In an effort to understand how our kūpuna i ka wā kahiko (traditional times) might have responded in the wake of a catastrophic event – like the wildfires that ravaged Lahaina and areas of Upcountry, Maui – we reached out to cultural practitioners on the island.
Emerging as cultural and spiritual leaders following the tragedy were kumu hula from Maui who collaborated to plan a series of ceremonies to help heal both the people and the land who have suffered such overwhelming, unspeakable loss. The kumu drew upon the ʻike kūpuna acquired over their collective decades of training and study with purpose and intentionality. They are encouraged by numerous positive hōʻailona (signs) that their prayers have been acknowledged and received.
We note that these kumu never expected their efforts to be widely shared with our lāhui, and so we mahalo them for being willing to talk with us about what they did, and why, and for allowing us to share this story with Ka Wai Ola readers.
Many stories have already been told about the devastating wildfires that swept across Maui in August – and about what has happened in their aftermath.
But there are stories yet to tell. And this is one of them.
It was August 9, the day after. Fires continued to smoulder in hot spots and the acrid air was heavy and oppressive. As shock gave way to action, thousands on Maui and across the pae ʻāina – and from around the world – were already mobilizing to help the survivors.
That day, a small group of kumu hula from Maui, cultural practitioners with knowledge of traditional Hawaiian ceremonies, gathered to talk about how they, too, could help.
The kumu hula who gathered included Hōkūlani Holt, Henohea Kāne, Kahulu Maluo-Pearson, Kaponoʻai Molitau, Pueo Pata and Kealiʻi Reichel. “We were hearing from the community. People were worrying about the life of their ʻāina and about the souls that may not have been able to transition quickly because the fire came so fast,” Holt said.
Heeding the call for a cultural response, the kumu put together a series of ceremonies that they thought would be helpful. The ceremonies they planned were drawn from antiquity, and in all their aspects – pule, moon phase, time, location – were deliberate and purposeful.
“Our kūpuna saw the value in maintaining their ʻike in written form and leaving it to us, the generations that were to follow,” Holt reflected. “We are very fortunate that they did that. We have places that we can look for a particular pule, a particular oli, that would fit what we’re trying to accomplish at any given ceremony. Being able to find them through research or have them shared by others who came from a more traditional time, is important to bring those words forward.”
According to Holt, it’s impossible to know exactly how our kūpuna would have responded to a disaster like this a thousand years ago, noting that wildfires did not happen frequently in Hawaiʻi. So with regard to the oli and pule for the ceremonies she said, “we are selecting the things that we feel may have been appropriate for such a time.”
“We’re kumu hula and various forms of cultural practitioners,” added Pata. “So, we don’t necessarily have the answers. But our reflex is to reach back into our training; to administer the things that we’ve been trained to do.”
“We absolutely know that, in our culture, chant and pule was every day, not only when it was difficult or we felt we needed to access extra help,” Holt said. “Our kūpuna had pule and ceremonies for every single moment of their life. When they wake up, when they go to their taro patches, when they go out to the ocean, when they plant – all of that they had pule for.
“So when a particular need arose, I believe they drew from those and maybe created new ones. And so there are many [oli and pule] that we can look at and see if it might also fit what we may need today.”
Anahulu Hōʻīnana Ola
The hui decided to form the Anahulu Hōʻīnana Ola, a 10-day period set aside for the purpose of reinvigorating life and health. For the anahulu they put together an ʻAha Pule Pualu, a ceremony of collectively delivered prayers.
They carefully and strategically selected a series of pule to engage various weather phenomena. The final three pule, E Kānehoalani ē, E Kāne ē, and Lonokūlani (see sidebar) come from the saga of Pele and Hiʻiaka – and the last two are specifically pule that Hiʻiaka, herself, uttered and which have been passed on for generations.
Pata explained that E Kānehoalani ē was delivered to engage the driver of the weather cycles, Kānehoalani, who takes the form of the sun. E Kāne ē engages Kāneikawaiola to provide water for the resuscitation of life – whatever is needed in each circumstance. The final chant, Lonokūlani, is a request for Lononuinohoikawai to compel the waters to achieve the greatest degree of ola (life) in the areas affected by the fires.
E Kānehoalani ē
Adapted from “Ke Kū nei Mākou e ʻImi Kahi e Noho ai”
Kau ka hōkū hoʻokahi hele i ke ala loa
Aloha kama kuku kapa a ka wahine
He wahine lohiʻau nānā i ka makani,
He makani lohiʻau, hāʻupu mai ʻo loko ē.
