A WHITE RAVEN...
May 3rd (Tuesday)
It's hot, muggy, and slightly overcast. The sea is choppy and the wind arrives and departs with small, unenthusiastic gasps. I'm reduced to my last 'Diet Coke with Lime', as I forlornly scan the blazingly hot horizon for a friendly sail. If they don't find us before tomorrow on this lonely, desolate spit of land, we're goners. Oops. Wrong journal, wrong scenario (takes another slug of Diet Coke, notes ripe smegmatic aroma rising from unwashed shorts, and finds the OTHER journal to continue narrative in...).
Left 90-year-old old Romero to enjoy the cool breezes that drift through the covered walkway that separates Blanca's home from the semi-detached room I stay in and took the car out to the east end of the island this afternoon. Had the strangest experience out there. Having told Gunter I missed seeing the old Ilio'ilio Pae Heiau at about Mile Marker 15.5, I acted on his advice that there was another old and much more easily found ancient stone heiau (a fish heiau, dedicated to a minor god, Kulua) out on the east end, near Mile Marker 20 (close by Murphy's Beach). Once there, it was as he said, relatively simple to find the old site, which lies on the makai side of the road between the roadway and the shore. There seems to have been an old hut built on the spot at some point in the recent past, covered in palm fronds after the ancient manner, and it had a few conventional picnic benches outside to indicate people may use it for occasional gatherings. Although it is simple to locate, it can't be seen from the road either, so one must park and get out, lock the car (why bother? Old mainland habit, I guess), and hike up a couple hundred yards to where it perches unseen just over the downward side of a protruding spit of hillside that overlooks a beautiful greenish-blue lagoon.
When I finally found it, it was late in the afternoon, but there was a nice trade blowing to cool things off and chase away some of the afternoon's mugginess. I was sitting there on one of the benches, enjoying the freshness of the breeze and gazing at the stones that must have formed the base of the old heiau when I noticed a brief movement behind me, just out of the corner of my eye. The sun was now behind the hillside and long shadows were being cast by the trees; thinking it had been a bird, I paid no more attention. A few moments later, I again saw some movement from the same corner of my eye, so this time I swiveled around on the bench in time to catch just the faintest glimpse of a slender woman who was gone behind some trees before I could see much of her. There was no mistaking her gender, since she had had long dark hair with some curious gray in it and seemed to be wearing a white and green fabric skirt, wrapped around her hips in the style of a Tahitian pāreu. I didn't actually see her face then, which had been turned away from me, but she had a dark complexion--clearly a local. There is a native Hawaiian settlement close by.
The sun was getting lower yet, so I thought about getting back, but suddenly this same woman appeared behind me on the other side of the hut. This time I saw her face distinctly and she appeared to be young, about 20 or so, but there was that strange silver-gray highlight scattered about in her dark hair. I said hello, but she simply smiled--the flash of her teeth suddenly catching a few odd rays of the departing sun that still skipped through the trees--and then turned around to disappear again into the trees. Her face was quite pretty in an austere sort of way and she had a look that was at the same time maidenly, but also strangely mature. When she had smiled, It struck me as odd that her eyes seemed to glow for the briefest instant...or was it my imagination and the odd angle of the departing sun? She had no flower on either side of her hair, but there was a green leafy bracelet around her left wrist. As a normally equipped red-blooded male whose eyes are instinctively drawn to certain gender characteristics, I couldn't help but notice that she wore what looked like a purple bikini top. Her hair glistened as if she had been swimming. She was pretty and she was nicely 'built'. Then she was gone and that's the extent of my recollections.
Odd, but oh well... I've never been a chick-magnet by any conceivable stretch of the imagination, so I mentally shrugged and felt as I always do at such a time...a bit lonely and somehow once again cheated out of a simple Vladimir Nabokov moment with a lovely young woman. A little wave of chagrin swept over me; always the same thing...a repeating theme of my life. I am not, sad to say, a Brad Pitt. Not even his younger and congenitally disfigured brother.
I stayed out there a bit longer, vaguely hoping that whoever that had been would return and stick around for a few minutes. There certainly had not been any guy with her. She did not return, however, and so after a few last looks about I headed back to the car in the dimming light. Looking back, I didn't see anyone, but then what had I been expecting, anyway? A lovely mythical Lorelei right here on this single person's null zone of an island?
The drive back was uneventful and it finally occurred to me that I had not had a chance to look over the old heiau site, so preoccupied had I been with the appearance of this girl (woman?). Funny how she had been so graceful, making no noise at all on the stones or through the trees. I felt a little pang of most ungentlemanly lust rise up in me.
After I returned from the drive, it was already getting quite dark, but I looped by the Kaunakakai wharf and managed to find Gunter sitting on his boat, the 'Little Toot Too', opposite the side that lists and cooking on a small hibachi. I pulled a few of the Papeete beers from the back floorboard of the rental car, where they had managed to get very warm, and we shared a brew. The boat was rocking a bit lop-sided in the water...like a drunken sailor, I thought, to my mild amusement.
"Well," Gunter said in his thick North German accent, "So soon back. Did you find the heiau?"
When I told him I had, I also mentioned the girl I had seen, giving him most of the details and not holding back the fact that I had found her more than a bit attractive, despite her brief appearance. He was gazing out at the water boundary where the Kaunakakai reef juts out into Kailohi Channel currents.
"Oh, you saw her then, eh? Nice breasts? Purple top? Congratulations! She doesn't show herself for everyone."
I hadn't mentioned the purple swim-suit top. In answer to my puzzled look, he took a long draw on the warm beer and glanced over at me, beaming a shark-like smile.
"'She' is a local woman that everyone swears is a ghost. According to the locals, she died some 13 years ago just off that point the old heiau sits on, while diving for Ahi. Accident of some kind. Her name is Corinne Popolohua...um, Hu'elani; they tell me her family lives just north of Kawelo way. It’s said she's buried there in the local cemetery. They say she only shows herself when she is not frightened by strangers who show up at the old fish heiau. I think she must like you, yes? Have you ever had a dead woman for a friend before?"
He took another draw on the beer and soberly gazed seaward in the direction of twinkling lights on Maui's north shore. He was not smiling when he had finished telling me this. Nor was he was smiling when I took my leave, a short while later, to drive back to Manila Camp.
I am, of course, going to return to the Kawelo cemetery tomorrow and see if I can find a headstone that will convince me this is only another of Gunter's frequent expressions of dark German humor, but the fact that I have been searching so eagerly for my 'white raven experience' makes me less than pleased to have this pleasant mystery laid to rest as a prank. Just for curiosity, I looked up the meaning of the name 'Hu'elani'. The direct Hawaiian translation is 'Opening up to Heaven'. 'Popolohua' means 'Purplish blue, as in sea or clouds'. Brrrr. We shall see what tomorrow's trip to the Kawelo cemetery brings. A strange experience. A strange experience, indeed, for someone who does not believe in ghosts...either that or Gunter's sense of humor is darker than I thought.
