Hoʻi Ke Aloha No Kawika
For many native Hawaiians, their closest remaining link to the natural world of their islands remains through their language. As the Hawaiian language is taken up by younger generations, it often serves multiple purposes, from revitalizing the sea-faring culture of the island's inhabitants to rekindling an affection and understanding of the intricate ecosystem that is the Hawaiian island chain. As new speakers explore their home through their mother tongue, can programs like the Hōkū Alakaʻi be the key to protecting a way of life where nature plays a central role? (Photo Courtesy of Carlos Andrade)
By Carlos Andrade
In 1976, Elia ʻKawikaʻ Kapahulehua, an easy going, gentle man, was selected to be captain on the first voyage of the canoe Hōkūlea. As unassuming a person that he was, the selection was not without its controversial aspects. He was an experienced sailor of catamarans, well acquainted with blue water sailing these lively craft, the modern manifestation of traditional voyaging canoes of which Hōkūleʻa was a design replica. Having spent his youth on the island of Niʻihau, he was a native speaker of Hawaiian as well as a prime example of the soft spoken, warm hearted character exhibited by those elders wise in the ways of the ancestors.
After the initial ground breaking success of the first voyage, Kawika, as most came to know him, continued to work as a licensed captain, piloting the sunset catamarans cruising off Waikīkī on warm evenings in the shelter of Diamond Head. This is where I initially became acquainted with him personally after he graciously invited me to accompany him on Ke Kai o Māmala (the traditional name for the ocean off Honolulu) to explore the Hawaiian vocabulary of the sea and sailing. Patiently, he spoke simply in that venerated, old sonorous tongue to me (a novice and student of the language) about different aspects of wave and wind, and the movement of the vessel as we slipped through the failing light, gliding over the somnolent sea.
In later years, I would actually get to sail with him aboard Hōkūleʻa on a short stormy passage from Kaunakakai, Molokaʻi around Mokapu and into Kualoa. Kawika joined the crew bringing Hōkūleʻa home at the conclusion of a journey that had begun a month before in Rarotonga in the Cook islands passing through Papeʻete in Tahiti Nui before completing 30 days of sojourning with landfall at Kealakekua, Hawaiʻi. After a day or two to recover from the exertions of the longer legs of that journey, the homebound crew sailed to Kaunakakai to be joined by distinguished guests, among them an astronaut and Captain Kawika. During that short jaunt, he again shared his experience pointing out and naming the wind and sea conditions we encountered off that windward facing coast. Even later, we would occasionally meet at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa where he provided a much needed grounding in dimensions of his ʻōlelo makuahine (mother tongue) for aspiring Hawaiian language students as it existed and was practiced outside of the confines of the classroom. As a manaleo, a native speaker, he was always in good humor and ever ready to share stories of his days at sea and the time of youth on Niʻihau.
In his last years, he had to battle with debilitating bouts of diabetes and eventually succumbed to its advances but not without touching many people with his own brand of aloha, especially those of younger generations who had become involved in one way or another with the revitalization of traditional voyaging and wayfinding that continues to grow after its inception in the first voyage of Hōkūleʻa on which Kawika served as captain. This mele is a chronicle of a voyage dedicated to the memory of Kawika, undertaken by a younger generation’s voyaging canoe, Hōkū Alakaʻi. The voyage, a journey to return the aloha and high regard for Kawika to the island of his youth was conducted under the leadership of Chad Kalepa Baybayan and sponsored by the ʻAha Pūnana Leo, leaders in the revitalization of the Hawaiian language which Kawika valued so highly.
Kaʻikaʻi ana i ka moana, kaulana o Hilo Hanakahi.
Aloha to the star, Guiding Star
Leading(us) on the ocean, famous is Hilo of Hanakahi
Hōkū Alakaʻi (guiding star) was built to provide an educational platform for the families and students involved in Hawaiian language immersion educational programs based in Hilo Hawaiʻi. It is a stately waʻa, provided with high quality equipment, staffed by experienced canoe sailors and has made several voyages in broader Hawaiʻi for the benefit of its students and crewmembers. She sails well on the deep sea and is becoming an icon for an already celebrated place, Hilo, connected traditionally to the aliʻi and ʻohana Hanakahi.