Let us share greetings between us
The lone star that travels the long path appears
Greetings tapa-beating child of the woman
A languid woman who gazes into the wind,
An unhurried wind, memories recalled within.
E Kāne ē
Adapted from a pule of Hiʻiaka
He kaukau ola kēia iā ʻoe
Hoʻokupu, hōʻeu, hōʻīnana i ke ola
Eia ka wai lā, he wai ola, e ola hoʻi!
E hō mai he ao, he ao ola, e ola hoʻi!
ʻEliʻeli kapu, ʻeliʻeli noa.
This is an appeal to you for life
O Great Lono Residing in the Water
Urge growth, bestir, animate life
Here is the water, water of life, thrive!
Grant us clouds, clouds from which life comes, thrive!
Profound was the kapu, profound is its release.
A pule of Hiʻiaka
E Lonokūlani, e Lononuinohoikawai
O hoʻoulu ʻoe, o ʻīnana ʻoe
Hōʻīnana i ke ola
Hoʻopuʻepuʻe ana ʻoe i ka wai
I ka wai, ka wai ola a Kāne
Ka wai ola a Kanaloa
I ka hikina, i ke komohana
I ka wai hua, i ka wai lani.
Iē holo ē!
O Lono ascending to the heights, Great Lono Residing in the Water
Grow, come to life
Gathering and compelling the water
Water, the life water provided by Kāne
The life water provided by Kanaloa
In the east, in the west
The water collected upon the taro leaf, the water from above.
Urge on the healing!
The anahulu would begin on August 13, during the moon phase of Kāne, since so many pule were directed to Kāne. This meant the anahulu would end on the moon phase of Kūpau. One meaning of “kū” is “a set or series of prayers,” so kū-pau was fitting.
With just three days to plan, Pata was tasked with writing out the pule, recording them, and posting them to social media so everyone who wanted to participate in the anahulu could do so. Kumu Henohea Kāne generated a QR code that linked to a shared folder where people could watch and listen to the recordings, read the write-ups and explanations of the chants, and even watch a video about how an ʻaha is conducted. Most of the ʻaha during the anahulu were livestreamed, with thousands participating virtually.
The anahulu ceremonies were held at noon each day at Hui No Ke Ola Pono in Wailuku, part of the Native Hawaiian Health Care system, at the invitation of Executive Director Mālia Purdy. Noon is “ka piko awakea,” the time of day that human energies are most effective.
On the first day of the anahulu, the kumu observed various concerning hōʻailona (signs) during the ʻAha Pule Pualu.
When the ʻaha was pau, they came together to kālailai (analyze) the hōʻailona. “We decided [the hōʻailona] meant that the people in decision-making positions were going to have a hard time listening to what the community was needing – or going to need,” shared Pata. From that point forward, throughout the remainder of the anahulu, the kumu focused on enlightenment for leadership so those individuals would be able to “hear” the community.
ʻAha Hāʻule Lani no Lele
The anahulu concluded on August 22 and five days later the kumu held their next ceremony, the ʻAha Hāʻule Lani no Lele, led by Molitau. This ceremony offers a means to release – both to release the ʻuhane (soul) of a person who has passed, but also to release the grief of those left behind.
That ceremony was conducted at Kekaʻa, a point north of Lahaina in the ahupuaʻa called Hanakaʻōʻō. Kekaʻa is a “leina a ka ʻuhane,” a place where souls leap from this earthly realm to the realm of the ancestors. It took place at sunset, because that represents the transition from ao (day) to pō (night).
About 250 people participated in the ceremony. The names of lost loved ones were spoken over a fire of pūkiawe, ʻiliahi and maile. With specific pule, kā (dried braided ti-leaf) were placed into the fire signifying each soul’s release.
When all the loved ones had been named, the kumu proceeded to recite the names, from south to north, of the 52 ahupuaʻa within Lahaina that were burned. Pata recalls strange gusts of wind, and sections of rainbow visible when each person’s name was spoken. Similarly, as the names of the ahupuaʻa were read out loud, the wind responded to each place name. Pata described it as “powerful and beautiful.”