May 4th (Wednesday)
If I had to take one single impression home with me of Molokai, it would have to be of endlessly barking dogs and run-amok rooster noise at night. Of course, this is Manila Camp I'm in and seems not to be characteristic of other less 'urbanised' parts of Molokai. Oh, how I wish we were able to afford a place on the more remote east end, rather than a compromise on the makai side of Kam 5 highway where my property is located. The good news is that I already know my left side neighbor and my right side neighbor I come to find is the nephew of a local fellow (nephew lives on Maui at the moment). The big task that confronts me is to secure the services of someone reliable whom I can contract to finish clearing my property and then make monthly return visits to keep it cleared. I guess I'll head for the Molokai Vistors' Bureau tomorrow and see what I can find. The classified ads in the Molokai Island Times were no help. First call to what was advertised as ‘BD's Vista Advantage’ seemed to be some neighborhood school kid with big aspirations (lawn mowing yes, property clearing no). Second call to ‘Tropical Inspirations Landscaping’ turned out to be a wrong number. Hmmmm. Back to square one. Maybe tomorrow will be more promising. In this search for just the right combination of capabilities, I am reminded of something pake (Chinese) real estate broker Margaret Hui told me: "All Hawaiians are congenital liars." [Makes mental note: Not good, since I’ve heard many times that local Hawaiians are also indolent. I feel like a missionary must have felt, heading off into the unknown to save heathen souls for Jesus, difference being I am heading off into the unknown to find an honest, hard-working heathen to wage herbicidal warfare for me.)
Just got a return call from BD, who apparently used the phone 'trace caller number' feature on his phone to contact me, after I switched off. Turns out that BD is the father and the school-kid I talked with is his son, 'BD, Junior' (who had answered the phone and in response to my question "Can I talk with BD?" replied with "I'm BD"). At any rate, we meet tomorrow to take a look at the lot and ‘Big BD’ will give me a quote for the job. "BD" is actually a fellow called Bruce; I had called his home number, hence the confusion with his small son, and will use his cell number tomorrow. Ain't life interesting? Never a dull development, it seems.
Since I never have occasion to get any pictures of myself these days, I have fallen back to a old schtick I used to resort to in KSA--taking a few expat 'self-portraits'. Now, while this may be considered an extreme expression of vanity by some, I look at it more as a sort of historical document recording changes in the old self. Besides, it's my life and I am interested in it much as an entomologist would be fascinated by a curious bug stuck to his collection board on a pin. Nothing really wrong with this, I think, since by so doing I only risk running afoul of my own disapprobations. The pictures are, on examination, fully as bad as I had feared: receding chin, barely kept in check with the Abraham Lincoln style goatee, gray hair gaining a noticeable foothold, eyes reflecting a sort of flinty uncertainty about them (note: have to remind myself to squint more often, like Clint Eastwood did; hey, it worked for him!). Other changes not so noticeable in the pictures: loss of skin elasticity all over, due to the savaging effects of the sun exposure in KSA (collagenous cellular destruction), some pre-cancerous skin changes on the cheeks (around the edges of the eyes--not good!), and perhaps even a bit of recently added adipose (too many chocolate toffee Macadamia nuts over the past week) around the midriff. The oval neck amulet is a small section of tiger shark skin, with a tiger shark tooth affixed to it (from Aussie friend, ‘Dr. Shark’ in Oz); the other item on silver chain is something Sooks brought back for me from New Zealand, which I have always very much liked (it's a good-luck charm): a beautiful piece of jade-like stone carved into what the Maori aboriginals call the 'Path of Eternity' (the stone is shaped in the form of a highly stylized Moebius loop, without start or finish, and beautifully worked by hand-very unique item, actually). The hat, of course, is one I wore during the 1991 Gulf War in KSA; it's an old friend (lots of mana) that I take whenever I'm out somewhere 'adventuring'.
Breakfast was again library paste (Quaker Instant Oats) with the last of the dried cranberries, coffee (no bananas left), and the usual handful of vitamin and mineral supplements. Old Romero is out in the back yard, puttering about the grounds, raking up small leaves that have fallen from the Mango and Papaya trees. I guess this is what helps keep him going, despite his 90+ years! Tough old bird who obviously worked very hard during his younger days, perhaps on the plantation.
Note on coconut carving: I managed to carve that coconut I picked up last week. I was reminded that carving coconut shells is much easier when the outer husk is still fresh and green; once the outer husk has become hard, they are a bitch to carve without screwing things up radically, through haste or impatience. This is good therapy and I find I enjoy it, although the small degree of dexterity I used to enjoy with my hands is greatly diminished from previous years (reason I don't attempt plastic model kits anymore). Wonder of I'd be any good at trying to make a hula pahu from a sectioned slice of coconut trunk? Just tried to reach Robert Kamatsu, the pahu master, again. No joy. Maybe later. Only 4 days left to get this taken care of.
One thing about Molokai is the fact that fresh fish are commonly available every day. If not your own catch, someone else's. There are more highly edible species in the local waters than most can imagine. While I wouldn't want to tempt fate by doing any underwater spear-fishing (plenty of Tigers in local waters), it's reportedly easy enough to drop a line in the water just about anywhere on the island and easily catch your limit within an hour. I've never been much of a fisherman (even trying to learn the knack of fly-fishing under Uncle Charlie's expert tutelage in Sun Valley, while vacationing next to Hemingway's Big Wood River lodge in the late 50s/early 60s, but without much encouraging evidence of real piscatorial skill either then or now). Much later, living in Santa Cruz, I even bought a surf casting rod & reel (still have it at home, in the garage), since I recall Dad formerly used to engage in that sport, but never once caught anything with it. More proof of deficit talent in the Ichthyologic Department, I fear. Not much of a hunter/gatherer or fisherman, and definitely not much good at the ancient Neanderthal sport of clubbing women over the head and dragging them home. Impression: would have made a lousy stone-ager (also known as an easy meal for a Saber-Toothed Tiger), I'm afraid.
If I ever end up retiring over here, I would probably look forward to kayaking around the reef and fishpond areas. Maybe then stop and drop a line over the side, earlier in the AM hours before the trades pick up and make the waters a bit choppy. I haven't the extreme motivation to take up serious out rigger racing (like some of the buff women I mentioned I ran into, yesterday), but at least I am fairly adept at splashing innocently about in a sea-going (keeled) kayak (thanks to former youthful days spent as an expert canoer and sailing instructor). Arrr, matey. We be castin' off soon for fearsome adventures with our rubber ducky. Avast! Yessir, the scourge of the local duck pond, that's our Crusty Cooleridge. Beat to quarters, Mr. Cuthbert! Arrrr-arrrr-arrrr! (I think that's how blood-thirsty pirates are supposed to talk, anyway). Step lively, young cabin-boy Jamie. A man's got to do what a man's got to do, Jaimie me boy! Arrr, etc., etc.
Email from the other Aviation Museum board members informs me that our museum's Convair F-106 Delta Dart has now been successfully taken apart at AMARC (Aircraft Maintenance and Regeneration Center, located at Tucson, AZ) and is in the process of being loaded up for shipment to us in Sacramento (they said that there were still 30 gallons of overlooked JP-4 left in one of its wing-tanks, surprise!). Just my blasted luck to miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime adventure, retrieving a rare surviving specimen of my favorite aircraft from its hibernation out on the desert wastes for display resurrection at the museum. The process was delayed so many times, fraught with so many setbacks and broken deadlines (due to technical difficulties and political/bureaucratic hurdles at AMARC), that by the time the plan was finally cleared for take-off, I was over here on Molokai. I'll probably arrive back in Sacramento at just about the same time it rolls in on the truck. At least I'll get to participate in helping put it back together.
