After going through this journey, I realized that the Hawaiian culture has many similarities with the Filipino culture. Furthermore, it made me appreciate my culture even more. Every moment of our Huaka'i was an experience to remember; from the beautiful sunrise to riding tour buses, getting great insights and lessons from every waking circumstance, and simply relaxing with myself. A fun—filled, life changing experience; I loved our Huaka'i.
It's been 20 years since I graduated from high school and left O'ahu for college on the mainland. In all that time, I hadn't realized how disconnected my roots had gotten from my island home and birthplace. Getting off the bus and walking into the peaceful lush valley, I had no idea what an emotional, and dare I say, life—changing, impact this place — Ka'ala Cultural Center — would have on me. Our host, Uncle Butch, sat us down in an open air shelter and had us take a moment to silently introduce ourselves and our ancestors to each other, reminding us that everywhere we go, we carry our entire heritage, a long line of people who lived and loved, struggled and sacrificed before us. It is so easy to get caught up in my current life in the Bay Area, never thinking much about the place where I was born and raised. But that morning gave me a renewed connection to Hawaii, the strongest I have had in a very long time.
The moment I remember most was the day in Kailua at the beach. Kumu was standing above the beach looking out over the ocean, the sun shimmering on the water, the trees and mountains highlighting his form. It was picture perfect, but then I noticed that he was not just standing there and observing. He was chanting and there was an aura about him. There was an energy and connection to the land and everything around him. It is that feeling of togetherness, of learning and sharing and being in the moment that made our Huaka'i so memorable.
Our Huaka'i was of course a once in a lifetime, life—altering event. It's been nearly one year since our trip and I still occasionally have dreams about it. I actually dreamed of our trip every night for WEEKS after we returned until my hula sister and I broke the spell by confiding in one another that we were dreaming of our huaka'i. The unexpected and most wonderful parts of our trip didn't happen while we were on it but when we returned. Since our voyage, the familiarity and aloha I feel when I see each of my hula sisters and brothers has completely changed. It is deeper. I can honestly say I know something about each of my hula siblings. It is a feeling that could have come from nothing other than our huaka'i and something that will never fade.
Before our huaka'i, I'd made eight trips to Hawaii, but I think I learned and experienced more in this one journey than in all the preceding ones combined, and the memories of these experiences will linger because they appealed not only to my senses but to my heart. All along the way, we were received and welcomed as special guests and not as tourists, which was an honor to me as much as it was a privilege.
Growing up on the outside, it always seemed that the true Hawai'i and Hawaiian culture was secret and reserved. All these years with our class have transformed Hawai'i from a place where you could "go" or "be" to a place that could be part of you — a place that really welcomes you. Our O'ahu huaka'i brought even more focus; everything has been reframed. What was far—away, picturesque landscape in a pretty song is now sacred, named, remembered and felt. This may not seem like news to everyone else but it was a humbling, vibrant, and expansive surprise to me!
When asked what memory of our Huaka'i stood out the most I immediately recalled a brief moment at the 'Iolani Palace museum on the lower service level. Our tour group had split up as we walked through the different chambers; I was alone when I came upon a small dimly lit room where I saw Kumu standing before a display case looking at a very old pahu drum. The bottom of it was mostly rotted away but still stood tall. I later learned the drum was attributed to King Kamehameha I. Kumu asked a docent in the adjacent room if it would be okay if he did an oli to honor it. He returned to the room and stood silently before the case for a few moments and then let out a powerful chant that resonated in the room and echoed through the museum. I just stood there taking it all in, feeling as though I was witness to something special and honored to be there. When Kumu finished there was dead silence. I couldn't speak; I just stood there with my "chicken skin" and the feeling of having witnessed something very special. Just then some oblivious chattering tourists came in and broke the spell Kumu had created.
I barely slept the night before our kapu kai. I was so excited anticipating the real start of our huaka'i. Meeting at the airport the day before and flying to O'ahu with all of my hula brothers and sisters was one beginning, but this ceremony, for which we had practiced our chants, was the real beginning. We walked silently in the dark from our hotel through the almost empty streets of Honolulu. We gathered on the beach, awaiting the rising sun — E Ala E! After we chanted, Kumu invited us into the water. We washed away our hindrances, we held hands, we embraced each other.
Since I know O'ahu reasonably well, I already had personal memories and associations of Waikiki, the Pali Lookout, Chinaman's hat, Diamond Head, and other O'ahu landmarks. However, this trip helped me build a deeper, more connected understanding of these places. Now when I think of the 'aina, I think of my feet in the taro patch. When I think of the kai, I think of our cleansing kapu kai. When I think of the Pali lookout, I think of dancing Pua 'Ahihi on a windy day on a steep hill with all my heart. Though I could easily visit many of these places on my own, it was the spiritual experiencing of these places with a group that created a new understanding.