ʻAha Hoʻoponopono ʻĀina
To bring the series of ceremonies to an end, the ʻAha Hoʻoponopono ʻĀina – a ceremony to rebalance the land – was held on September 11. On that day, the moon phase transitioned from Kāloapau back to Kāne. Kāloa can refer to long-lasting effects, but it’s also a contraction of Kanaloa, according to Pata, who notes that Kanaloa is the akua that presides over underground freshwater. And Kāne is the akua for life and health, which was the focus of the final ʻaha.
“In the Hawaiian definition, ʻāina is only ʻāina if there are people,” explained Pata. “Land that isn’t paired with kānaka is honua. So hoʻoponopono ʻāina isn’t just for the land, it’s for the entire system of kānaka in tandem within the environment.”
The ʻAha Hoʻoponopono ʻĀina was divided into four kīhāpai (divisions for religious tasks). Four is a ceremonial number – it’s the space between our fingers, called a kāuna – which represents fullness.
The four kīhāpai, each with anywhere from 16-20 people, had separate and distinct kuleana that were designed to work together to complete the whole. All four ceremonies began simultaneously at noon.
One kīhāpai was located at Wahikuli (“noisy place”) on the northern edge of the fire. They were responsible for the ʻAha Pule Hōʻīnana. The pule offered by that kīhāpai were intended to invigorate the other three – so that their pule would become “noisy” across the district and the region would become “saturated” with pule.
Another kīhāpai was ma kai, at the birthing and healing stone, Hauola, on the shoreline of Lahaina where the library used to stand. They were in charge of the ʻAha Pule Hoʻōla, a ceremony for life, health and prayers of restoration.
The third kīhāpai was ma uka on Paʻupaʻu, the hill above Lahaina with the iconic “L.” The name, Paʻupaʻu, refers to hard work, so the kuleana for this group was the ʻAha Pule Kala – ceremonies to release the haumia (defilement) caused by all of the death and destruction and to symbolize that all the hard work (of their prayers and petitions) was nearing completion.
The final kīhāpai was stationed at the southern edge of the fire at Mokuʻula, an island, now buried, that was the royal residence of Kamehameha III and the ceremonial and governmental piko of Lahaina. Their kuleana was for the ʻAha Pule Hoʻomau – the ceremony to “anchor” all of the other pule being offered for the resuscitation of the people and the ʻāina.
Pata led the kīhāpai at Paʻupaʻu and shared that the pahu drum he used in the ʻaha was actually carved from the trunk of one of the last original ʻulu trees from the famous grove in Lahaina. It was created by the late Master Carver, Keola Sequeira, of Lahaina.
Following the ʻAha Hoʻoponopono ʻĀina, members of the various kīhāpai regrouped at Wahikuli for a kapu kai, a purification ceremony in the ocean intended to release them from any defilement acquired, or mistakes made, during the ceremonies. The kapu kai also released them from their ceremonial obligations.
As they stepped out of the ocean and looked ma uka towards Kahoma Valley, they saw a golden-hued rainbow. Other hōʻailona observed during the ceremonies included a large pod of dolphins (a manifestation of Kanaloa) that appeared to the kīhāpai at Hauola. The pod then moved north, where it visited the kīhāpai at Wahikuli, a few miles away.
Up ma uka, the kīhāpai at Paʻupaʻu was refreshed by an unexpected misty rain. “It was hot and sunny,” recalled Pata. “But as soon as we got to the base of Paʻupaʻu, the clouds extended out and it became so pleasant. Then just as we began our ʻaha, the Paʻūpili rain misted down on us and it was exactly what we needed.”
As the group departed Lahaina, they were blessed by more rainbows. Every valley they drove past – Kahoma, Kauaʻula, Launiupoko, Olowalu – had rainbows spilling out from them. Pata said that the pūnohu (low-lying rainbows) are affectionately called “Leikōkōʻula.”
Rainbows followed Pata all the way home. “Right above us (in Makawao) was the ʻUlalena, the rainbow-hued misty rain from right here at Piʻiholo. It was just right there. The whole thing was lit up with that ʻUlalena,” Pata remembered.
Helping the Helpers
Not only have Maui kumu hula responded to the requests of the community, but they have also responded to requests from people outside of Hawaiʻi who have come to help – workers from FEMA, the Red Cross, the National Guard, the Environmental Protection Agency, CalFire and more – who are not familiar with our local community, its make up, outlook or values.
“We have created cultural sensitivity training to help them understand how to interact with our community,” Holt shared. She said they are developing a more cohesive request system to ensure that they can provide the same information to everybody when they need it.