Took a bit of time off to return to the Kawalo area just now, to check on that cemetery, as related yesterday. I searched the whole area over several times and found no such grave for a Corinne Popolohu Hu'elani, although there two other Hu'elani graves (both men). This is probably sufficient evidence to conclude that Gunter was having a bit of fun with me about the ghostly girl at the heiau, but he persists in maintaining a straight face when he assures me that this is in very real fact no joke! That also doesn't explain away the perplexing fact that I hadn't mentioned the purple color of the swim-suit top she was wearing! I suppose I'll never really be sure, one way or another, but I know that what I saw was no day-dream. She appeared as solid and real as anyone can be. You just can't imagine visual details like that and others aren't able to routinely read minds, either. At any rate, I guess I owe Gunter another 6-pack of Papeete beer for at least giving me a most unusual experience (and unforgettable) that I cannot explain away with logic, reason, or any other conventional science-based process of rational understanding! I'm greatly tempted to return to the heiau and see if I can repeat the experience.
Thinking about that lovely vision of (spectral?) beauty, I am reminded of the way the ancient Hawaiians instituted what passed for marriage in their traditional (pre-missionary) culture. As I observed earlier in my journal narrative, nothing approaching a conventional western ‘sacrament of marriage’ was carried out when a man & woman decided to mate. The only officiation of their status consisted of having them 'sleep with each other' (according to the references) in the presence of the local priests. Whether this 'sleeping together' consisted of simply falling asleep and sawing Z's next to each other under the same kapa (native paper-like fabric made from tree-bark), or whether it meant getting it on coitally under the approving gaze of the elders, is left to speculation. I can't personally imagine feeling comfortable enough to screw someone (no matter how beautiful or alluring) as the grandparents watched, approvingly (but on second thought, perhaps that's just my own hang-up, based on cultural socialization under western customs and practices), so I'll assume that the 'sleeping together' was actually that and not wild coital debauchery.
One of the unique characteristics of the ancient Hawaiian culture that continually had the Christian missionaries sorely vexed was the perfectly natural native custom of what they (the missionaries) called 'an extreme act of apostasy'. By this, I mean the 'incestuous' practice of brothers and sisters 'marrying' (or even fathers and daughters, and sons and mothers). Although from a western scientific (genetic) standpoint this sort of behavior can have some very untoward results in terms of recessive genes being passed along to any offspring produced by the pairing, the custom was resorted to when a woman or man was considered to be of such 'high birth' (among the high Ali'i, or Hawaiian royalty) that a suitable mate of equal status could not be found. In that event, it was considered that the mating of a man and woman of the same immediate family bloodline was preferable to the mating of social un-equals. Thus a brother and sister could (and frequently did) screw each other without much to-do. The curious thing about this is that there appears to be little documentation on the practice that survives today, despite the fact that even by non-scientific (i.e. Christian) standards, such behavior was regarded as being extremely reprehensible by the missionaries.
I am guessing that due to the extremely 'delicate' nature of this practice, the morally conservative and easily scandalised Christian missionaries were more than a bit reticent to discuss the matter, except within the most objective and figurative (religious) context. This is in all likelihood the chief reason why there was not much information on this subject recorded by those worthies that has survived to be passed along in their otherwise fairly comprehensive chronicles of heathen life. Too bad, too, since the speculative symbolic imagery of a brother and sister enjoying each other's healthy natural sexually is an attractive one, as long as the scientific and religious proscriptions have been carefully excised and set aside (observing good aesthetic surgical technique, of course). [A note to any righteously anointed Christian readers, here, who may be reading this: Remember, folks, I'm no God-fearing Christian myself; life is boring enough without removing some of the fun that such possibilities offer. If I had an absolutely drop-dead beautiful sister and Iived on an island paradise, I'd probably waste no time exploring her up-thrust mountains and lush, moist valleys myself.]
Another common ancient Hawaiian cultural practice that was NOT quite so pleasant to contemplate was that of infanticide. According to many sources I have accessed, unwanted infants (there being no absolutely reliable birth control, per se, available--although some Kahuna-prescribed herbal preparations were used for this purpose) were not uncommonly killed. Apparently, if a child was born with less than perfectly normal features (and due to incestual mating customs, this was likely fairly common), that infant would be disposed of at birth. This apparently was routinely done by burying the infant alive, from what I read. That seems more than a little heartless, given the fact that even sacrificial victims were usually strangled first, before being offered up at the heiau. However, I am reminded that human life mattered very little in a greater, overall context to the Hawaiians since theirs was a culture in which the social needs of all came far ahead of the needs of an individual. As Americans, who have been brought up from earliest childhood to subscribe to and embrace the ascendancy of individual rights over those of the majority, such an attitude seems grossly wrong. From my own personal viewpoint, as a person who has always felt the needs of the group should properly outweigh the rights and privileges of any individual member of society (within reason, of course), the practice in reference is slightly less shocking. In the absence of an artificially formulated religious proscription against such a practice, it undoubtedly made perfect sense to the early Hawaiians to kill a baby born with congenital defects of any discernible kind. The manner they used for killing the infants is still somewhat disturbing, however.
There's not much on the record concerning how the ancient culture treated mental illness, except for a few references to various individuals who were apparently so inflicted (again, such references as exist had to be passed along via oral histories, since there was no written language with which to record incidents of any possible relevance here), and the existence of several Hawaiian words that translate to ‘sick in the head’.
It is also a fact that it was not unusual for Hawaiians (at least during the later Ali'i period, after the arrival of the priest Pa'ao (who incidentally was supposed to have been 'white', and thereby assumed to be 'Caucasian', curiously enough) to regard very elderly members of the family as useless and not worth taking the requisite trouble to sustain, in the event they were incapacitated or incapable of supporting themselves. While this information conflicts somewhat with oral history information passed along about pre-Ali'i family customs on Molokai, it may in fact have some bearing on changes in ancient Hawaiian society that were due to or brought about by changes in the religion that occurred after the arrival of Pa'ao in the 11th or 12th Century. At any rate, the mention is made in several places that this was the later custom.
Naturally, as a western-raised person, the practices of infanticide and geriatricide seem unfortunate and somewhat disturbing to me (Haole kapu?), but seen strictly within the cultural context of their own civilisation (‘Primitive cultures basic rule #1’, as the cultural anthropologists are always reminding us), such customs appear perfectly functional and pragmatically practical.
I can hear the solar-heating water system cycling on the roof overhead. Many small, individual solar heating systems are routinely used on Molokai to provide hot water. Seems almost every home has some sort of solar water heating array on the roof, and why not? Now if they could simply harness the wind to tap into that cheap power source (the trade winds are always blowing here), they'd have the perfect little home-based closed system. Mainline electrical power on Molokai is provided by petroleum-fuel powered generation, as might be expected. There have been a few attempts to harness wind power on the other islands, but the cost of mechanical maintenance for those early and less efficient systems were so high that they ultimately failed. I am advised that with today's available state-of-the-art technology, such wind driven power generation schemes are once more cost-effective, but there has been little development of individual (residentially appropriate) private systems done, to my knowledge; most of the research has been done in terms of larger area-wide generation systems.
