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Embracing Hawaiian kuleana

By Staff | Apr 11, 2013

Sixteen members of the Davis family pose for a photographer after the ceremony. No photos were allowed until then. PHOTO BY NORM BEZANE.

KAPALUA – Most of us not lucky enough to have been born here and many others go forward with our daily lives with little exposure to Hawaii’s rich culture beyond watching an occasional hula show. Sometimes when paying attention, there are opportunities to commune with the host Hawaiian spirituality in ways that will get you closer to what Hawaii Nei is all about.

On Easter Saturday, Sarah (Kale) Kaniaulono Davis (1797-1867), who was born 21 years after the arrival of Captain Cook and died just 32 years before the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, was remembered in the place now called Kapalua by 21 descendants of her six children brought together as part of The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua’s Celebration of the Arts.

Organized by Katherine Kama’ema’e Smith, author of a fictional account of the life of this ali’i of Honokahua, the tribute took place at a Davis family grave site surrounded largely by brush just a short distance from the Honoapiilani Highway entrance to Kapalua.

The ali’i in the stone-covered plot marks the resting place of the daughter of Nakai Nalima’alu’alu of Hawaiian royalty and the legendary Isaac Davis, one of two Caucasians retained by King Kamehameha to teach him about guns. Davis’ gunnery expertise helped King Kamehameha unify Hawaii.

One of the cornerstones of Hawaiian culture is the ability to recite family genealogy. When Davis relatives – ranging from a babe in arms to a 98-year-old – gathered on a rainless morning, they stood before an elaborate chart tracing the history of their last seven generations.

The occasion in conjunction with the resort’s Celebration of the Arts created an enhanced grave site with space cleared of brush, installation of a family gravestone and surrounding fence.

Kahu David Kapaku, who appears in two profiles in the book “Voices of Maui,” brought his usual eloquence to the site to preside over a brief ceremony, giving Native Hawaiians and newcomers added perspective on the culture.

Iokepa Nae’ole, brother of resort Cultural Director Clifford Nae’ole, first offered a simple ole, or pule (prayer), inviting everyone to hold hands and stand in a circle.

“Kepa” was there to ask permission of family ancestors, who he said were all around us in spirit, to enter the site. Rather than close eyes, we should look to the ‘aina (beloved land), sky and clouds; see what the birds might do and even watch for a sign.

If there is lightening, he noted, it is best to go home. The late Charlie Maxwell once told this columnist of the day an owl cried out in recognition of the last ‘iwi (bones) removed near the future resort.

Kahu David, whose ancestors have been here for 900 years, told some 50 family members and guests that the day was about genealogy – but not the past. The ceremony is about you, he told the family.

The missionaries created cemeteries, so their loved ones would know where they were buried, and they usually were positioned around churches, the minister said in remarks summarized here.

Hawaiians did it differently. Ali’i sometimes were buried in hidden locations, so their mana (life force) could not be dug up and transferred to others.

Kahu told the family it was their responsibility to know who they are as Hawaiians; to know that their identity is still in effect. They still have that responsibility, that kuleana.

The day before Easter, the minister observed that many families here have a Hawaiian side and a Christian side, and each is about resurrection.

In a sense, Sarah has been resurrected today, and the family has become resurrected, because some of you never knew she was here. This is the definition of Easter. Our lineage goes way back. We ask that family members remember where they came from, for this is their identity.

The 21 descendants now living on three islands were brought inside the circle to have their hands placed in wai (water) from a wooden bowl to have them blessed. They were told they were declaring to their family that they would not forget.

One by one, adults and their children moved forward to wash their hands, dip a cup into the bowl and sprinkle wai on the grave (each in silence, except for the sound of the clattering of cup and the tiny splashes).

Another inspirational day for those privileged to live in paradise.

Columnist’s Notebook: A fictional account of the life of Kale Davis appears in Smith’s remarkably well-researched book called “The Love Remains” available at Barnes & Noble. Smith, who played an essential role in the ceremony, will be the subject of a future column. Feel free to e-mail me at norm@voicesofmaui.com.