Saturday, April 23, 2011


Out at the parking area at the lighthouse--Kumukahi--the eastern tip of the Big Island. The road out--after I got off the paved road--is washboard gravel. Not bad, but it would definitely discourage the average tourist. On my way in, I passed a hula halau--two vans and a red car--filled with women. It's the opening of Merrie Monarch tomorrow--the ladies out exploring made me smile. I parked, gathered, my camera and some water in a bag and headed out across the a'a and pahoehoe lava. Then I had to come back because I remembered I had printed off a chant from the internet. When I had myself together: my hat on, slathered with sunscreen, and some water, I was ready. There was somewhat of a trail--at least in the beginning. I had on my slippers, so it was slow going, which was fine--I was in no hurry.

It's maybe a quarter of a mile out to the 'road' that runs along the shoreline/cliff. I use the term 'road' loosely--it may be the old King's trail now turned into a fisherman's road--no wonder they all have four wheel drive vehicles and those enormous tires. I saw two big outcroppings and headed for them, thinking they must be the pillars--the chief's wives of the legend--and they very well may have been because he was reputed to have four wives. These seem to have been two of them--and later I met two more.

After I got down to the road along the cliff--barely passable by jeep--I turned left and walked down the 'road'. I saw a man-made cairn with an orange lei on it. At the bottom were two bleached-out caps and two cement markers that say, "We love you papa." I walked up a little rise, thinking I would just go to the top of the rise to see if where was anything interesting: a little rocky beach, some ironwood trees, and the hidden stone wall of Kumukahi heiau. It says in the guidebook that it is pretty well overgrown and destroyed. There was a small palm tree in the middle and from the outside it kept waving at me--not wanting me to lose track of it. Every time I would look away, its energy would pull me back. At first I thought maybe someone was camping out there and moving about, thereby rustling the tree. But upon closer investigation, there was no one there--just the tree inviting me for a closer look. I went to the left of the outcropping of trees--out to the point, which is, literally, the easternmost point of the island. Relatively speaking, it was a calm day on the ocean. Nevertheless, the waves coming in and crashing on the rocks are quite strong--beautiful without a doubt--but strong. Then I walked back toward the stand of trees and inched my way up to the wall along a path. Right at the spot the wall was broken, and peering in through the low-hanging hau branches, it looked more like a fisherman's camp than a sacred heiau.

I stopped and asked permission to enter. Not sensing any resistance, I walked around the spreading tree, all the while moving very slow and looking for signs I would not be welcome. I walked through the middle and out the south side. It is said that the two stones on the shoreline marked the winter and summer solstices and that the heiau had been used for training navigators. The sun rise every morning makes sense... I sat down on a big stone and read to the spirits there--a chant from the kumu hula de Silva--one that she made accessible on the internet-- along with its history and the translation and notes. First I apologized for to any spirits that may have been about for bungling the language so bad, for my spoken Hawaiian is dismal, at best. At my worst, I'm sure I mangle the words so bad that the spirits could never figure out what I'm trying to say. I read along, feeling like I was reading a first grade primer. I'd sound out what I thought was a word and then I'd go back over it and pronounce it easier--as if they were aunties/ teachers looking over my shoulder and helping me out in the worst spots. At times I could almost hear them giggling as I struggled along, determined to read to the end.
As I was coming back along the 'road' on the cliffside, a blue pickup with three young men came bumping along. I stepped off the road and let them pass. After they went by, I chuckled to myself. Here I am with my salt and pepper hair, in a dress, out trapsing through the lava in my slippers. In another day and time, among the superstitious, I could be the incarnation of Madame Pele--an old lady walking along the shoreline by herself. (too bad I never have one white poi dog...) I found the spot along the road where I had come from and headed back in the direction of the lighthouse. As with every trip, it always takes longer to get there than it does to come back.

As I sit here on the side of the hill I can plainly see the ironwood trees that mark the heiau site. Did I see them on my way out there? No. I stumbled on the site by blind luck (mine) and/ or the direction of the infinite (the spirits).
It is said that the heiau was a place where the priests manufactured poison, and that it was a place of interest to King David Kalakaua, who came out and got the flat stones from the floor of the heiau to use as part of the foundation for the 'Iolani Palace.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

In the Footsteps of Keoua

Today I took a drive to the trailhead of the Ka'u desert trail. I wanted to see the footprint of the man who had dodged the lava and made it all the way to Ka'u through the lava desert. First there was a path through the a'a lava--jagged and rough. Then a slight downhill section and then the ropey pahoehoe lava, broken only by a few ohia trees, the trees of Madame Pele. Just a few feet from the highway, I completely lost sight of the road and followed the cairn-marked path through the lava. It was quiet--just a gentle breeze at first, enough to cool me. I was grateful for the scattering of clouds, keeping the sun from cooking me as in an imu. I looked for footprints all along the trail, amazed that anyone could find their way through the maze of lava.

I would like to pretend this footprint is from the king--King Keoua, although there is nothing in the world that would support that--just my imagination. After a battle with Kamehameha, one which neither side won, Keoua retired to Hilo, then decided to head down to Ka'u by way of Ola'a, past the crater of the volcano. He divided his retinue into three groups. The first group made it through the eruption, the second group succumbed to the sulfur dioxide and died where they fell--men, women and children lying unmutilated. The third group found the second. This footprint is bigger than it looks...I waved my size 9 1/2 (but a 10 feels sooo good) shoe over the top of this footprint--and it is easily a 14. Made my foot look dwarfed beside it. And to think that all they were wearing was hemp sandals. As I looked over the Ka'u desert, I marveled at how badly those folks must have wanted to get home--it wouldn't be the route I would have chosen--not by any means.

By the footprints are these "creatures"--pahoehoe lava frozen into shapes that resembled idols, watching over the souls of the people who succumbed to the sulfur from the erupting volcano. The wind blew, the black sand scuttled across my shoe, and yet it was quiet. Nothing moved--not a bird, not a lizard, not a bug. It is truly desert--and deserted. Eerie...