My friend the bumble-bee has been absent for a day or two. He is now back at his usual habits of buzzing ponderously about the awning, just outside my window. It's a good thing I enjoy writing, as otherwise I'd be hard pressed to stay amused during my stay here. Reading & writing are two favorite pastimes, of course, but neither is very demanding physically. I'm glancing down at my waistline, something I've never paid much attention to owing to the fact that I've always been on the slender side. However, these past 28 days or so have not involved much physical activity (aside from the volcano climb already mentioned) and the cumulative effect of this lethargy and the delicious chocolate covered toffee macadamia nuts that are a particular failing of mine has been a noticeable bit of added padding around the gut. Not much, but enough to make me take notice. Horrors! My worst nightmare is (and always has been) being fat and out of shape. I can't wait to get back to the daily bicycle ride and a muscle toning work out at home on the BowFlex. If I end up retiring over here, I'll have to devise some sort of daily exercise regime to help stave off these prospects that are so especially loathsome to me. Maybe running, but that's not good for the knees at this stage of life. Bicycling would be best, but given the traffic habits here and the routine DUI pattern that prevails among the locals, bike-riding is not without considerable risk on the island (from what I have seen and heard).
One awareness seems to be vaguely developing within me, thanks to the reflection pause this past few weeks has afforded me. That is, perhaps life in the islands is not as perfectly suited to me as I may have earlier thought. It may well be that I need a life on the mainland in the northern part of the state, perhaps somewhere along the north coast of California, as much as the tropics. I've always enjoyed the mountains and cooler climates, so maybe what I would really like is that sort of a bi-polar climatic venue. Molokai would be wonderful, if I weren't so concerned about exercise, getting old and fat, and suffering from the sort of indolent lifestyle that characterises life in the islands. Further, my far too idealistic and enthusiastic preconceived notions about a sense of 'community' here may also have been slightly premature, given the wide divergence that seems to exist between several different groups that one finds on the island.
An additional concern is the contamination of the island's adolescents by mainland pop-culture (and American mainstream attitudes), that is already noticeable, may just be the tip of the iceberg. If this process continues to develop unchecked (and there's no reason to suspect it won't, given the immediate access of media, with its unhappy and highly exploitative commercial effects, accessed through electronic technology), Molokai won't be half as insular and/or remote from these progressively deleterious influences are I would hope it would remain.
Whatever the final impact on my perceptions after I fly back to the mainland, I have definitely rushed into my purchase of the parcel here a bit prematurely (that is, without giving this a lot of wise reflection beforehand) and I am now faced with this unavoidable and concrete reality to deal with in future as best I am able. If I am very, very lucky, the value of the land may rise significantly in the 4 years ahead, that I have left before retirement. Meanwhile, however, I have to gear down to some serious meeting of the added financial responsibility that this new drain on my income poses. Perhaps I should investigate going on a regimen of Prozac, to help me adjust to the unhappy realities of life that I thought were pressing in on me too much back home. Hmmm. (Strokes graying goatee absentmindedly for a second, but successfully stifles the unconscious urge to reach for another chocolate covered toffee macadamia nut).
In any comprehensive contemporary assessment of Hawaiian civilisation, from earliest origins through the latest period, one cannot but literally concur with the view that the early Christian missionaries were both a harmful element (in the broadest sense) and a helpful one, considering the radical changes that the new religion brought to the Hawaiian islanders. It seems to be equally popular to take either one or the polar opposite other of two attitudes in this matter. There are those who will opine without restraint that the missionaries had, in their earnest desire to save the heathens' souls for their Christian god, by far a positive effect. There is another equally outspoken sentiment that the Christian missionaries bore ultimate responsibility for the falloff the Hawaiian monarchy (and the resulting loss of Hawaiian autonomy).
Both seem to carry equal validity, in my consideration, since there as many positive as there were negative aspects of the early Christian missionaries' work. Among the most positive were the efforts they made to study and record the ancient culture and history, and the devising of a written language for the islanders--something that the Hawaiians lacked, prior to 1820. The worst impact they had would probably have to have been their immense efforts to suppress the ancient morality and expressions of traditional cultural interactions with nature (in their efforts to save what they perceived as primitive godless heathens by converting them to the Christian religion).
As a proudly non-Christian heathen soul myself, I can never forgive them (the Christian missionaries) for their one-sided, mindless conviction that they had an iron-bound franchise, or absolute insight on understanding of the universe, but I can acknowledge that given the mean, ruthless, degenerate, and largely amoral nature of the non-religious white people who came to the islands (traders, whalers, sailors, soldiers, and commercial businessmen), the Christian missionaries are probably most wisely regarded, retrospectively, as the better of two evils.
Robert L. Stevenson commented on the grossly exploitative nature of those non-Christian white settlers, remarking that it was that sort of 'white person' who made him regret being of the same ethnicity. This opinion frequently mirrors my own feeling about modern American society, although you don't have to be white to be common-minded and totally lacking in higher ethical awarenesses, certainly. God knows (ironic use of the words, of course) that no one culture, race, or creed has an exclusive lock on the baser aspects of human behavior. It's just a matter of the purest coincidence that I am white and the people responsible for Hawaii's ultimate downfall (as an ancient and proud people, possessed of a unique and distinctive culture unlike no other) were also (as anyone with intelligence would hasten to confirm).
All other things being equal (my Ivy League, button-down collar, and Harris Tweed jacket wearing college political science instructor's favorite utterance), the missionaries probably did somewhat more good than harm, in the final assessment. That doesn't mean that I am willing to completely absolve them of the many harmful effects of their evangelical Protestant religious fervor (since this has been a common theme with all religions since the dawn of recorded history, each of which believes its distinctive concept of 'God' is the one and only legitimate one), but I am at least willing to allow that for all their very human failings, the Christian missionaries meant well. I suppose you could use that same sentiment to say that despite all of Adolph Hitler's heinous outrages (or Mao's, or Pol Pot's, or Saddam Hussein's, et al), he meant well. However, I think my intended meaning stands sufficiently well qualified within the supportive context of these paragraphs to allow those words to be safely used here.
No religion has ever had, nor shall ever have (in my humble opinion), any more truly sagacious insight into the deeper, ultimate mysteries of human experience than that of the average frontally lobotomized individual. For that reason, any seeking after absolute 'truths', when it comes to the Biggest Questions (e.g. "What's it all about, Alfie?") is destined to wither on the vines of intelligent human inquiry. By virtue of that belief, I regard anything and everything accomplished anywhere in 'the name of god' as being nothing more than the inspired application of latent human abilities. They seem to arise solely out of the life circumstances of all biological life that are as sentient or non-sentient as logical possibilities allow for (and not from any party-line connection directly to 'God').
