Huaka‘i Kaho‘olawe Day 2

By Neola Caveny

The pū sounds before dawn the next day  but I have had the most peaceful, refreshing sleep I can remember, and – miracle of miracles! – am no more sore of body than from the average gym workout (which I realize I haven’t been doing nearly enough of lately). We gather on the beach to chant the sun rising into the sky off Kaupō, on Maui – “E ala e.” We must have done something right, because – lo and behold! – there it is to start a new day. I might become a morning person yet.

That day, we are awesome! Somehow, almost 50 previous strangers come together to move what someone estimated to be approximately 6 tons of rock in about 8 hours, including passing them up a steep slope, where they are sorted and placed carefully in the final stack by Analani, alternating with Nāmaka, each weighing about 105 pounds, who firmly defend their position when anyone offers to take their place. At the top of the line, a group of people has it so together that they are actually tossing the rocks from person to person! At the place in the line where I’m working, about halfway up the slope, Lei, the woman on one side of me, regularly takes possession of one of the heaviest pōhaku, weighing at least 100 pounds, drops out of line, and carries it up the slope to the stack. When she returns, she gets us all singing, everything from Hawaiian “small kid“ songs to 50’s rock ‘n roll. Each time I think I’ve “hit the wall,” she keeps me going.

stones1The single most moving experience for me (of many) of those four days is when the last pöhaku had passed up the line and, tired and sweaty, most of us are moving down the hill looking forward to go ‘au’au (bathe). One of the kua still standing on the slope facing the heiau, hair streaming behind her, sweat on her face, throws back her head, extends her arms, and begins chanting the birth of the islands, from Papa, for whom the heiau was built. Some of the women around her answer with the responses, other women in the valley below take up the chant, and it echoes off the rocks. I have studied chant in my halau, and spent many hours memorizing and practicing, but this is chant as it was meant to be used – from the heart, for a specific moment, to mark a special occasion. As I listen, the tears come.

That night, dinner is kalua turkey, straight from six hours in the imu – enough to make a vegetarian fall off the wagon (almost). After dinner, the kua share their stories, of their personal journeys to discover their Hawaiian culture and what compels them to committing large parts of their lives to Kaho‘olawe. Some come almost every month – a major investment of time and energy – and one woman, Pi’ikea, has been coming since 1980. They are all volunteers.

NEXT – (Day 3)