The training has covered just about everything – Hawaiian values, outlook, history, language, ʻōlelo noʻeau, pidgin, and historical trauma.
“And it’s not only Hawaiian you know. We talk about the coming of our immigrant families to Hawaiʻi because of sugar, and how almost everyone in Hawaiʻi is a mixture of different nationalities – and we like it that way,” Holt said.
“When a person stands in front of their desk, this all comes with them. Historical trauma comes with them. A lower economic upbringing comes with them. That is common. These are the things we want them to understand.”
The response from these agencies has been very positive. “They all understood they had to do something cultural, and we thank them for that,” Pata said.
Community participation in the various ʻaha and in the September 1 vigil has been a healing, unifying experience for Maui and for all Hawaiʻi. The involvement of wildfire survivors, in particular, has been extremely important. “What happened affects us all, whether we are from Lahaina or not,” Holt observed.
“Participating in all of [the ʻaha] were people who’ve lost everything. They’re lending that need into the ceremony and that is an example of why the ceremonies were needed,” Pata noted. “Being engaged and doing something immediately also lifts, a little bit, their feelings of helplessness.”
For now, the kumu remain on stand by. “Some of the community-based groups are also asking for help because they’ve seen a lot and they’ve been asking for spiritual guidance from our group. Our main ceremonies are finished, but we still have a lot of work to do.
“For better or worse, we have become spiritual advisors, psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists – but that is also one of our functions,” Pata added.
“Our community will be ready for certain things as time goes along,” Holt said resolutely. “For example, the ʻAha Hāʻule Lani no Lele – if they were not ready to come and release their loved one, they weren’t ready. And so maybe we have to do that again in another month. We will respond to the needs of our community at that given time, just as we’re doing now. And we will continue.”
Kīpuni Aloha no Maui
On September 1, Kīpuni Aloha no Maui (embrace beloved Maui) engaged communities across the pae ʻāina for a day-long vigil in support of Maui. It was a day centered on emotional and spiritual healing and, while rooted in Native Hawaiian practices, it was inclusive of leaders from diverse faiths.
Coordinated by the Hawaiʻi Executive Collaborative (HCE), the vigil included sunrise, noon and sunset ceremonies across the pae ʻāina. Formal ceremonies on Maui, Molokaʻi, Oʻahu, Kauaʻi and Hawaiʻi Island were streamed live online and on TV.
While thousands have stepped up to generously provide financial and other resources to the survivors of the wildfires, many in the community expressed a deep concern for the emotional and spiritual health and wellbeing of the people of Maui and all Hawaiʻi.
In response, Maui Kumu Hula Hōkūlani Holt, a core team member of HEC’s Rediscovering Hawaiʻi’s Soul (RHS) initiative, met with HEC Chairman Duane Kurisu and HEC’s RHS Executive Lead Kamanaʻopono Crabbe.
Together they reached out to leaders in the Native Hawaiian, faith-based, business and nonprofit communities, and state and county governments, about the need to create a space for all of Hawaiʻi to grieve and heal.
“Kīpuni Aloha no Maui was created to support the emotional and spiritual healing for the great loss that so many are suffering from on Maui. It was an opportunity for Hawaiʻi to come together for a day that was rooted in Native Hawaiian practices and engaged leaders from diverse faiths, sectors, and backgrounds,” said Kurisu.
The vigil was a huge endeavor, organized in a very short space of time. In addition to Holt and Crabbe, Hawaiian cultural advisors involved in the planning included John De Fries, Mehanaokalā Hind, Pualani Kanahele, Kauʻi Kanakaʻole, Makalapua Kanuha, Kehaulani Kekua, Kahu Kenneth Makuakāne, Mikiʻala Pescaia and former Gov. John Waiheʻe.
Leaders from Lahaina who helped coordinate the noon and sunset vigils for their community included Archie Kalepa, Oralani Koa, Kaliko Storer and many others.
HCE estimates that more than 2,000 people attended public ceremonies on the five major islands. In addition, more than 65 additional gatherings were coordinated by various churches, businesses, community groups and organizations.
Online, more than 65,000 watched the livestreamed vigils on YouTube and Facebook.
To view the sunrise, noon and sunset ceremonies conducted on Maui or to watch the video, Love for Maui, which aired during the sunset ceremony, go to: www.hawaiisoul.org/maui/.