Against that Kevlar®-like backdrop of my own doggedly maintained personal prejudices, I am very sad to find that the ancient Hawaiians lost so much of themselves not to one group or another, but to the fact that whenever a weaker group (i.e. possessed of a lesser quality of weapons technology) meets a more powerful group (i.e. possessed of weapons technology of a higher level or quality), the weaker group is doomed to be subjugated. That is ultimately what happened to ancient Hawaii. Western man with his advanced weapons (and only coincidentally, with his religion) came along, contact was made, and the more rapacious, overwhelming force came out on top. In that sense, the end was already foreseen the minute Cook pulled into the Hawaiians’ parking lot, back in 1778, and the early Christian missionaries simply tossed a few low-yield tactical theological weapons into the cultural battle here and there. Add all of these to the introduction of western diseases against which the Hawaiians had no natural immunity and you have the near-demise of a complete culture.
Drove into K'kai to take a break and pick up some things at The Friendly Market. In the hottest part of the day you you'd expect things to be pretty slow and surprise...they were! On a whim I dropped in at Yoshi's to check out their remaining bakery goods and bought a couple of apple fritters. Didn't notice Frank at first, an older artist whom I had met at the art mart, last Saturday, sitting behind me at one of the tables. His wave caught my attention and after I bought the stuff I sat down to talk story for a while. Frank is the fellow whom I have mentioned earlier in my journal had had surgery for skin cancer on his face. As we chatted, it came out that he has also had abdominal surgery for metastasized CA, and was on dialysis for years before finally getting a kidney transplant. Some medical history, I reckoned. He's only 66, too. Makes me reflect anew on the importance of having good genes.
Frank is an artist and as we talked about this and that, the subject of George of ‘George's Gallery’ came up. When I expressed some regret over the fact that George refused to sell any of his personal works on display in the gallery, this seemed to be a hot button for Frank, who vehemently volunteered a few things about George that I'd never have guessed. Apparently Frank had offered to help George renovate his old building some time ago and had (rather rudely) never even received a word of appreciation for his help. I told Frank that although I hadn't met George personally, I had gathered from this and that that he was somewhat of an arrogant individual. This Frank confirmed and went on to say that he thought it was ironic that George won't sell any of his local art to interested parties, while on the internet he seemed to have quite a trade (apparently with customers in the Far East) going in works that Frank expressed as ‘pure pornography’. Frank doesn't strike me as a blue-nose Christian conservative, so his opinion of what he termed 'pornography' is of substantial interest. George advertises a lot in the island papers for models that he wants to paint ‘fully clothed’ portraits of. Given this new bit of information about George's apparent erotic art side-line, I can't help but wonder about the emphasis on ‘fully clothed’ and how that may tie into his other interests. Just goes to show you that despite what the appearances seem to indicate, there's never such thing as a fully complete understanding possible, no matter who you are dealing with (e.g. President Bill's dalliance with Monika Lewinsky in the Oval Office).
Frank apparently needs some money, since he offered to paint a picture similar to one I had briefly admired last Saturday (of a bull fight in Spain); at the time I admired it, he had said he was holding for someone else. Now, Frank is one of those souls I would call a talented dabbler, despite the fact that he tells me he teaches art at the local community center. Anyone with even modest ability can, of course, teach anyone of lesser ability, so that's not saying much. The proof in art is in the viewing and not in the self-pronouncement of one's 'instructor' status. This doesn't change Frank's stature as a good fellow who it is fun to chat with, needless to say, but an artist is not truly an artist till his peers refer to him as such.
As we were talking, an exceptionally good looking young lady walked in, took a look at the baked goods and then walked out. She definitely caught my eye and I tracked her out of the corner of my eye as she walked down the street, thinking to myself: "Holy shit, can it be that a lovely unattached young woman has somehow ended upon little old Molokai?" I should have known better, as in the next 5 minutes she returned with a hunky boyfriend. Alas, there's no justice in life! She had a great set of chi-chis, too, standing out nicely against her T-shirt. [Note to self: What is it about women's breasts, anyway? Is it the latent infant still trapped in us grown-up men that they excite? Or the recollection of the last good lustful suck we had as babes? Wonder what a psychologist would have to say about men and their fixation with firm, full female breasts, anyway? Ah, the marvels of blind sexual instinct.]
Since Frank knows Gunter, I decided to ask him if he knew anything about that old heiau out at Murphy's Beach that Gunter had steered me to. "Oh yeah," he replied, "Been there. It's a fish heiau, supposedly dedicated to Kuula (a minor fish aumakua). Did you know it's haunted?" Ah! I told him that I did and that I had in fact seen what could only have been the ghost in reference. "Wow...you saw her, huh? She's supposed to be nice looking, young, but hardly anyone ever sees her. How did you luck out?"
I couldn't explain it any better than he could, of course, but asked him if the story about a haunting was really legit, or whether this was more of Gunter's humor? I told him also about finding no grave, as Gunter has suggested I would at Kawelo.
"Nope, supposed to be at Pu'uko'o, not Kawelo, from what I've heard. The locals there could probably tell you more about it, since she seems to have had family there. You really saw her, or are you just pulling my leg? Story goes she doesn't show herself unless she isn't afraid of you. Never heard of anyone I know actually seeing her before...must be afraid of everyone...but from what you said, that was one pretty lady...um, at one time, of course." At that he stopped and looked at me with a puzzled expression. "Strange stuff, that! You really saw her, huh? Wow!"
I assured him I at least saw someone there. Whether a ghost or a real person was beyond my ability to say, since there was no indication of any ghostly behavior (or at least what I think would be ghostly behavior), as far as I could tell from those brief glimpses. She simply looked like a really good-looking lady to me, I guessed perhaps just walking back up from the sea, since her hair was wet.
I left Frank shortly afterwards to take my things back up to the place in Manila Camp. Judging from Frank's reaction, I'd say that either this is a larger joke than I thought, or I saw something I simply cannot explain (there's that bit about her purple top and the translation of her name; everything else can be rationalized but those two tantalizing details!). Amazing and here I am, back at square one, a non-believer who doesn't know what to make of this whole thing. [Makes mental note to buttonhole Gunter again and ask him for more information. Maybe with some more warm Papeete.] I did learn one interesting further thing: it was the custom for local Molokai families to put a small circlet made of Maile vine on the left wrist of a very recently deceased person. I recall that she was wearing something on her left wrist, but the encounter was too brief to know what, other than it was green in color and seemed to be made of leaves. Brrrr.
Sitting here, thinking about the above developments and feeling a strong need for one of those apple fritters I bought earlier in the day (dripping with saturated fat and fried, to boot--death wish?). Bruce (of BD's Vista Advantage) tells me he has a conflict in that his daughter needs to be at the library at 6PM to pick up some sort of award she won for reading. We've agreed to reschedule our rendezvous to check out the property for a cost estimate tomorrow. That's the Molokai way; nothing ever written in stone and always subject to the needs of the 'ohana (which is, of course, as it ought to be).
The last couple of days have been quite warm and humid. Lots of moisture-laden clouds developing late in the day, without a lot of the usual wind to cool things off. Since my room faces the sun (away from the trades), it gets fairly warm by about 4PM.
