Past Joins the Present
Revival of Makahiki season closing a historic moment for Molokai.
Years of practice have kept Matt Yamashita and Josh Pastrana in perfect synch. The dancers performed during the Makahiki closing ceremonies at La`au last Saturday.
By Léo Azambuja
Molokai is an island ahead of its time in that it often plans for its future by honoring its past. The Molokai community this past weekend made history by reviving a tradition unpracticed for almost 200 years – the closing of the Makahiki season at La`au Point.
The kapu system was a set of laws based on religious beliefs, which were intrinsically connected with cultural practices. With the fall of the kapu in 1819, the Makahiki traditions faded away until almost disappearing. However, a Hawaiian cultural renaissance, which began over 30 years ago, has since inspired native Hawaiians to bring back many ancient traditions.
“In the 1970s I worried about our traditions, I worried about whether they were going to survive with all these changes happening in Hawaii,” cultural specialist Lawrence Aki said.
Aki, together with his uncle Pilipo Solatario, headed the Makahiki closing ceremonies held at the sacred grounds of La`au Point, the westernmost point of Molokai.
At least 50 people showed up at Dixie Maru early in the morning to make the long hike to La`au Point. The sun had barely come up, and a light but steady rain sprinkled those who came to celebrate the end of the season ruled by the god of peace and fertility, Lono.
It was a special occasion for everyone – this hadn’t been done for almost 200 years, according to surfboard shaper Steve Morgan.
“This represents the rebirth of the Hawaiian culture,” Morgan said, noting that so much of the culture has been lost.
“La`au to me is like the Hokule`a, it rallies the community, it galvanizes the society,” resident Jais/Iruka said, comparing the historic moment with another landmark of the Hawaiian renaissance, the launching of voyaging canoe Hokule`a.
The tall and skinny Iruka walked his talk. He shouldered two huge bags over the entire distance to La`au Point, a walk that normally takes about two hours to complete. The bags were filled with several fruits and an ergonomic blender – an ingenious appliance powered by a manual crank-shaft. Iruka’s smoothies quenched the thirst of many of those who hiked to La`au.
Once at La`au Point, the official ceremony took place. Hawaiian protocol and the blowing of conch opened the celebration. Aki and Solatario received ho`okupu (gifts) from the community, and placed them on the Ho`okupu Wai, a miniature outrigger canoe built to carry offerings into the sea. Chants and hula dancers honored Lono.
After all of the procedures were finalized, Solatario led a group of seven men to the ocean’s edge. The men swam the gift-laden canoe far into the ocean, until letting it sail itself into the distance.
Back on land, a ho`olaule`a took place with enough food and water for everyone.
Aki was radiant. “I never thought I’d see this happening,” he said. “Boy, it’s such a great feeling.”
Morgan said the closing of the Makahiki represents the na`au (gut feelings) of all of the ahupu`a together. “This represents the whole island, not just one place,” he said.
Heidi Jenkins, 3rd grade teacher at Kaunakakai School, said the celebration was a way of bringing awareness to all of Hawaii, to make sure that history won’t be lost.
Visiting La`au for the first time, Jenkins had a special reason to be there. All of the elementary schools on the island become involved with the Makahiki season since its beginning. The children learn about cultural practices and history, and also participate in the Makahiki games. “For me, to share with them the closing of the Makahiki is kind of cool,” Jenkins said, explaining that she would bring pictures and stories to her students next week.
The revival of the closing of the Makahiki season in La`au Point comes at a crucial time, when landowner Molokai Properties Limited is fighting a legal battle to turn those lands into a multi-millionaire development.
Some opponents of the development claim the lands represent sacred grounds, while others say that native species of endangered fauna and flora thrive in La`au.
Aki’s cultural expertise comes from a lifetime of listening to kupuna and kumu, such as Solatario, Vanda Hanakahi, Louise Miguel and Mikiala Pescaia. “They all speak the same language, this place cannot be developed,” he said.
At the end of the day it felt like the the Makahiki closing had never stopped being practiced. Aki said he was honored to be part of it, and that he hoped to come back every year from now on.
“As long as I can walk the trail I’ll be back,” Aki said with a large grin on his Hawaiian face, revealing the satisfaction of making sure his culture is on the right path to perpetuation. If it depends on him and the majority of the Molokai community, the life of La`au Point will be perpetuated in righteousness, just as the Hawaii state motto says; “Ua mau ke ea o ka aina ika pono.”