In November, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs published Mana Lāhui Kānaka, a multidimensional study of mana: what it is, how to articulate it, and how to access and cultivate it in order to uplift our lāhui. The book shared mana‘o from community contributors, including Halealoha Ayau, on using culture and traditional knowledge as a foundation for how we advance in the world today.
By Halealoha Ayau
In November 1996, in response to the need to repatriate and rebury iwi kūpuna that were taken from the islands of Nihoa and Mokumanamana, we rented a sail boat after we got the kūpuna released to us.
I put together a crew, and we sailed to the island of Nihoa first, and then Mokumanamana second. But, as we were approaching Nihoa – I don’t know how far offshore we were, several miles – because it was November, it was north swell season and you could already hear the waves pounding the shoreline.
It was very powerful, it was very spooky because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sent a representative, and we had to sign a contract that that person was authorized to decide whether or not to allow us access on to the island for purposes of reburial. If it was too rough, it was too dangerous, he had the authority to say no.
As we got closer to the island, he was already saying no, we couldn’t. Tensions were running high, everybody was uptight because here we are – I mean you could just see this huge white ring around the island. That’s how rough the water was and how loud the pounding was as we go closer.
As I was looking at the island, I kept noticing right above our mast the sky is just filled with ‘iwa birds. You know, all kinds of birds, but the majority of them were ‘iwa birds. And one of the ‘iwa birds drops down – it was a real big one – and it’s hovering right above our mast. And I don’t know why but I kept looking back at it, kept looking back at it, and one time I turned and looked at it and it was just hovering.
And the bird just turned and looked at me and I instantly saw the face of Uncle Parly Kanakaole who had just passed away. And right then and there I knew that we would just be fine, that we were safe, we were in good hands, and that we were welcomed to do what we had to do: to mālama these iwi kūpuna. And the rest of the day went like clockwork, everything worked well, Uncle Les Kuloloio and Lōpaka ‘Aiwohi got us into the ocean safely, got us on land. We did what we needed to do, what we were trained to do, and we put those kūpuna down, and we left there safely.
The lesson from that is mana is about connections. And mana is all that Hawaiian people are. It’s that thing that connects all living things, as well as all things that have already gone. And it’s that connection of things through time. So when I saw Uncle Parly’s face, I knew that we would be safe, there was instant courage. There was instant clarity of thought, there was instant confidence in our skill set, and that we’d be just fine.
So for me, out of the many mana moments I’ve had the privilege of experiencing, that was the one that came to mind.
Tap into your mana by downloading a free copy of Mana Lāhui Kānaka at oha.org/mana.