Leʻaleʻa i ka nani o ka ʻāina, Hanohano ʻo Hanalei.
Having arrived and come ashore on the sands of the House of Pleasure,
enjoy the beauty of the land, magnificent is Hanalei.
My actual participation on this journey began when the waʻa arrived at Hanalei in the district of Haleleʻa, a district celebrated in song both traditionally and in contemporary times as being a place of delight and pleasure to the senses. Hanalei was the home of some of my ancestors who lived there and worked as taro farmers and paniolo (cowboys). Almost all who visit Hanalei fulfill long held fantasies of tropical paradise with its many beaches, mountain hung waterfalls sidling up to the sea, and luxuriant foliage draping the landscape.
E hū mai ana ka haliʻa aloha.
The comforting mountain wind wells up [filling our sails]
A fond remembrance of affection rises[within].
This reoccurring refrain recalls the wind blowing from the mountains propelling the waʻa through the fringing seas of both islands. Malaki Kanahele, an elder Niʻihauan of my acquaintance, also recently passed away this year. He was a celebrated musician in his community, among musicians throughout the islands and also a surfing contemporary of Kawika in his youth. He described this wind as the favored wind on Niʻihau for making excellent surfing conditions. This wind sweeping from the land out over the sea propelled us out of Hanalei. It also arose after the long windless crossing of the channel between the two islands. Just as we passed through the narrow channel between the islet Lehua into the lee of Niʻihau, this makani came flowing over the low promontory just north of the islands' distinctive mountains making for a magnificent sail down its leeward coast. This makani hoaaloha greeted us on our return to Kauaʻi, off the coast of Kalalau valley in the Nā Pali district, driving us under full sail in two galloping tacks back into the sheltering bay of Hanalei. While we sailed on the various segments of this voyage, many memories of Kawika held by the different crewmembers who knew him were shared in quiet conversations during this voyage as we remembered him while circumnavigating Niʻihau.
Hele a’e i Nā Pali, lulu i Makuaiki ike i ke ahi o Kamaile.
The Tradewind garlands the flight [of the departing waʻa]
Traveling outward along the cliffs, sheltering at Makuaiki, see the fire of Kamaile.
We left Hanalei at midday, carried on the northeasterly “trade” wind into the afternoon sun. After coasting the spectacular, fluted cliffs of the Nā Pali district we anchored as evening fell in the only safe haven on that rugged coast, just east of the headland, Makuaiki. The sheltering reef there fronts a small accretion of sand fringing the site of an ancient fishing village hunkering in the shadows of amphitheater-like cliffs. At the apex of these sheer palisades is a peak, renowned in traditional times throughout Hawaiʻi for a ceremony, held long before Europeans arrived in these islands. People gathered from everywhere to witness flaming firebrands tossed from this formidable perch into the dark of night to celebrate the graduation of hula adepts after a season of sequestered practice and training.
Heahea mai ana ʻo Niʻihau, pūpū o Kahelelani.
[We] departed Nuʻalolo and sailed for Lehua
Niʻihau beckons, renowned for its exquisite shells.
We left the safe anchorage at Nuʻalolo at dawn, motoring into a windless sea. Lehua, a dormant cinder cone, eroded by the sea into a crescent shaped islet, stands companion to the northernmost tip of Niʻihau, separated only by a narrow channel. This little island, rich in seafood, has long been used by Niʻihauans as an extra repository for certain kinds of fish and crustaceans. “Mona” Shintani, our lone Niʻihau crewmember and head engineer, told us how the people of his island would cross the channel to catch the delicious ʻāholehole there. Crewmembers of a small waʻa accompanying us, quickly went ashore to gather ʻopihi for their return to Kauaʻi. The smaller waʻa parted company with Hōkū Alakaʻi, in the lee of the main island just after we negotiated the channel. After a long passage from Kauaʻi marked by no discernible wind requiring the tiny auxiliary outboard to labor for long hours beyond its normal use, the wind rose steadily from over the land. With no engine noise and the sails fully set, Hōkū Alakaʻi slid effortlessly southward through the calm leeward waters on the steady, gentle but robust, makani kuahiwi (land breeze), the favorite surfing wind of Elia and the companions of his youth.
