Thursday, November 20, 2014, 5:15 am. Honoka‘a Park. Silence and darkness. The waning crescent moon hung brightly in the east, points up. Luminous stars shone bright against the black Hawaiian sky, and we took time to appreciate the early morning constellations.
A few figures moved in the faint light of flashlights on top of the hill. We climbed, slipping on the wet grass, approaching the group. Men quietly murmured as they worked to erect a large black bamboo pole, and, in the darkness, something struck another object with a loud clang
Women in sweaters covered with kihei gathered, feeling the cool predawn breeze against their cheeks, softly talking in small groups and pairs. Indistinct whispers floated on the air. As we moved closer and recognized friends in the darkness, soft “alohas” and hugs passed among us. More people climbed the hill and joined the group, waiting, watching. Neighborhood roosters crowed just as a faint light appeared on the horizon of distant gray trees. Clouds hugged the horizon to the north and east, now visible in the new light.
Men raised the pole as the sky began to brighten. The moon’s luminosity faded. A muslin cloth hung on the cross-piece, reminiscent of draped crosses seen at Easter. The large white cloth moved freely in the soft breeze, a symbol of Lono i Ka Makahiki often shortened to Lono, bringing the winter clouds laden with rain to feed the ‘āina, the time of the Makahiki. The pole stood witness in the park until the runners circled the island and returned four days later. We were invited to leave a symbol of hope, aloha, or gratitude.
Three conch shells called out, breaking the quiet and signaling the beginning of the pule – the prayer ceremony for the Makahiki run. Four calls: east, south, west, north; the group rotated with each call.
Lanakila Mangauil offered a coconut bowl of Hawaiian salt to each person present. Salt purifies, cleanses. We felt the salt’s rough edges dissolving slowly in the mouth, and tasted it deliberately and thoughtfully.
Lanakila began drumming. Beautiful Hawaiian prayers with now familiar melodies and cadences rose on the morning air. Then Pitt River Indian prayers, haunting in their unfamiliar vocalization and rhythms, floated on the breeze. The Lord’s prayer followed, the only prayer that Jesus taught us directly. All prayers were welcome. Prayers for the ‘āina, prayers for healthy minds and bodies, prayers for ‘ohana and community. Lanakila clearly stated his intention: the run itself is a prayer: Aha Pule ‘Aina Holo.
Then he introduced the Lono staff to be carried in the island run. Hewn and carved the previous week, it wore a tapa cloth cloak hand-made in Maui. It already carried much mana. The Pitt River Indian guests introduced two staffs they brought with them for the run. The first was the staff of the elders, made 22 years ago for the first Pitt River Ancestor Run, the inspiration for this prayer run around the Big Island. It was made from elderberry and adorned with feathers and medicines; we learn that Lanakila had given one of the attached items during his run with them in 2004, one of four he made with these friends. Today they were here to run with him. The other was the staff of the nephew of one of the Pitt River runners, now “running with us from the other side.” His uncle would carry it in the Aha Pule ‘Aina Holo, holding it high, just as the nephew did during ancestral runs in years past.
The sun was finally up and just behind the low clouds on the horizon. Lanakila handed the Lono staff to the first standard bearer. A handful of runners, including Lanakila, accompanied him down the hill. The rest of the runners piled into relay cars to be dropped off miles down the road. They planned to reach Volcano that night, 73 miles away.
Chanting them on their way until we could no longer see them, the rest of us could not bring ourselves to go home just yet. Quiet enveloped us again, bringing introspection, full hearts, and gratitude. We understood the importance of this moment. We knew in our bones that this was the beginning of a new awakening on the island, just as Lanakila intended. Aha Pule ‘Aina Holo, a prayer moving throughout the land, had begun.
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