Another of my books sheds an interesting perspective on the early missionaries I have been holding forth about. The book was apparently written as a sort of response to all the less than positive insinuations James Michener made about them in his fictionalized novel ‘HAWAII’. By Michener's reckoning, the missionaries were all a bunch of holier than thou blue-nosed prudes who had a greater number of human failings that most people, religious or not. The thread of hypocrisy runs strongly and centrally through the book. Apparently, some of the more 'God-fearing' brethren among us have felt Michener slighted their evangelical forebears a bit too much, even though Michener's book is fiction that was based approximately on actual people. The book (‘Hawaii: Truth Stranger than Fiction’, by LaRue Piercy) takes pains to delve into the actual history that Michener researched so diligently (in typical Michener style) and contrasts the fiction to the true events that took place, since the parallels are quite real (just names, places, and actual events changed to make them seem purely fictional) and fascinating.
It makes interesting reading, but one gets the feeling that the author is trying hard to vindicate the historic figures that Michener used to model his characters after. He makes a remark in the preface expressing his pleasure in having received so many compliments from readers who felt such a book was 'long overdue'; one gets the distinct feeling that the 'grateful readers' are not modern-day godless heathens, either. At the very least it makes for interesting reading, since Michener's books are so well known and widely read. An amusing image comes to mind: Michener decides to do a similarly expansive and terribly complicated book with a bit sharper focus. ‘MOLOKAI’.
I can see parts of it in my mind, as I write this. One unforgettable chapter features a particularly strong minded (but intuitively brilliant) heathen high chief named Kalika (Hawaiian for ‘Cooleridge’), who has a rep for being a stupendously well-hung lover (his 'Ule' is legendary, and in fact it's the real-life model for the sacred Ka Ule o Nanaha), and 6 wives, each of whom is more gorgeous than the next. As I see it in my mind's eye, Kalika has just sacrificed a particularly arrogant missionary (who bears a striking resemblance to George Dubya Bush) for mouthing off at him, is about to lead his people up against the missionaries to overthrow them and successfully reclaim the islands for the Hawaiians. Oh yes, in this he is assisted by a couple of passing friendly alien UFOs, who decide to trade him some of their older (last lightyear's model, actually) photon torpedoes for a load of coconuts (which just happen to be made of the EXACT chemical ingredients from which their interstellar fuel is synthesized...what a coincidence!). It gets even better.
Of course there's already a book (several, matter of fact) by that name, as well as a movie. The subject matter focuses on Father Damien's work with the lepers in the Kalaupapa Colony. I haven't mentioned much about that particular aspect of Molokai, since it is well known by most of the world and besides, the guy had a 'saint complex'. Not my kind of mensch, really. Oh yes, while on the subject of Hansen's Disease, those insinuating rumors you may have heard about Father Damien, Mother Marienne, and Baby Ignatz are not true .... Father Damien is on the road towards R.C. saintdom (along with Mom Theresa) as I write this, which is great, because he really was a marvelously committed human being (somewhat STRANGE, but still a really wonderful, selfless guy). Someone once remarked that the only real state of selflessness is achieved after one dies. Think about it. Hmmmmm. That was an 'off-handed' remark, if I ever heard one. Then there's the leper who left the prostitute a tip. This of course, reminds me of many more tasteless jokes one hears about lepers, but I'll spare you. They were questionably amusing originally and probably would not be much improved in the retelling here.
It's getting later, my humor is getting more tasteless and cynical, and that apple fritter is still sitting there, staring at me balefully as it continues to ooze saturated fat in the afternoon heat. Come back tomorrow: I promise it'll only get better in these truly inspired (perspired?) pages.
May 5th (Thursday)
Absolutely wretched night last night. The earplugs kept loosening and falling out, and the rooster/dog chorus began earlier than usual and lasted the rest of the remaining time, until well past dawn (it is now 7:42 AM and they are still at it). Had to take Benadryl instead of Actifed for sleep before bed and that usually imparts a groggy sensation on arising. As if that weren't enough trouble for the start of a new day, I also woke with a headache. Made my usually strong cuppa and popped the standard handful of pills, including some native Noni herb. Then, after the coffee took hold, the ASA went to work, the Noni kicked in, and I had consumed one of those gooey, drippy death-wish apple fritters, I was finally in better shape and ready to rock & roll.
The small electric coffee grinder I have here is made by the Braun (correctly pronounced ‘brown’ and not ‘bronn’, as most non-German speakers assume) Company (GmBH); I brought it with me and have used it continuously for more than 21 years now. Cylindrical and bright orange (my favorite color), it still grinds away perfectly, although the blade is doubtless far more dull than it used to be, having sliced through God only knows how many thousands of pounds of coffee beans over the past two decades. This is a meaningful measure of how seriously I take my coffee habit, I suppose, but every person has items in which he invests sacred significance. Some have crucifixes, others have pagan totems; I have my sacred coffee grinder and it certainly is a wholly relic in its own right (wholly my salvation each morning). Well worth worshipping the product it helps create, I think, since coffee, after all is GOD!
I went out early this morning, after scrubbing the accumulation of sweaty dreck off my body in the shower. Ever since talking to Frank about that strange happening at the old heiau, I had been meaning to go back there and do some further investigating into that place. Taking my camera, I drove east along Kam V Highway toward Murphy's Beach, traveling at the posted 35 mph speed limit and constantly having impatient locals zip up behind me at near twice the speed. Strikes me as more than slightly ironic on this ‘slow-mo’ island, that the locals are the most blatant violators of their own languid kapus against being in a hurry. I suspect that that these speeders in their jacked-up pickup trucks are not the long time native locals, but impatient haole malahini who have migrated to the east end within the past 10 years.
After a half hour or so I passed the 'Neighborhood Store & Counter' and reached Po'oku'u. The graveyard was supposed to be there somewhere, but I had no idea exactly where, so I finally ended up asking an old Kanaka (local native) who was walking on the makai side of the road where I might find it. Expecting pidgin patois, I was pleasantly surprised to find he spoke regular English (or close enough to it to be able to understand him without first straining the words through a #4 transliterative filter).
He directed me to the site, which was on the mauka side of the road, and not far from where we stood. After a short while I found the exit off the roadway and turned down the dusty road cut from the crumbled volcanic earth. The crunch of my tyres was the only sound that broke the stillness in that otherwise silent repository of human remains, and I parked under a large Koa tree at the distal end of the cemetery. Half expecting to feel some sort of strange sensation (due to an over-active anticipation, no doubt), I slowly walked down the rows of graves, taking care to not step on the graves themselves (I have these funny little attitudes about this, that I can't really explain...respect for the dead?). There weren't too many of them. Most appeared to be very old, with sadly withered floral arrays long since dried out in the sun; a good number had ancient wooden markers on which the names and dates had long since been weathered off. Large flies and bees droned here and there in the morning sun.
The graves were not arranged in neat, orderly rows, but appeared to lay scattered about. One section had children's graves clustered together. I recall having read that this was an ancient practice that was done to allow the spirits of the dead children to play together and thereby be less lonely in death. Some of the children were newborns, more than a few less than a day or two old, according to the markers that could still be read. Near the graves was an incongruous bright blue waster barrel with the large letters OIL emblazoned on its side.
A thorough search of the graves produced no grave identified as being that of a Corinne Popolohu Hu'elani, but the skeptic in me had half-expected this outcome. After taking a last look around, I walked the short distance back to the car. The sun was already getting noticeably hotter, despite the early hour (10 AM) and I found myself getting thirsty.
