Star-Bulletin Features

Sunday, December 23, 2001



Kapono Aluli Souza in Makua Valley, where cloth banners symbolize the billowing clouds of Lono, the Hawaiian deity.

Reconnecting with
the land

Kapono Souza begins a makahiki
walkabout to recapture Hawaii's
fundamental rhythms

By burl burlingame

Kapono Aluli Souza is baking and is too excited to talk. Banana bread, using a neighbor's excess bananas, and a cinnamon cobbler top. "It's my first try, and I'm really stoked. I want to surprise my girlfriend. Good to keep her guessing, yeah? Call back in a few minutes, is that OK?"

Souza, a practitioner of the Hawaiian craft of lomi lomi massage, crew member of Hokule'a and Hawai'i Loa, Hawaiian cultural representative in Rapa Nui, grandson of Auntie Irmgard Farden Aluli and novice baker, has gone walkabout, as the Australian aborigines say. During makahiki, the ancient Hawaiian time-out for peace and healing, Souza is hoofing it on Oahu's roads and neighborhoods, exploring the magical details of an aina never seen from a moving car.

The effort is sponsored by the Maka'ainana Foundation and out of Souza's back pocket. The idea is to make a cultural survey, dormant both in Oahu's neighborhoods and in Souza's own blooming curiosity. There's no set path, but he started from Kualoa Park on Nov. 15, on the new moon, and will wind up at Mokapu, Marine Corps Base Hawaii on March 15. He's setting aside the next eight years' worth of makahikis to do the same on neighbor islands.

"Mmmm, that smells good. No wonder bakers are happy people," says Souza, back on the line. We'd met the week before at the Makahiki Games in Makua Valley, watched by nervous Army types and blissed-out kupuna. "This started something like eight months ago, when it occurred to me that people in Hawaii get so enthusiastic about New Year's, and Chinese New Year's, and we don't really do anything about the Hawaiian season of makahiki."

This is the four-month period during which ancient Hawaiians laid down weapons and jealousies, and focused on peace, harvest, healing, learning, celebrations, competition, reconnecting to the land and each other, reaffirmation of the principles of stewardship, said Souza.

"The only kapu in makahiki was conflict and friction. Jealousies and anger set aside, celebrating those things for which we are thankful. Value it -- so that it HAS value. No pilikia. Ho'oponopono, or what today would be group mediation, was the big thing. Competitiveness was expressed in games."

It is the time of the god Lono, the healer, symbolized by billowing white clouds. The rest of the year was the time of Ku, grimmer and disposed toward conflict.

"Storytelling was the big thing, because Hawaiians were an oral culture. Hawaiians perceive reality as a nesting of symbols. We learn of makahiki today only from books, but it was part of the Hawaiian mythos, a huge part of the Hawaiian way of life. It was a trinity of mind, body and spirit. That's why Hawaiians adapted so easily to Christianity: they understood the symbolism. The natural world is simply the physical expression of these symbols.

"And that's why Hawaiians make good lawyers. Their analytical skills are well developed.

"Hawaiians in old times pretty much stuck to their ahupua'a, but in times of makahiki they'd walk over to the next ahupua'a and get caught up. It was a big hoopla. It was Hawaiian networking. People would reconnect and realize they are part of a whole. We're all in the Big Picture!

"The makahiki, as a way of expressing solidarity as humans, is beyond race. International humanity, in a global sense ... we could teach the world a thing or two. Makahiki is a good vehicle to deliver these principles. Hawaii is the piko (navel) between East and West. This is NOT about honoring Lono as some pagan god; it's about sharing universal needs. Our reality now is fast, so fragmented. The jazz is all the same."

But where to start?

"The ali'i would walk all the ahupua'a on their island and visit. Walking. Walking. Walking. It was a big part of it. And that's gone. The last ali'i to walk the islands was Kamehameha," Souza said.

"I was carrying on an internal dialogue with myself. Why was makahiki needed? Are we different today? What can we learn? What are we overlooking? Are we moving past the natural world, navigating through life the way ancient people were guided by stars? Find commonality, not separation. The trinity to guide yourself in all things is Principle, Practice and Application. Do you really have to see these things for yourself? ..."

And so Souza decided to return to the rhythms of ancient Hawaii in the most basic way possible -- on two feet.

"It opens the door to things we all have. Slow down! Utilize the environment in a natural way to shape your life. Start walking! We had a dualistic, symbiotic relationship with the natural world, like the left and right halves of the brain. Get out there and see it! Lono is a healer, and that's something people are actively seeking today. And so that's the Principle.

"The Practice, I decided, would be walking and visiting. The Application would be to get out there and actually do it."

He got so excited that he sent e-mails to hundreds and booked a meeting at the Hawaii Theatre. Only two others showed up. "Disappointing, no. We had our trinity, and a valuable reality check. We had very dynamic exchanges and created from there our own network, which pointed us in the right direction."

Signs convinced Souza he was on the right track. A beautiful shell appeared out of thin air and landed at his feet while he talked on a cell phone at Kailua Beach Park. And a few days before setting out, his dogs began barking in the middle of the night and Souza walked outside to discover a giant, black feral pig in the yard.

"Pigs like that are normally skittish. No. He stared me down. I made a move and he dropped his head and body-checked the fence -- whack! -- and stared at me again. I'm tripping out. I know that Lono sometimes appears as a great pig. I ask his blessing. Then my roommate started coming down the stairs, and the pig stared at me one more time and bolted, like he was never there."

He prepared by getting some decent boots and a waterproof pack, and was particularly excited by a hammock with built-in rain cover and mosquito net. "I wanted to climb trees and tie the hammock up in the branches -- and have a tree house. I have a real Tarzan thing going on!" he chuckles.

During the big Kona storm a few weeks ago, Souza lasted "about one day. I had to come home and get in a warm shower. I was soaking wet and cold and couldn't sleep. I crossed Waimea River and got an infection. The water we used to cleanse ourselves is now too polluted to do so!"

Anxious to document this journey, Souza purchased a digital camera/recorder, which was promptly stolen. Now he doesn't carry anything he's not willing to lose.

And the journey has already been tempered by tragedy.

On Nov. 25, Souza was hiking along a narrow pig trail hundreds of feet above Kaaawa with an acquaintance he knew only as Pori. "A mainland haole, very interested in makahiki. He asked lots of questions. We were on quite a high trail. He looked around at the beauty, and said, this is where I want to be forever. I found out later he had very poor peripheral vision.

"I was working along the trail when I heard him scream, and just for a second, thought it was some terrible joke. When I turned, I saw him flying and screaming down the sheer cliff. He just went straight down. I don't know why; he must have slipped. It was the craziest thing ... seeing him tumbling down. I spent minutes screaming his name and realized we were in trouble. I booked out of there to get help."

There were disappointments as well as tragedy. "I kept running into people of my own generation who don't know or don't care about the principles of makahiki. One guy said to me, 'Hey, we don't do ancestors. Get outta here.' But the tree will die unless it's watered."

But the good has far outweighed the negative.

"Walking is a meditative activity. The contrast is so great between the world of 'reality' we take for granted. Rushing about in cars, seeing the world on TV, getting food in a supermarket -- we're so removed from the land. People today are still grappling with these concepts. But go on a walk -- and see a completely different world!

"You learn the joy of solitude. Get that internal dialogue going. Find a space for your spirit. Build your relationship with God. The Australians are famous for their spiritual walkabouts. Moses's walkabout lasted 40 years! Walks have power. Gandhi walked for salt; King walked for equal rights ...

Souza paused.

"Oh! This pie is looking good. I'm going to sprinkle some brown sugar on it. See ya!"

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