Monday, June 29, 2009

Kani-a-ka-pupu: "The Singing of the Land Shells"

Finding an archeological site can be a challenge. Very often there are hastily given directions as the person is waving goodbye. Their last words are to the effect: “good luck.” So I drove to Old Pali Highway and headed up the road, remembering my first afternoon on Oahu and my sister-in-law taking me up to a pond at that turn off and telling me about the Menehunes. Little did I know how close I was to the summer palace of King Kamehameha III and his second wife, Kalama, in the cool Nu’uanu forest.
The directions were to go .3 miles past the turn-off. It was then I looked down at the odometer on the car I was borrowing and realized that there was no way to read .3 miles--that I would just have to guess my way up the road to the appropriate spot. “Of course,” I said to myself. “Why would I expect it to be any other way? I’ll just have to rely on celestial navigation…” and said a prayer to the spirits that guard the place to understand that my intentions were pure and to help me find the palace. So I drove up the road, and thought I saw the side of a building in the dense bamboo. “Piece of cake,” said to myself as I pulled off the side of the road. I walked back a few hundred yards and saw nothing. “Teasing me, are you?” I said to the spirits and got back in the car. I drove up the road and looked for my next landmark--the water district building. I drove slowly--not having any idea, really, how far three tenths of a mile is. Suffice it to say that I drove back and forth several times, stopping at a couple of different places, getting out, locking up the car, and heading into the brush before feeling the signal from the spirits to turn around. I could sense that I was getting close, but I wasn’t finding just exactly the spot I’d been told about. I just laughed--that’s the part about searching I’ve grown to understand and appreciate. As I get closer to sites, the spirits test things to see how serious I am about finding the spot. I try to keep my sense of humor as I stumble and bumble, knowing that the stumbling and bumbling is part of the trip.
Finally I saw it: the opening in the bamboo that I had missed the two other times I’d gone up that road. I parked the car across the road--as per my instructions
--and headed up the trail. I had been told some water pipes were along the trail, so I knew I must be in the right area. I walked up to a stream, knowing that somewhere along the property was a sixty-foot waterfall. I thought about crossing the stream, and actually did get my feet wet, but halfway across the stream I was stopped by an invisible hand. I stood there, letting the cool water rush over my feet, teetering on the edge of a drop-off and peered into the forest. I could see the semblance of a trail, but no water pipes--and then there was the issue of the invisible hand stopping me--so I turned around and made my way back to the safety of the bank. I walked back the way I came for a bit and then veered off the trail, following a water pipe, and headed across an open spot near the stream. I heard rustling in the bamboo and all I could think of was the wild pigs that live in the forest--something I sure didn’t want to meet face-to-face. I stopped dead in my tracks, feeling the hand of the spirits pushing me back to the trail again. On the way back toward the road I saw a trail off to the right. “Oh what the heck? I’ll go up a little ways and see…” and wouldn’t you know it?
I could see the ruins through the trees. I stopped and thanked the spirits for leading me to Kani-a-ka-pupu. I approached slowly, drawing back the veil of time respectfully. I saw the ti plants at the corners and lining the cobblestone approach to what would have been the front door. When there is no resistance, then I know I am accepted--as long as I keep my respect--and I walked around the lava stone and plaster walls and the piles of rocks where the walls have fallen into heaps. I tried to imagine the parties that must have been held there--the forest ringing with music, the smell of the baked pig wafting from the imu The story goes that there was once a party of over 10,000--“271 hogs, 482 large calabashes of poi, 602 chickens, 3 whole oxen, 2 barrels salt pork, 2 barrels biscuit, 3,125 salt fish, 1,820 fresh fish, 12 barrels lu'au and cabbages, 4 barrels onions, 80 bunches bananas, 55 pineapples, 10 barrels potatoes, 55 ducks, 82 turkeys, 2,245 coconuts, 4,000 heads of taro, 180 squid, oranges, limes, grapes and various fruits.”
The Pali highway--between Honolulu and Kailua--is one of the main roads that leads from one side of the island to the other, well-traveled at any time of the day or night. It was very strange to be so near the highway that I could hear the whish-whish of tires on the pavement--close enough that I could have walked to the side of the road through the dense jungle. I thought of that line in one of Brother Iz’s songs: what would the ancestors say if they saw Hawai’i now? A modern roadway--following the pass through the mountains--near what was once a royal residence. How many people traveling across the island that day even knew the palace had existed? Not many. I had traveled that road countless times, having lived in Waimanalo for years, and not been aware. Secrets hidden--that’s what I’ve grown to think of Hawaii--so many secrets hidden--and in our modern life of rushing from one place to the other, we--I--fail to know what is just off the roadside, hidden in the forest, awaiting discovery.