Huli Lua Ē

1,402 total words    

6 minutes of reading

Tok tok tok, tok tok tok.

I am working an old cultural practice in the prayer room of the First Nations Education and Cultural Center at Indiana University. I am making kapa. The making of kapa or tapa goes back thousands of years in the Pacific. It was the fabric that pacific islander women made from the paper mulberry tree or Wauke before the travels of Captain Cook. I am a new practitioner in the lineage of the Hawaiʻian women who traveled to the South Pacific and regained the knowledge that was once lost.

Tok tok tok, tok tok tok.

My mind filled with thoughts. The community that seemed to be growing so well within the auspices of the First Nations center was now fractured. What could be done? What should I do? Was everything we worked for over a year lost?

Tok tok tok, tok tok tok.

The sound of the wooden beater on the kapa laid on a wooden anvil creates a rhythm, a beat. The rhythm and sound bring forth a song, a mele that I am learning in hula.

“Huli aku, huli mai, huli lua ē”

The world flips over away from me, the world flips over towards me, the world flips over again.

I feel that in my heart, in my gut, and in my mind. I pound more on the kapa and sing louder,

“Huli aku, huli mai, huli lua ē”

I know what is happening; the craft is becoming a ritual, and the song is becoming a prayer. I want to know that Spirit hears my anguish; I want to know that Spirit will guide my mind.

Tok tok tok, Huli aku,”

Tok tok tok, “Huli mai,”

Tok tok Tok tok Tok, “Huli lua ē”

Did you know there is a many thousands-of-years-old conversation waiting for you to join in?

How do you do that?

I have lived my life in ritual, first in the Christian way: morning devotions over breakfast led by my dad, prayers for every kind of circumstance as, especially before meals and bedtime, greeting the sun early on Easter morning. I was born on Kaua’i Island, the oldest of the major Hawaiian Islands, and there the Christian religion took on a tactile and tangible realness different, I believe, from what might have been more commonplace in the United States. It was not uncommon to face “strange” occurrences like a sudden flat tire when doing the Lord’s work, nor was it unusual to see natural phenomena like a rainbow after prayers left our lips.

In Hawaiian culture, natural phenomena are the expected response for spiritual supplication and ceremony. The name for it is hoʻailona. In my Christian upbringing, I was taught to expect and engage in this exchange with the natural world, an adaptation that Christianity evolved as it took root in Hawaiʻi. I now see that this awareness and practice opened the door to the thousand-year-old conversation.

As a young adult, I was taught a system of prayer that could be used for healing or to ask for big miracles. It was a system that used Christian words but was based on a Hawaiian framework and worldview. I was taught by a Hawaiian man I consider an uncle and mentor.

“The spirit of God is in the rock, the plant, the cloud, the mountain and the ocean,” he said.

From Uncle, I learned that Hawaiians were a people of prayer. It was the simplest ritual to connect with Spirit. They prayed all the time and in all situations. Uncle explained:

“If you use this and commit to it, expect miracles. But it’s not the words that are important; it is the relationship with Spirit. So when you ask, God already knows you because you have been talking.”

Here is a truth I learned from Indigenous mentors: If you connect with the Spirit in the rock, you now have a relationship with the rock. If you connect with the Spirit in the tree, you now have a relationship with the tree. It is the same with the cloud, same with the mountain, same with the ocean.

And you join in on the thousands-of-years-old conversation.

And how do you know you are conversing? Natural phenomena. Hoʻailona.

For example:

Even though the weather report called for beautiful days all week, the morning we had scheduled my grandmother to move to her new adult-foster-care home was rainy. Zina, the caregiver the night before, had reported that my grandmother had a good deal of back pain early that morning, and my grandmother had taken more pain meds and gone back to sleep.

My grandmother had been very anxious about moving to a new home. My parents were succumbing to their own health diagnoses and could no longer be the primary caregivers to a 101-year-old woman who needed twenty-four hour supervision. I broke the news to her that a date had been set, a week before. The next day she tried to bargain her way out of it. I told her the truth. She and my parents could no longer continue how they had been living for the past twenty years. We had to make this change for everyone’s health and safety.

The fear of the unknown had weighed on grandma for several days, exacerbating her severe back-arthritis and coinciding with constipation from painkiller use. I had watched her slowly grow more and more fatigued over the course of the week and wondered if it had pushed her over the edge on the very day we were supposed to move her.

The rain was odd. It came in heavy, then paused and heavy again, totally not predicted by the weather forecast. I was in my grandma’s cottage with Zina, comparing notes, when a new heavy downpour came roaring through.

“Oh! I missed my window to leave!” said Zina.

Hawaiians call their “spirit center” their “na’au.” It is your gut, but even more, it is your connection with the kūpuna or ancestors and your connection to Spirit. My na’au moved to the sound of heavy rain and to Zina’s words.

“Zina, will you pray with me?”

Hawaiians were a people of prayer. It was the simplest ritual to connect with Spirit. They prayed all the time and in all situations.

Zina and I prayed. I knew she was of the Christian tradition, so we prayed in that manner. We prayed on behalf of my grandmother and asked for guidance in what to do.

The rain lightened, and we hugged and said our goodbyes. Then, Zina left.

The phone rang and woke my grandmother up. It was her friend Sally asking about her move. Grandma spoke a little and said she was still in bed and for Sally to call later. I made her comfortable again and told her to rest that we wouldn’t need to move until the afternoon. My grandmother wiped tears from her eyes and fell back to sleep. Her breathing was ragged.

I went to the dining table and began to pray. This time in the way Uncle taught me, with Christian and Hawaiian words and in the Hawaiian way. I spoke to Spirit in the rain, Spirit in the wind, Spirit in the island that cares for and nourishes us. I asked them to speak to both of us, to fill us with the love that we know as Aloha, and remind us that we have nothing to fear. One hour, two hours…it was time to wake grandma up in order to be ready for the move.

I walked into the bedroom and said, “Grandma, it’s time to get up.”

“I want eggs!” was her reply.

And the sun broke through the sky.

Later my grandma made a move with grace and courage. Once there, she made a new friend, and all her fears faded away.

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Tok tok tok, tok tok tok

Tok tok tok, tok tok tok

The mele-turned-prayer brought a memory, and the remembrance brought a reminder: A reminder that forces are at work in ways we cannot see. We join that work when we pray; prayer is just a connection with Spirit.

When the world flips toward us, we are driven to our practices. When the world flips away from us, we are driven to our prayer. When the world flips over twice, we are driven to the thousands-of-years conversation.

Image Credit:

Artwork by Greg Rose/Haykidd Media.

  • Adin Kawate

    Adin Kawate is a fifth-generation Japanese and Filipina woman born and raised on Kauaʻi, Hawaiʻi who currently resides in Bloomington, Indiana. Her passions are indigenous lifeways and learning, which include food growing and making, crafting, storytelling, singing, dancing and ceremony.

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