As Tūtū Pele encroaches upon the Pōhakuloa Training Center, Hawai’ians are celebrating. Mauna Loa is erupting, and with it Tūtū Pele brings change. The goddess takes the Land Back, nothing can stop her. And in it, we can hear Dr. Huanani Kay Trask shouting, we are not American, we are not American, we will die as Hawaiians. Kū e, kū e, kū e.
My family comes from an auspicious marriage between a British privateer, Captain a George Charles Beckley and the Hawai’ian Chiefess Ahia, five generations ago under the auspices of King Kamehameha himself. My grandmother was Ramona Joy Kanoelani Beckley, the daughter of George Charles Beckley and Elizabeth Kanoelani Nalua’i, a royal woman indeed. Growing up hapa in California led me to be very disconnected from my lineage, and made me question the very idea of our connection to the Ali’i. A Hawai’ian with white skin is a thing to observe indeed, but I pray to the gods to show me the way.
Not far from the Pōhakuloa Training Center, beneath the long shadow of the mountain, and under the gaze of the goddess Poli’ahu, I proposed to my wife near a tree littered with animal bones. The spirits of those creatures lingered there, we could feel their eternal prescience haunting the land like wistful specters, benevolent and natural. They lived amongst the barrack like structures of the Mauna Kea Recreation Center, a different type of haunting ghost that litters the land like bullets.
We had taken a tour to sky gaze on Mauna Kea, but the sky was closed. The snow goddess turned us away. Our guide was a haole, he insisted the thirty meter telescope should be built there to bring jobs to the Hawai’ian people. For science. For the economy, he said. We knew better, we kept our voices silent, but our kūpuna knew our hearts. The overthrow of the Hawai’ian monarchy was an international crime, a coup to solidify the grip of the American empire in the Pacific.
When we our powerless, our goddess steps in to protect us. Tūtū Pele speaks for us now where we remained quiet. We utter our sacred pule to the goddess, ever so silently under the stream of media, the pundits that bark in the news, as our people speak of hope.
Nevertheless, I felt rejected by the goddess of the snow. I wanted to propose on the peak of the mountain, Mauna Kea, the birthplace of the Hawai’ian people and the tallest mountain on earth from the bottom of the sea to the top of the sky. In the tour ride down to Hilo, we held a dual sense of joy and disappointment: we were engaged, but in a manner different than I had imagined. Under the spattering of warm Hilo rain, I meditated upon the mountain. I asked the goddess for recourse, I wondered why she had rejected me. Why was I not allowed to see the snow covered peak of Mauna Kea, the birthplace of our people?
In my silent contemplation with the goddess, she told me to visit her sister Tūtū Pele at Kilauea first. Poli’ahu would reveal herself only after I sought the guidance of her sister. We ventured out for our morning coffee in the foggy rain, and stumbled upon an Oracle deck in the Hilo shops called Mana Cards: The Power of Hawaiian Wisdom. Skeptical, I did a card pull and sure enough She arrived, I pulled the card for Pele.
We took a night venture to the volcano through the rainy jungle air, playing Gabby Pahinui and Mark Kealiʻi Hoʻomalu, to my Auntie’s chagrin at the latter. She is a kumu hula, a teacher of the old traditions and ways of thinking. We entered Kilauea National Park, a curious sight to see Ranger hats guarding something that doesn’t belong to them, making sure that Kanaka have to pay the state to see their gods.
We drove past vents of steam rising from the ground, going toward the heavens where the Pueo flies with eternal grace. The caldera opened before us as we stepped out to greet Her. The night sky fell upon the volcano, and that’s when she began to dance. The goddess writhed in the red glow of flame, the magma caldera holding the most sacred woman in a plume of heat. She rose a hundred feet above the ground, glowing in the ember of the moon. I imagined my people sitting on that path watching intently as the goddess gave church, her sermon of the wild way under the guidance of the stars and moon. We chanted to her in call and response, words whose meanings I do not understand. But these words have informed my life since I was a child, cooking with my family during my auntie’s luau’s.
