Sacred Forests Part Seven – Healing Our Souls

Sacred Forests
Part Seven – Healing Our Souls

By Sam Low

A few months later, just about where Nainoa had felt the pain in his dream – at the fence line separating the Kilauea Forest Reserve and the Keahou Ranch – a circle of about a hundred people joined hands for a prayer. They had spent most of the day replanting koa trees, now it was time to ask the akua to bless their work.

“When it became clear that we needed a step in between going to Alaska and cutting the tress down I felt a deep sense of relief and freedom,” Nainoa recalls. “We knew what we had to do to restore the balance – to be pono. We held the ceremony on the edge of the forest, on the fence line, just outside the reserve on the slope of Kailua.”

The circle of men and women joining in the prayer and the renewal of the forest was in some ways a microcosm of a new way of life that was emerging then in Hawaii – a way of life that combined keiki and kupuna, activists who worked on the front lines for the renewal of Hawaiian culture and those who worked quietly behind the scenes, cowboys and sailors, men and women of all races – an ohana of people created out of a common vision. Randy Fong was there from Kamehameha School to help conduct the ceremony. Kalana Silva, who was instrumental in Hawaiian language immersion, was there; also Robert Kekealani from Puuwaawaa, a well known kupuna of the ranch and forest; and Ricky Tavares, who had been the ranch manager for Keahou Ranch and who helped guide Nainoa through the reserve to look for the trees. Also in the circle were many members of Hokule’a’s crew – Tava Taupu, Shorty Bertelmann, Clay Bertelmann, Chad Baybayan and others. Nainoa’s parents were there along with Agnes Cope and other board members of the Native Culture and Arts program. And there also to join hands was John Dominis Holt.

“John knew that I had to search for the answer at a level that was much deeper than the intellectual,” Nainoa explains. “I could not cut the trees down because it felt wrong for the environment, but it was deeper than that. When we put our thoughts about the environment over here and we put our feeling of na’ao over there and we have no link between them, we feel disconnected. Our sense of balance is destroyed. Walking out of the forest with Tava was painful because we had destroyed that very sacred place, our koa forest, and that hurt at a very deep level. It was much more than an environmental issue. We hoped the replanting would send a message about replacing abuse with renewal. It was symbolic of making choices that we all felt very good about. All of us. It laid the groundwork for a new emphasis within the Polynesian Voyaging Society – a new program that we call Malama Hawaii – an opportunity for caring and making the right kind of changes in our island environment.”

“Among that group at the replanting were members of the board of directors from Sealaska – including Byron and Judson. It was a diverse group, a sense of growing community. What started as a project of artisans and people within the Hawaiian voyaging culture now extended out as far away as Alaska.”

Byron Mallot spoke during the ceremony – presenting his vision of the healing of abuse and the renewal of a native culture in both Alaska and Hawaii. And near the end of the ceremony, Judson Brown rose to speak. As he walked to the center of the circle the silence was profound. Nainoa remembers hearing only the soft flow of wind up the mountain.

“I will never forget his words,” Nainoa explains. “He said, ‘have no fear when you take your voyage because we will always be with you. When the north wind blows take a moment and realize that the wind is our people joining you on your voyage.’ Judson was the spiritual link between his people and ours. He was clear about the canoe we would build and about the voyages we would make. It wasn’t about navigation. It wasn’t about building a canoe. It wasn’t about the stars. It was about bringing people together. He always saw Hawai’iloa as a celebration of native culture.”

The sun was beginning to set by the time the ceremonies were finished. As the men and women of the ohana made their way to their cars, the slanting light picked out the leaves of the new koa seedlings in the dappled shade of the forest. For a moment, Nainoa remembers, they seemed infinitely delicate in the fading light. “But then I remembered the image of children and grandchildren putting their hands in the earth,” he says, “and I saw what the seedlings meant. As we were healing the earth we were also healing our souls.”