What is an expert?

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Read this article in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi

Greetings from the rising of the sun at Haʻehaʻe to the setting of the same at the base of Lehua. Warm greetings to all. In this issue of this messenger called Ka Wai Ola we will investigate the ʻōlohe or experts and masters of arts. Who are these experts?

Photo: Naluahine Kaopua
Naluahine Kaopua – Photo: Courtesy

In old stories, they were hairless and very skilled in the art of bone-breaking. Mākua in western Oʻahu was famous for these experts. At Mākua is where Makaioulu, a war chief, met two woman robbers highly skilled in bone-breaking. The profession of bone-breaking was not only for men.

Kapuaeuhi was the famous bone-breaking expert of ʻŌlaʻa. His two daughters would entice travelers to follow them to the father’s hiding place. There he dropped a stone on the traveler killing him. At Kaʻū, just outside of Puna, lived a bone-breaking expert with his two daughters. If there were many people passing by, one of them would call “Rough sea” and the passersby would not be apprehended. If one called, “Low tide,” then there were a few travelers and it would be easy to capture, kill, and rob them of their possessions.

Some ʻōlohe were man-eaters in the stories of the distant past. It may have been true or not true. On Oʻahu, there was a cannibal ʻōlohe living at Hanakāpīʻai (not on Kauaʻi according to Fornander). A champion by the name of Kapakohana went to challenge the cannibal. They struggled back and forth until Kapohana killed the menace. Later he built a carrying stand out of the bones.The bones of hairless persons such as ʻōlohe had much mana (spiritual power) according to the old ones.

The ʻōlohe of these times are certainly different. Perhaps the expert bone-breakers of old were separated from royal courts where they used and honed their skill in bone-breaking, other Hawaiian martial arts, and in making and using weapons. These rogues of legend seemed to be like the ronin (unemployed samurai) of Japan.They had no lord over them therefore they went astray.

The ʻōlohe of the 1900s and 2000s are highly skilled in Hawaiian martial arts and or the hula. Nāluahine Kaʻōpua of Kona was interviewed by Henry Kekahuna concerning Hawaiian martial arts. Kaʻōpua lived on the Keauhou side of Keʻekū heiau (temple) on the sands of Mākoleʻā in Kahaluʻu, Kona. According to Kaʻōpua, his grandfather would teach hula in the day hours. When it became night, Kaʻōpua took candles into the lodge at ʻUmihale (see map) where the martial arts of Kuʻialua (god of lua) were taught. Kaʻōpua only observed as his father forbade him from learning this terror-striking art form from his grandfather. All that he remembered was recorded by Kekahuna and preserved for the expert practitioners of these times.

The experts of lua martial arts and hula are mature and highly accomplished in their profession. They know genealogy, history, traditional stories, chants, prayers, and the movements, gestures, and strokes of his art form. She can compose chants, prayers, and produce shows and exhibitions. He is a teacher and a shihan or a teacher of teachers. He does not only know his craft but also knows about those arts associated with his own such as medicinal knowledge, fashioning weapons or hula instruments, etc. The ʻōlohe would be like a full professor at a native university. Few can exceed the intelligence and wisdom of the ʻōlohe. Therefore, let us give them their due respect in this age of enlightenment.