The old heiau was not far off, so I drove back to that point and parked. There was no one else about within eyesight as I walked up the slightly inclined slope to the crest of the mound and peered down at the heiau wall, with its nearby old and tattered hut, some 100 yards away. The volcanic rock (a'a, which is the crumbly, jagged type-as opposed to the rounded paho'eho'e type) under foot crunched satisfyingly as I walked over to the hut. The view to Maui across the Pailolo Channel was clear and beautiful, as always. On the east end of the reef, where the shallows ended and the deep lay nearer to shore, the waters varied from a lovely turquoise shade to the deepest cobalt-blue. The whiteness of the breaking surf was startling. I could see why this would be a favorite diving spot, and it was conveniently close to the dazzling stretch of sandy beach that lay just at the foot of the old heiau.
Someone had been in the water already, as the light impressions of vaguely discernable footprints leading to and from the water suggested. As I neared the old heiau I looked carefully around; part of me, hoped, but didn't really expect to see the figure of the strange young woman I had seen before. There was no surprise in store for me (sadly) as I sat down on the same bench I had originally been seated on, several days ago. The sun was by now shining fully on the spot and there was only the vague murmur of the surf, breaking on the reef beyond the lagoon, to interrupt the silence.
Suddenly, my gaze was arrested by something breaking the surface of the water, out in the lagoon near the reef's edge. It was definitely the flash of a dorsal fin; probably one of the small black-tipped reef sharks that sometimes come in close to shore. A 'mano', as the Hawaiians would term it. The fin was soon gone as quickly as it had appeared, however, and the small dark shadow accompanying it quickly vanished. The stillness persisted. Clearly this was not a day for unusual sightings that couldn't be explained. After 15 minutes or so, hoping that I was wrong, I grudgingly admitted to myself that Gunter had been pulling my leg, after all. Somehow I was being exposed to this joke as perhaps all newcomers must, by informal custom.
It was then that I spotted it. Out on the beach, along the track of those footprints from the heiau to the water and about halfway up from the edge of it, lay a shockingly purple flower of unusual size. It was quite large and I felt a little tingle of excitement as I walked over to it. The flower was still glistening with moisture. I picked it up and examined it more closely, all the while thinking somewhat perplexedly about how the color purple seemed to be a common thread running through all this. I turned the flower over, and registered the fact that it had veins of subtle, slivery-grey shading on the indigo under-surface of its velvety petals. That sent a slight shiver through me as I placed the flower back on the beach and gazed out at the lagoon. 'Another coincidence?' I thought, as I tried to dismiss the odds against this further strange turn of events. A recollection of the woman’s silver-streaked black hair flashed through my mind briefly.
Clearly, though, there was nothing more to be gained from lingering further, so I walked back to the car and drove slowly back west on Kam V Highway. Stopping en route at the 'Neighborhood Store and Counter', I walked in and picked up a chilled carbonated coffee drink from the cooler. The auntie at the counter had been chatting in an animated fashion with a local, as I waited to buy the item. The banter went on for an unusually long time, it seemed-probably trying to underscore a subtle point for the benefit of the haole tourist about what the local 'lay back' attitude concerning the flow of things is.
Finally, she waved goodbye to the local and turned to me, but the happy relaxed look was gone and instantly replaced by an 'Oh, one a dem' look. I decided to take a chance on being treated like an unwelcome haole and after paying for the drink asked "Good morning Auntie. Do you know anything about an old fish heiau, back there, that supposedly has a ghost?" Her look hardened immediately as she asked me why I wanted to know. She knew something; it was easy to see this, from the slight change apparent in her attitude, but she wasn't about to admit anything to a strange haole.
"A friend told me about a young woman who apparently died out there in the lagoon while diving, a few years ago. Some story about her ghost returning to that spot."
She looked hard at me for a few seconds before replying "Eh! Dat's jus one ole chicken-flesh story dey tell the keiki. Keep dem out of wattah dere. Not real."
I briefly told her about the girl, the purple flower, and what I had been told by others. She looked a little startled for just the briefest second, but said again. "No girl name a Corinne, no ghost. Jus one ole kine story, you know. We all Christians here; don believe any dat ole stuffs anymore; keiki chicken-flesh story, you know...das all."
Someone had come in and there was no further time to continue our conversation, for she had handed my change back to me and wished me a good day before turning to greet the new customer (a dark-skinned, older local Kanaka). "Hey ole Tom, wassup, bruddah?"
I drove back to K'kai, more bemused than ever and no further along the path towards any sort of resolution in my mind on the subject. After I got back I ran into Gunter on his old bicycle (this is how he gets around, since he lives on his boat) and told him what I had experienced earlier. He was on his way to the local community disadvantaged adult center, on the hill near Molokai General Hospital, where they operate a sort of continuous garage sale of old recycled items, and didn't stop very long.
"Well, I tell you that the woman was wrong. They don't want to admit these things to outsiders. She knows. And you say you saw a purple flower there today, didn't you? How do you explain that, eh? That woman at the Neighborhood Store may say she's 'Christian', but the old traditions out there on east end are not yet all dead. I introduce you sometime to a local guy who knows these things; doesn't allow himself to be called "Kahuna 'Ike Kuhohonu" ('seer' with deep spiritual insights), but he knows about these things. Later, eh!" Then Gunter was off, peddling up the street on the old bike and somehow managing to still look dignified, despite his trademark faded aloha shirt and dingy white ball cap.
No closer to any sort of understanding, I spent the following few hours reading through some more of my accumulation of books. In a very good collection of strange stories written by various authors about the Pacific islands, I ran across a quote by a very readable author (of the 30s and 40s) named Clifford Gessler. Gessler had been a journalist for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin back in the early 30s, before getting bored and running off to the South Pacific islands. In one of his stories, called ‘Phantoms and Physicians on Tepuka’, he strikes a resonant chord with the following excerpt: "Part of the celebrated lure of far-away and primitive places no doubt is a response to the boy in man; in such surroundings (as the Pacific islands), among child-like peoples, he regains the play-world of his childhood. Where the pursuits at which he played as a boy are the serious vocations of adults, he finds a satisfaction of some instinct as old as the childhood of his own race."
The truth of this simple statement of fact comes across quite clearly to those of us possessed of a more vivid imagination than others. I have long joked with friends about the fact that you 'scratch the man and find the boy'. I think it is a lucky woman who recognises, accepts, and is able to appreciate this inescapably latent quality in her husband, for aren't we all child-men (as opposed, say to perhaps ‘child-ren'?) in some manner or another, despite all our manly self-regard?
I decided to skip the bi-weekly email answering session at the local library and in the hot middle of the day I again ran into Gunter (Molokai is really just a very small 'community', after all). This time he found the time to take me to the house of a local named Joe, who was a traditional herb master in the old Hawaiian manner (he would have been called a 'Kahuna La'au Lapa'au'). Gunter assured me that Joe was also supposed to have additional gifts befitting one who is a ‘Kahuna Ninau 'Uhune’, or 'communicator of spirits', although that fact was not advertised widely, except in the local Kanaka circles.
