pre-access orientation, is waiting for us in the dry streambed below Hale o Papa, a hillside heiau dedicated to women. We learn that we will be stacking pöhaku for the future construction of retaining walls that will stop the erosion that has been uncovering the iwi (bones) of women and children buried there. Since there is a high percentage of women on this access (about 60%), there is a sense of purpose in the air. Kalei chants an opening invocation, asking permission for us to be there to accomplish this work, and also a cleansing for the pōhaku, should any once have had a different purpose. With clear minds and willing muscles, we form a line and start passing rocks.
Someone should have had a video camera (Daniel, where were you?)! The Three Stooges had nothing on this group. One wouldn’t think that something that sounds as simple as passing rocks down a line could be so complicated. But the distance between people has to be just right, different heights have to be considered, the streambed isn’t level, and, most importantly, we have not yet coalesced into a team. Still, I handle weights I didn’t think I could (up to 100 pounds, I would guess), and, even more amazingly, enjoy it.
After what seems like forever, but is actually less than three hours, the “luna” calls pau hana and we all gratefully repair to our respective ocean bathing areas—men to the right of the bay (they have a tidepool) and women to the left (a 10 minute walk, but sandy and private). I guess it works out about even. As much as I love the ocean, I’ve always wanted to rinse off after I’ve been in it, but somehow, knowing that this was the only water I’d experience for a while, other than for drinking, it feels good just to get clean. And at least this beach has a sandy bottom so I don’t fall on my face in the first two feet, as I had during our hi‘uwai ceremony.
As tired as you are after a day like this, you cannot just crawl off to your tent. As part of the experience of working together, it is expected that you become part of and share with the group (kūkākūkā). Derek (“Kekaulike”), the Zodiac captain and “master pū blower,” invites us all to introduce ourselves and share any stories behind our names—a good method for 50 people to learn each other’s names in a short time.