Playing Games in Naiwa – Part 1

This story about Naiwa was originally written in 1921 in the Hawaiian language newspaper, Kuokua in three increments. In 1952 an English version of the story showed up in the newspaper Ka Leo O Molokai, written by Molly Reppun. Another version can be found in the private collections of Marsha Camera. It tells us a lot about the makahiki, the places and some of the customs from a time period right before Kamehameha’s wars.

The story begins in Waikolu. Our main character lives there with his extended family and his wahine. A grandfather begins to tell all the residents to get ready for the upcoming games to be played in Kalae. He says, he still has strength in his old bones and if friends and family bet on his skills, they will have many “goods” to carry home on their backs. Our hero decides to stay home with his “Niihau basket,” or woman, rather than to travel with the group. When the group returns, they are laden with wealth from the games.

The next time the grandfather gathers the men together, our hero decides to join them. But some of the women are sly in their comments about how dressed up some of the men are. This creates some anxiety in our hero who reassures everyone that he has only one woman in his heart. The men talk among themselves about creating a delay in their trip which they believe will stress out our hero. They agree to stay at a house an extra night in Kalaupapa to gather a bigger group before going up the pali to Kalae.

In the prelude to the games, the story’s details of the people, the place names and metaphors are amazing. The area of Kalae was ruled by two “good” chiefs. What made them good? They did not engage in war and burden the people with it. Instead, these two got along quite well and as a result hosted the games. The author tells us that story takes place during the time of “our grandfathers” and before foreign food, “Kahaolekaukau”.

This time the grandfather gives his walking stick to another and instructs the group to remember to carry the god with them when they travel. They gather from Waikolu, Wailau, Pelekunu and Halawa before climbing the cliffs. Others travel from as far away as Kaana with its lehua. The iwa birds soar above as they reach their destination. The famous and well known chant, “Aia Molokai Kuuiwa” first appears in this tale.

Before the games, there is ceremony and speeches. And the master of ceremonies invites the young men to enjoy the dancing of the young women. He highlights who is considered the best dancer for that season. And our hero forgets completely about home in all the excitement of the festivities. Which is exactly what the men in their mischief had planned when they tarried an extra night in Kalaupapa.

As a new day dawns, the crowds begin to compete with riches being exchanged while betting on different champions. Our hero’s group, like others, wins and looses throughout the day. There is so much betting that items go from group to group occasionally returning to their original owners.

In our next episode we will learn more about the two weeks our hero remains away from home in Kalae.

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