When we arrived at his simple, old style single-walled home, Joe was sitting out back in a tattered old plastic deck-chair, sipping a beer under the shade of his car-port. He was somewhat portly, with a grey beard and long slender fingers that seemed somewhat out of character with the rest of his ample girth. The well-worn white tank-top he wore said HARD ROCK CAFÉ: SAIGON, in faded script. "Ho, Gunter! Wassup, bruddah?" He greeted us with the obligatory shaka, as he dispatched another dead soldier into the nearby waste can with the perfected aim of a sharpshooter. I decided that in addition to his ancient knowledge, he had also been 'in country' ('Nam slang for a tour in that war) at some time in the 70s.
Gunter introduced me and we both found cold beer cans thrust in our hands as we sat down on an old couch in the cool breeze-way. "So, Gunter tell me you meet da kine wahine lapu (ghost woman) at Pu'kuo fish heiau, den wen gon' way on you, hm? You mind me aks you wat she look like?"
Joe listened very attentively as I gave him the full extent of my observations, the pāreu, the purple suit top, the floral bracelet, dark hair with silver-grey streaks, and finally the large purple flower I had seen on the sand earlier in the morning. The mute testimony of several nearby empty beer cans seeming to have had absolutely no effect on his ability to concentrate, he listened carefully, observing me with a calm and steady gaze as I spoke. Joe certainly didn't look out of the ordinary to me...just another pot-bellied Kanaka...but his keen dark eyes told a different story. For my part, I certainly must have looked exactly as a pale-skinned haole should, as I finished up my story. Joe took another slow draw on his beer before replying.
"I tell you now dis wahine you see, not many see her. Dis no jokey stuffs, here. Dat wahine genuine akua lapu (ghost) at dat fish heiau. Mebbe um Hanehane, but good stuffs no pakalaki (bad luck) fo you. Dis wahine lapu seem like you or she not let you not see um." Joe shifted in his dilapidated old chair, took another draught, and thoughtfully scratched his ma'i for a minute with his other hand. "Should not bodda you, brah. Dat wahine lapu gotta rep foe be 'olu'olu akua lapu (gentle, unharmful spirit), mebbe even aumakua (ancestral or familiy spirit). Sum kine nani koki wahine lapu (beautiful ghost), eh? You aks me, I return dere, take La'i (Ti leaf) an put on beach, wheh befo you see flowa. Don take flowa wid you, if you see anudda dere, doh: dat be pomaika'i nui (very unlucky)!"
Gunter had been listening quietly as he worked on his own beer. There was no smile on his face and no indication that this was simply another phase of what might still be a complex and well rehearsed joke. When Joe had finished, I asked him about the missing grave.
"Ho, brah! Dat simple enuff. Dey no foun body wen dis wahine go stay missin’. She prolly join mano aumakua (‘shark ancestor’, protective family shark spirit) who out dat way. Wen take La'i, not hurt you say prayer: 'Auhea 'oe, e ke kanaka o ke akua, eia ka kāua wahi 'ai, ua loa'amaila mai ka pō mai; no laila nāu e 'aumakua mai i ka 'ai a kaua!' "
There was little to be said after that. Joe confirmed the wahine lapu existed and there's no reason to doubt that, since it all seems to add up in a strange (but very Hawaiian) sort of way. We downed another can of the now warm beer and took our leave after a bit, leaving the remainder of the 6-pack for Joe to polish off. Joe waved a parting shaka at us, but he was not smiling, either, I noticed. He seemed to be staring out at the distant bulk of Maui, across the channel.
The part about the purple top and the flower can't be explained away, but it is worthy of some reflective bemusement that I seem to have a ghostly friend who took a fancy to me on that lonely stretch of coast. I am not ashamed to admit I did in fact take a Ti-leaf offering and place it on the beach, where I saw the foot prints and purple flower. I had written down the prayer Joe suggested and I repeated it aloud when I placed the Ti-leaf there; there's that healthy streak of rebellious pagan heathen in me that really wants to believe what I saw was actually inexplicable by any means known to westerners; perhaps this experience is that 'white raven' I've always searched for. The Hawaiians, of course, believe in the importance of putting thoughts into spoken words—especially when praying.
Sooks, waiting for me back on the mainland, would be frightened to hear of any of this; she had warned me before I left specifically not to have anything to do with the old legends of the island, since she knows of my burning curiosity about such things. The woman I saw at the old fish heiau, whether real or not, was unquestionably beautiful and an interesting memory to take with me from Molokai. One final mystery also remains: according to Joe, who knows much about such things, there are no indigenous large purple flowers on Molokai, such as that I saw there in front of the old heiau...go figure, eh?
It's late in the afternoon now and the humidity is not as noticeable as it has been over the past two days. There are a few clouds starting to gather, as usual, but the breeze is enough to keep the heat from being oppressive. I had another of my cheap & dirty peanut-butter & jelly sandwiches (a perfect 'Sandwich Islands sandwich', it seems to me) and was able to successfully fend off the urge to eat that other apple-fritter (saving it for Friday).
I was staring at all my books just a few moments ago. That's a heavy load of stuff and I hope they won't hit me with a baggage surcharge, owing to it. I think about the fact that I only weigh about 160 pounds soaking wet and a number of other passengers (probably hefty local types) typically weigh twice that amount. Surely the combined weight of me and by books won't unduly exceed existing figures for the average passenger, in light of such a fact? Guess we won't know until the moment of truth at the Island Air ticket counter on Sunday.
Looking back over the past month or so, I am thinking that there isn't anything I couldn't have gained just as easily in two weeks here as I have in twice that amount of time. Except the lengthy bulk of this journal, which at this time is just about to exceed 100,000 words (exactly 98,889 words at this juncture). This will cost me about 160 hours of hard-earned vacation time, and since the water line installation didn't really require my presence over here to begin with, it may have been a bit of an extravagant excess on my part (not that I can't afford to spend those 160 hours, what with a grand total accrued of over 450 hours).
Aside from the strange experience at the old heiau, nothing I have seen or done here has really been too startling. It would have been more stimulating to have someone along with me, with which to share the time. Perhaps a gorgeous & ravishingly sensual female (like Sooks) to while away the hours with (but alas! I have to make do with the mere suggestion of one and you can't easily get it on with a ghost, can you?) would have helped a lot. Molokai remains, after all is said, read, and done, NOT a place high up on the list of ‘Sierra Hotel’ (note: military aviation slang for ‘Shit Hot’) singles watering holes (not that I normally or customarily play that game, as someone in a fulfilling relationship, of course). I didn't come here for that purpose, after all, since my main intent was to experience some long-overdue peace and quiet in which to read and write.
The wind is picking up a bit outside now and there is a lovely wind-chime that someone has hanging nearby. I keep thinking about all the hundreds of different kinds of flowers on the island. but the fact is that among them all (Molokai is, after all, a botanist's Fantasy Island) there are absolutely NO large, velvety purple blooms to be seen anywhere (a sudden outburst of "Look Boss: da flower, da flower, da flower!", followed by the scornful response in a deep Ricardo Montalban accent, runs through my head: "Oh shut up, Poo-poo, you disgusting little scum bag! Go out and meet the plane…).
The above is all true ; I'd swear it on a stack of Holy Korans any day.