Ghosts Next Door

Ghosts Next Door
by Lopaka Kapanui

Nov 6, 2014


Once I completed my training and became a Kumu Hula, I had gained all of the knowledge that was imparted to me by my teachers from our school of hula, which dates back to antiquity.  However, the process of learning in and of itself never stops, so in the process of gaining new knowledge, there is also kuleana (responsibility) that comes with it.

Earlier this year, I was fortunate to have been able to study a different style of ‘oli from Kumu Hula Kalani Akana.  It wasn’t the bombastic, dynamic style that I was used to but I liked it.  Of all the chants that we learned, there was one ‘oli in particular that stayed with me and, with Kumu’s permission, we were given the option of adding whatever chants we learned to our already existing repertoire.  I added the following  to mine:This was a chant collected by Mrs. Eleanor Williamson of the Bishop Museum during her interviews of Hawaiian elders of ‘O‘ahu.  The place names in this chant are particular to ‘O‘ahu, Makahuna and the pili o Hūewa are in the ahupuaof Palolo.
In it’s regular form, this chant is very well known by many, as it is the chant that Kumu Hula ‘O Brian ‘Eselu gives before his men dance and it is the first track on his flagship CD.  You also hear his haumana, who are now kumu hula, offer this same chant as well.
The beauty of this chant and the imagery within the words painted a picture in my mind's eye as Kumu Kalani chanted first, in order to give us a feel for what the chant should sound like.  The room disappeared and I was standing at Makahuna overlooking what I thought was an undulating sea of brown water until I realized it was the wind causing the pili grass of Hūewa to move back and forth like waves.  I was there and I was struck by the power of where a chant such as this could take me or anyone for that matter.
Unfortunately, with what I do for a living, the opportunity to offer this chant anywhere on one of my evening excursions never came.  What I mean by that is that the proper location to offer the chant never presented itself.  We all wish that there was one Hawaiian chant that covered all places, people and things but there is not.  Each place that I visit and pay homage to requires a specific chant appropriate to that location.  For instance, on my Wai‘anae excursions there is a specific chant that I offer at Kaneana cave that identifies me as a family member to the deity that occupies that cave. At the heiau at Kane‘ilio Point, there is a chant that I offer that honors the skills of our ancestral navigators since the heiau itself was used for celestial navigation.  At Ke‘awa‘ula, there are many chants that I offer to Kuali‘i, the huakai hele i ka po and to the procession that walks out to the leaping stone of Kaena.  Yes, there are regular aloha chants that can be offered but for myself and myself only, in my na‘au, I feel that the chant must be appropriate to the place or the person.  Others may disagree and that is fine, there will never be one clear way of thinking, nor will there be one way to standardize all chants and that is the beauty of diversity.
Alas, I have diverted from my original path...
Finally, the right time and place presented itself on a cool October evening at the Spalding House Museum where I was presenting ghost stories on the lawn to a crowd of fans whose vibrations of excitement and nervous energy could be felt like a light electrical current running through me.
As the sun was setting, I glanced toward Diamond Head and I could just make out what was once the pili grass plains of Hūewa.  I closed my eyes, took in a deep breath and the ‘oli came.  Once more, I was there.  The ko‘oko‘olau were bunched in clusters and the dawn of Pualena shone upon the red flowers of the ‘a‘ali‘i.  The yellow rays of the rising sun tinged the surface of the old pond and the cooling winds from Waikiki came over the hill near Kilauea as a greeting.  The pili grass moved like the waves of the rolling sea. I held the last note of the chant for as long as I could, not wanting to let go.  With the air in my lungs finally expelled, I opened my eyes and I was back on the lawn of the museum.
For me, that was the beauty and the actualization of offering the right chant at the right place at the right time.  The oli is my ho'okupu, my offering.  It not only brings everything together in a way that is pono but it also raises the vibration in said place to a higher level.  Beauty.
Mahalo for being part of my virtual audience.
By the way...  I anticipated that there would be those of you who might wonder why the Hawaiian language version of this lovely chant was not included.  The answer to that is, do your homework.  Make it fun and go do your own research and find the ‘oli  yourself.  May your journey leave you humble yet enlightened.

Day has dawned and shines bright red
upon the flower of the ‘a‘ali‘i
and yellow tinged upon the water
wreathed by blades of kalukalu,
piled high with ‘uki‘uki grass
the center of the ko‘oko‘olau flower is bunched
my women of the kaiāulu, flowering below
where the water of the Nāulu rain spurts up below
like the hidden wealth of Makahuna
that waves like the pili grass of Hūewa

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