Ka Wai Ola

Interview with Dr. Kekuewa Kikiloi

To further the discussion on mana, Ka Wai Ola asked two questions:

  1. What does mana mean to you?
  2. Can you share a moment in your life where you felt mana?
Photo: Dr. Kekuewa Kikiloi
Dr. Kekuewa Kikiloi shares moments of mana in his life at the Kali‘uokapa‘akai Think Tank. – Photo: Jason Lees

Mana means spiritual power, as I’m sure that’s the answer for everyone, but it’s not just spiritual power. It’s the confirmation of that power through the ancestors. And that confirmation happens when you are pono, you do things correctly, and you are linked closely to the ancestors.

So in the past, religion played a huge role in that. It wasn’t just about political power per say, but political power that is driven by spiritual recognition. A good chief wasn’t just someone that could lead, it was someone who could get the blessing of the ancestors, the endorsement of ancestors who are still alive in the afterlife and are trying to communicate with us and trying to direct us.

When we talk about leadership today, I think that is one of the things that is kind of missing, that spiritual component and that ancestral component that really validates mana. Its not like you gain it from just doing things necessarily. Its that confirmation that’s needed.

Anytime I feel strong ancestral connection, to me that is mana. I think its closely tied to the idea of well, trying to be like your ancestors. I write a lot about this topic because I think that’s core to the Hawaiian identity. Doing the things of your ancestors is essential to defining who you are. It should be as a Native Hawaiian because our whole world view is based on wanting to be like our ancestors. So when you do things like your ancestors, when you research about them, when you evoke their names, when you chant about them, when you remember them and commemorate them in different ways, those are all things that build that identity up in you and brings mana to you.

A mana moment for me would be, there’s a lot of small things obviously because we have interconnection with them daily. We see them in signs of nature, we feel close to them when we are in particular areas that maybe they had a connection too, I see them in my children. There are things like that, that resonate with me.

But some of the most powerful moments was when I went to wahikapu, places that were the most sacred. Definitely riding on the Hōkule‘a, going to mokumanamana to do rites and ceremonies, for me that’s traveling in the wake of your ancestors and that you can feel them with you. And you know that you’re gaining mana, the collective as a group that is doing the work is gaining mana, and the lāhui is gaining mana.

One of the things that I really noticed, and this intersects with this idea of political/spiritual mana, in 2003 in the first ceremonial trip up to Nihoa on the Hōkūle‘a, it was one or two days before that the Kū I Ka Pono march happened. And as a Hawaiian Studies student, up until that time though out the 90’s it was all the same kind of people at the protests. Go to the protests and you see all the same people, all the time. So it was kind of like a small resistance movement that was happening. In fact, the motto was that “kū‘e” that was our motto, to resist.

But it was for the first time that I felt it had gone bigger. When I showed up to the Kū I Ka Pono march in Waikīkī, there was just a sea of red. And I remember telling my friend that this was totally different than any other experience I ever had because we like had power now. So we went to that amazing event, participated in the march, and I could see that the lāhui was growing. It was gaining power. And then days later I jump on the Hōkūle‘a and we’re going to do ceremonies at Nihoa, and I was like “this is such a mind trip for me to be on Hōkūle‘a like this, to be in this traditional manner. We’re going to do chants and prayers and ceremonies on the island in places where our ancestors resided, calling them for help while we gain political power.”

I just saw those two events as almost one event. But I had the luxury of being involved in both so I could make that connection. To me that was when I was like, I’m feeling some mana here, but that was mana for the lāhui, a bigger thing that we are trying to achieve collectively.