Pili iā Pu’uwai, home o na makamaka, hoʻi ke aloha no Elia.
Sailing downward [of the wind], Pukaiki is seen
Close to Puʻuwai, home of close friends, affection for Elia returns.
Sailing southward, leaving the uninhabited northern coast of the island behind, we glimpsed Pukaiki, a section of land marked by a coconut grove, where the houses of the Niʻihau families began to appear.
Pukaiki, wai māpuna koni i ka ʻili.”
Pukaiki, bubbling springwater, homeland on the plain of mānienie grass
Pukaiki, frothy springwater throbbing on the skin.
While working on a mapping project, documenting the place names of that island, the preceding saying was offered with a chuckle by Malaki Kanahele. Pukaiki is somewhat separated from the greater number of houses at Puʻuwai but seemed to be a place beloved by Malaki. It is where he rebuilt the buildings in the small kauhale that was his home after the damage of the hurricanes. He related that he had salvaged lumber and other building supplies on Kauaʻi and used those on the house he built at Pukaiki where his children and grandchildren continue to live today. It was also close to the beach that he, Kalihilihi and Elia escaped to when the surf was in good form.
Puʻuwai, the main village is nearby and is where the majority of Niʻihau families live. This little settlement nestles in groves of kiawe and other trees behind and along the shore and coastal dunes about halfway down the leeward coast of the island. Here, Kawika, known as Elia to most of the friends of his youth, spent the time that was to form his character and influence so greatly the kind of man he would become.
Huli ho’i ma waho a’o Ka’ula, pi’i mai ʻo Ka’ulakahi.
A profound reverence alights on Kawaihoa,
[We] Turn and return [to Kauaʻi] off the island of Kaʻula, Kaʻulakahi rises [before us].
We arrived at Kawaihoa, a prominent hill at the furthest southern tip of Niʻihau, as the sun plunged towards the ocean. Open ocean swells greeted us there now that the land no longer sheltered us from the long fetch of the trade wind swell marching in off the open ocean. The wind freshened and as the canoe pitched vigorously in the now boisterous waters, the forestay cable parted company from the bow sprit where it was anchored. Tava, a Marquesan crewmember, seasoned veteran of many canoe voyages, jury rigged a connection for the all important “backbone” of the jib sail. By the time he had completed the job, the sun was on the horizon and we were well south of Niʻihau. In fact, Kaʻula islet, embattled bombing target and home to thousands of seabirds lay only a few miles to our starboard. Described in Hawaiian proverbs as the “taproot” of the archipelago, it was the first time most of us had ever come close enough to see it. Tacking into the wind, we turned northward to begin the return leg to Kauaʻi. The windward cliffs of Niʻihau lay on our leeward beam and Kauaʻi was a distant shadow to windward as we began the strenuous climb up the restless Kaʻulakahi channel.
aniani mai ana ka makani Kalalau, ʻo’ili ʻo Pohakuao.
Where is Anaki, light[house] in the night?
The Kalalau wind beckons, Pohakuao appears [in the dawn].
We sailed hard on the wind as night folded us in its wings with the rugged, boulder ridden coast slowly creeping towards us in our lee as the gradually diminishing wind in our faces failed us and the deep night wrapped its cloud ridden shroud over the stars. The valiant little auxiliary outboard, known as the “iron paddle” in some quarters, again was called upon to get us across the channel. In traditional times, certain strategic places were used as navigational landmarks. Some were known to have fires lit as beacons on them to lead the fishing canoe fleet home after a long night pursuing malolo and other fish. The place Anaki is one mentioned in an old chant connecting Niʻihau with Kauaʻi. After years of searching for its location, a handwritten map generated in the late 1800’s revealed that it was a mountain peak on the southwest shoulder of Kauaʻi, above the area fronted by Nuʻalolo and its companion valley to the south, Miloliʻi. This night, however, we were guided, not by the a night beacon from Anaki, but by the lights given off by radar stations for tracking missiles that have been built by the military and other companies on that part of Kauaʻi.