We drove over the mountain pass, and the peak evaded us still. We were married on a beach in Kona with five people as witnesses. The sea turtles beached beside us, the conch was blown, and we exchanged rings. I called upon our ancestors to witness our union something new and something sacred. Our child Koa Malulani was born many months later, carrying the torch of his grandmother. He was likely conceived in Hilo, under the slow pattern of rain drops falling from the misty ocean sky.
In the morning, the sky opened, the sea fog was swept out to the ocean. And the peak stood bare and snowy in the light of the island sun. The goddess revealed herself. And in ignorance I thought her revelation was complete. There was a sense of awe and wonderment at the sight, mixed with the deep confusion of witnessing the metal telescopes standing tall there on sacred ground. Their round domes looked like the bent backs of men who feel shame for what they had done.
It was time to go home. After all there are more Hawai’ians living in California than on the islands. Tourism is the economic model of the illegal state of Hawai’i. Hawai’ians are priced out of their own homes, banished from their ancestral homeland to live abroad like ghosts in a house where they don’t belong.
Once again we drove over the mountain rode. We saw the shacks of the mountain protectors, erected in protest as a home away from home to prevent the building of the thirty meter telescope. I saw the altar that they erected there and made an abrupt u-turn to the surprise of my passengers. The altar was erected in lava rock, bedecked in ti leaves, mangos, and flower leis. I offered obeisance and bowed in reverence. The Ki’i stared menacingly, daring any wrong doers to enter that place with ill intention. I noticed a banner caught on its wooden stave. I reached up to unfurl the banner, and then the goddess showed her stormy face.
The sleet of hail poured down on our heads, dropping rocks of snow like ice upon us in torrents. The hail pelted us as we ran back to our car. Poli’ahu had made herself known to us in that moment. She did not let us on the peak, but she let us into hear icy hearth fire. My journey on the island was complete, I saw the dueling sisters Pele and Poli’ahu, their dance of ice and fire in the glory of the Hawai’ian islands. And the Big Island became a new home, a place of refuge, a place where I experienced the goddess as an animating consciousness like no place I had ever seen before.
And as Tūtū Pele erupts from Mauna Loa, I offer my humble obeisances to her new plan. I pray that she melts down the bullets and the bombs of that land and covers them with earth. The earth does not belong to men, it belongs to Her. She decides how it will grow and evolve, who will live and who will die. She is the goddess, the animating principle, and Her magma moves to cover the land, building new islands as it cools. We cannot control Her. Our only hope is to surrender, to pray, and to observe the wonderment of Her manifestation as the consciousness of the very Earth itself.
Woman of the Snow
On the Hilo side, the island
smelled like never ending rain
falling like quarters tossed
Into a lovely Koi pond,
little fins erupting from the surface
Well I was stunned by orchid lei
I prayed to Poli’ahu
Can I see the snowy mountain
Without the thirty meter telescope?
A white man told me
The scope was good for jobs,
But my Mother tells me no.
I proposed under that mountain
Obscured by fog
Near the tree of bones
Littered with remains.
There, the snow woman
Turned me from the peak
And back down to the rain
The tarot told me Pele
And we took the night ride
Singing Ho’omalu and Pahinui
On the way
My Mother danced there
Made of magma fire
And we chanted her names in flame
Mai Kahiki ka wahine, o Pele,
Mai ka aina i Pola-pola,
Mai ka punohu ula a Kane,
From the red cloud of Kane,
From the red cloud of Kane
In the church of rock and steam
Mother may I meet your sister
The goddess of ice and snow?
In the morning the cloud parted
I could see the snow there,
from ocean floor to mountain top
Mauna Kea, our holy birth place,
where the ocean floor touches the sky
the Ti leaves rustle in the wind
We took Pu’eo’s road to Kona
Her protectors lived there
in shacks of metal and scraps.
We stopped to give obeisance
to the alter of magma rocks
Ki’i, ti leaves, and mangos
The banners blew in the wind,
the Union jacks and mountain flags
I unfurled a banner
trapped upon its stave,
and She came there in torrents of sleet,
the hail poured its ice upon us
Poli’ahu, woman of the snow,
I have seen your face in the clouds
And I see you Nana, too, Kupuna
Grandmother in the Sky.