Ghosts Next Door

Ghosts Next Door
by Lopaka Kapanui

Dec 11, 2022

Palai 2022

Palai is my favorite because of its heady fragrance.

Years ago, I'd cover my bed with Palai ferns and then place the sheets and blankets on top. Sleeping on the fern, with your body pressed against it, even crushing it gently-if there is such a thing-evokes the microscopic scent from it, which fills your nostrils and then the room. I began to understand how and why oli and mele were composed because of it. Making love on a bed of palai ferns is another matter because the scent only lasts as long as lovemaking does. You're getting the imagery in your head right now? Good, then you get it. When our son was born, I'd get palai ferns from our yard and clean off all the dirt, obvious or ambient, and I'd place it in the corners of his crib. That way, the scent would be embedded in his subconscious. When he was old enough, we took a trip to the Big Island and saw all the sites to see. One location we visited, which was a favorite of mine, was 'Kī Puka kī.' It was in the volcanoes national park and filled with Palai. Most often, I gathered palai and made a lei poʻo whether I was with someone or not; it was just something I always did. If you haven't figured it out, Kī puka kī is also where our son was conceived. We parked safely on the side of the road and made our way into the location. A gentle wind kicked up the second we got there, and the heady fragrance wafted around the three of us. My son got chicken skin and then began to tear up, "I know this smell," his voice was a mere whisper. "Where did I smell this before?" He asked us. 

"Hulualiʻi, you probably don't remember, but Papa used to put these very same ferns in your moe kamaliʻi when you were still pēpē," my wife told him.

"It's so buti-fuel," he said with wonder and awe. ʻAla lifted him up into her arms and gave him a soft kiss on his cheek, laughing gently as she did it.

"Yes," she agreed. "It's buti-fuel,"

"Can we put some in our bed tonight, Papa?" His tiny fingers pointed.

"We can," I nodded. "We just have to ask first,"

The three of us bowed our heads and closed our eyes, and Huluali'i asked permission from Tūtū Pele and Hiʻiaka if you could have a few Palai ferns for his bed that he could sleep with. "E Pele e, eia au kau kama, Hulualiʻi Malanai. He kamaloli mai ka lepo, he mea e kolo nei i ka pālolo. He palai nāu, he lei. He palai naʻu, uhi ka moe. He leo wale kēia, ua ʻike a,"

ʻAla and I were stunned. How did this chant come out of that little body as if he had been doing it his whole life? He announces himself as Peleʻs child, saying he is a mere thing crawling in the clay. Saying that one Palai is for her, Pele. A lei. That the other is for him to make a bed, ending with the phrase, so it is said. "Where did you learn that oli, Hulualiʻi?"

"The woman helped me," he pointed further up where the palai extended up into the depth of the forest. "She told me what to say and that it would be fine." ʻAla and I caught a glimpse of a nearly naked Hawaiian woman, except that the paʻu around her waist was made of Palai. She nodded and went on her way. Before we knew it, Hulualiʻi was already gathering ferns and expertly weaving a lei with them. "You and mama can pick more palai for when we get back to the room," he instructed. His sudden maturity and depth of knowledge in making a lei were unnerving. None of which he knew how to do before at his age. 


It is many, many years later, and I have reached the extremities of old age. I have lived a long, fruitful life for as long as anyone could manage to live. The room is filled with everyone I love, my wife ʻAla and Hulualiʻi with his wife and children, my moʻopuna. They have all finished weaving the last of the lei palai as they adorned my at-home hospital bed with it. It is beautiful. 

"Pops," Hulualiʻi takes my hand in his. "You greeted me with the aroma of Palai when I came into this world, and now as you are soon to leave it, I repay the favor to you,"

"I love you, Hulu," I am so proud of this young man and all he is. 

"I love you, Pops. I'll see you at Kānehūnāmoku," his tears fall freely.

With my last breath, I say to him and his mother, "Meet me at Kī Puka kī; that way, we can all go one time,"

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