After chugging upstream all night through the channel waters we arrived off the deserted desert coast of Mānā, Kauaʻi, passing Nohili and Polihale two other notable places mentioned in the orature of our people. After many hours of breasting the waves, the brave little engine began to sputter, falter and die sporadically.
As we passed a mile or so offshore of Nuʻalolo and ʻAwawapuhi in the pre-dawn hours, first aid administered by our two engineers failed to restore its health completely but the little engine that could continued to propel us slowly over a glassy sea. With the sun beginning to make its ascent behind the island, we limped northward again with the shadowed cliffs standing between us and the dawn. Pale light grew and a halo of predawn pastels fringed the 3000 foot high ramparts of Nā Pali climbing from the sea topped by the Alakaʻi, a rainforest and bog cresting the summit of Kauaʻi.
A wrinkling of the sea ahead of us displayed the footprints of whispering breezes, forerunners, betraying the arrival of the wind. Increasing in velocity, the clean, fresh northeasterly boosted us. We made full sail jumping onto the welcome lift generated by the early morning trades providing a well deserved rest for our beleaguered engine. As the light of the sun clambered over the island to windward, a curious knob of basalt embedded in and protruding from the flank of the island appeared in the blue grey shadow of the stalwart cliffs of the coast. Pōhakuao [stone of light] emerged, the first bit of land along those regal cliffs to be touched by the morning sun.
pilipaʻa i na ʻale, hoʻohenoheno, i ka lei o ka mokihana.
The sea resonates against the hulls of the canoe,
closely slicing through the ocean swells, the lei of Mokihana is cherished.
Slicing cleanly upwind, the slender hulls of Hōkū Alakaʻi resonated with the constant murmuring rhythm train of swells passing under us as we fetched out on a long tack away from the island towards the empty northern Pacific. We had to shorten sail while in proximity to the land as the wind accelerated in response to the venturi effect of the moving air bending around the northwest corner of Kauaʻi in the rising heat of the day. An hour or so later, well out into the seaway, we shook out the reefs and stretched into our full wardrobe of sails. We held this course for several hours, leaving the island far in our lengthening wake, awaiting the discerning calculation and pronouncement of Captain Kalepa for the appropriate time to reverse our direction and tack back towards our destination and anchorage for the night at Hanalei.
The perspective of seeing KauaVi from this distance, far out at sea, brought on the realization of how much affection I, being a native of this island, have for my island home. The bond for Kauaʻi is affirmed in the last line of the verse in which the lei of Mokihana represents the island on which it is endemic and recognized by the Hawaiian people as the fragrant floral symbol of this, the oldest of the inhabited Hawaiian islands. All Hawaiians feel a great bond of affection for their islands of their birth. Aloha ʻāina is one way this relationship is expressed. I know that both Kawika and Malaki, had a deep and abiding affection for their home island, Niʻihau.
hoʻihoʻi ʻia aʻe ke aloha pumehana no Kapahulehua.
Let the refrain of the story be told,
of the returning of warm affection for Kapahulehua.
This song ends in a way traditional to many Hawaiian songs with the “hāʻina” verse, the restating of the theme. In this case, returning affection and paying homage to shipmate, mentor and friend, to the gentle, caring man, Kapena Elia Kawika Kapahulehua and the islands we call home.
E hū mai ana ka haliʻa aloha no Kawika Kapahulehua.
The comforting mountain wind wells up [filling our sails]
A fond remembrance of affection rises[within] for Kawika Kapahulehua.
Carlos Andrade is an associate professor of Hawaiian studies at the University of Hawaiʻi and director of the Kamakakuokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies. He is an avid sailor, having been a crew member on a 1992 trip from Raratonga to Hawaiʻi, and a slack-key guitarist who has toured with Taj Mahal and the Hula Blues Band.
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