Another event definitely worth highlighting was our time spent volunteering our services in the taro fields in Wai'anae. I grew up in this very town and have often heard colorful commentary from people upon learning where I was from. So I was amazed when we walked to the higher grounds of the lo'i to discover one of the most picturesque settings on the island. In our modern society, Wai'anae is not a town known to breed trendsetters and leaders, but it is evident that this same unspoiled land — once part of an ahupua'a — was a flourishing and viable community in old Hawai'i. Having seen this and doing actual work in the lo'i gave me a deeper appreciation of the town I grew up in and for the Hawaiians that worked that same land. The stories and demonstrations of Uncle Butch helped put all this into perspective.
Dancing on rough ground with tired arms and true joy. The delicate struggle of my needs vs those of the group (should I take a solo swim... or study? Meet with my hula sisters/brothers, try to connect more with them...?) Sad/angry with myself for not doing well on the test; searching and ultimately finding other ways to acknowledge all that I had experienced and learned on this Huaka'i. Satisfaction of having now a personal relationship with these places we visited, these dances we learned.
All of these experiences further increased my understanding and respect for a culture that I had mistakenly thought that I already understood well. I also now understand why it is so important to maintain this history, the language, the arts not only for their own unique intrinsic values but additionally to increase the self—respect of the Hawaiian people and to help the rest of the world understand what a unique and progressive culture developed so many thousands of miles away out in the middle of the Pacific.
After years of classes together we find that our knowledge of each other has gaps. Little lifestyle facts that makes for interesting interactions during our close, constant companionship on the huaka'i. My vegan roommates tolerate the aroma of frying spam in the morning. Sleepy head and the one who wants to rock out to 80's music find a comfortable compromise with earphones. The early morning swimmer and the late night cocktail hounds all make it to the bus, somewhat, on time. What are you gonna do? You love it and so you work around the inconveniences because it's worth it.
Haumana was defined as student, pupil, or apprentice. The dictionary went on to say that it also meant to "lay before one a ball of masticated food." Aha moment! We hula brothers and sisters are the nested baby birds, and Kumu Patrick nurtures and feeds us that which he has processed. The lightbulb went on; the Hawaiian language is resplendent with history, island luxuriant, sun—illuminated, and most significantly, wholly inseparable from its culture. The coming—alive of our huaka'i study began for me then: not just hula hips, the lei of the land, food/fun/friendship, but as a metaphor for all things aloha. Mana for thought.
Pulling weeds from the lo'i at Kaala Cultural Center reminded me that giving back to the community is important and that there's so much to be learned from the ancient ways of living. Passing pohakus to help rebuild the fish farm wall showed us that every little bit helps and even though we didn't pass thousands of rocks, what we did helped them make some progress. But overall, the huaka'i was an amazing experience that brought me and my hula brothers and sisters together. And I just really liked everything and not to mention it was a great reason to not go to school for a week.
We danced with the wind in our hair and awe—inspiring views ahead of us at Kualoa, the Pali lookout and Kapi'olani Park. We fell into O'ahu's embrace, and we had the time of our lives.
The most memorable event was learning Kaimana Hila at the foot of Diamond Head, and especially the movements where we frame Diamond Head with our hands and actually saw it before us will forever be in my mind. Even now when we dance it in class here in San Francisco and we come to those moves in the dance I see us back in Hawai'i with Diamond Head before me. It sometimes brings tears to my eyes as I remember that moment and the joy of that day in O'ahu.
While one could extol the beauty of O'ahu, the excitement of participating in living history, the fun and challenge of group activities, all the talk story by truly amazing people, and the incredible planning and coordination of all involved to make everything go so smoothly, the true benefit for me was personal growth. To realize a whole new world outside my comfort zone; to recapture that childish enthusiasm lost to adult responsibilities; to rekindle that thirst for knowledge coaxed back from an entirely too long hibernation... Just can't see how it could get any better!
The journey of our Huaka'i connected me closer to myself, my culture and my hula family. I gained friendships with not everyone as a whole but individually with each one of my hula brothers and sisters. I also became much closer to my mom; we went through this journey as mother and daughter and both share the passion we have for our culture. I was learning so much of my culture, which essentially is who I am, the very blood that flows through my body.
Going to places: the sacred sea, the birthing stones, the Pali Lookout, the taro patch, or even someone's own private home, there was a richness in the experience that connected me with them — maybe not the in exact way that the Hawaiians who lived there did, but so that I too make a spiritual connection.