Hawaiian Culture and the Dome

Part of the start of our mission that I haven’t gone over yet was the geological and cultural training day. Both of these were very interesting, though I’m only really going to discuss the cultural training. The geological portion was very cool, but there’s only so many pictures I can put up here of previously melted rock before even I get bored of it. Suffice to say, the first half of the day was us running around even more sharp rock, seeing calderas, and generally enjoying being on very weirdly shaped landscapes.

I’m more interested in the cultural training portion of the day because it’s a part of Hawaiian culture that I simply never get to see, and I’ve lived here for some seven years at this point. I have many friends who are at least part Hawaiian, have grown up here, and I still almost never see a bit of what I would call….oh, the intimate side of the culture. You will of course see the local hand signals, get alohas, and I don’t think there’s a single person out there who doesn’t have a very bright shirt covered in flowers. A sweeping generalization to be sure, and perhaps I missed more than I realized due to being forever trapped in school, but I feel like I’ve had almost no exposure to beliefs, personal history, stories about the Gods and Goddesses, the way that the culture really lives at a deep level in peoples lives, not just the daily stuff you see everywhere.

We were given a very interesting overview of Pele by Koa Rice, a local Hawaiian who from what I can see knows pretty much everything you can know about the culture, history, religion and society today of Hawaiians. I should also mention that that is a shortened version of her name, as her full name is even tougher to spell than mine is. Nicknames are the best anyways. The lecture covered a brief summation of Pele’s history, who is the Goddess of the fiery creation of new land, aka volcanoes, and is thus culturally very closely tied to our work and new place of residence. We’re not in a meadow after all, we’re right on the side of one of Pele’s latest creations and the significance of that needs to be clearly understood by all of us. We’re living someplace extremely special and we need to understand that so we can treat the mountain with the respect it deserves.

So I enjoyed the lecture, but I’m a big fan of any woman that likes to make stuff and plays with fire, creative types are my favorite. In my head she’s the architect of the Hawaiian islands, I mean how awesome is that?

What I enjoyed more than that was our blessing ceremony. There are a lot of words used in the event and to describe the event that I simply don’t know, but if you’d like to learn them I’m sure you’ve got the resources. My own internet is blocked up here of course, so I can’t go researching anything I like. But I hope you do! It’s a really fascinating ceremony, you should always learn all you can.

Long view of the offering table where we were assembling the Ti leaf packages. Photo is by Christiane Heinicke, another crew member who remembered to bring a camera.
Long view of the offering table where we were assembling the Ti leaf packages. Photo is by Christiane Heinicke, another crew member who remembered to bring a camera. You can also see Cyprien and I going through the offerings at the end of the table, with our very amazing Ti leaf necklaces. In the foreground you can see kukui nuts, taro, kava dust, sugarcane, you name it.

But back to topic! What this essentially was was a ceremony of offerings, where we took several traditional items that were all representative of various parts of Hawaiian culture, and created packages of them wrapped in Ti leaves, which if I recall correctly give protection. Included were hand made Ti leaf necklaces for each of us, which I was quite thrilled about because I’ve always been far more drawn to them than to leis. And it only feels real when it’s given unasked by another, you know? That’s actually a large portion of my interest in this event. You’re supposed to come across these sorts of culturally intimate things by being invited, it’s not something you can just go to. When someone is ready for you to know something, they’ll tell you. And getting to do this ceremony, being offered Ti leaves and getting to make my own offering for Pele, made me feel a lot closer to my varied friends around the island who are much more a part of this culture than I am. Having not seen them for a year due to living in China, and now missing another year by living in the dome, anything I can get that makes them feel closer is doubly important.

Close up of one of the Ti leaf bundles, almost ready to go. Another fantastical shot by Christiane.
Close up of one of the Ti leaf bundles, almost ready to go. Another fantastical shot by Christiane.

The objects we placed in the Ti leaf offerings were super interesting; raw sugarcane, kukui nuts, sea salt, kava powder, and some of the freshest coconut you’ve ever had in your life, among other things. We all spent more than half the time building offerings eating the sugarcane, it’s like the first candy the world ever made. As we sorted through the items we each picked up small amounts of each, and over several trips sprinkled or placed the items into the open Ti leaf bundles, just trying to soak in the good energy of the event and concentrate it in these offerings. It’s all about Mana. Then we each helped to use a Ti leaf rope to tie up each bundle, before heading over to the main caldera in Volcanoes National Park that never seems to stop smoking and trembling. If there’s any place on the island that Pele is currently hanging out, it’s here. You almost wonder if you’d see her if you could ever get close enough to the edge of the lowest caldera, that one that glows at night, and peer in.

Ok now it's ready to go, just had to tie it up and make sure we each put a little something in every bundle. All these pics are from Christiane, but don't worry, I made sure she put some stuff in each one too.
Ok now it’s ready to go, just had to tie it up and make sure we each put a little something in every bundle. All these pics are from Christiane, but don’t worry, I made sure she put some stuff in each one too.
Making some of the cord that was used to tie each package, the same process is used to create the necklaces we were given.
Making some of the cord that was used to tie each package, the same process is used to create the necklaces we were given.

Once we arrived, we ducked under the ropes keeping people away from the cliff edge (loved that) and went straight to the main edge of the caldera. It was…very far down, and the plains below were all smoking with little pits of gases erupting here or there. Farther off you could see the main hole that glows at night, when the plume coming out of it would let you anyways. Here we were fortunate enough to have Koa give her blessing in Hawaiian (she can really do some crazy stuff with her voice when she sings!) and she carefully put the first blessing on the edge of the caldera. The two we had left were similarly placed by those who were holding them at the time (I was not so fortunate) and we simply enjoyed being there in the moment for awhile. It was enough that you almost forgot those irritating cameras that’d been following you around all week. Wouldn’t have minded if they’d buggered off for this one, but what can you do. I still have my Ti leaf necklace, hanging on my door in the upstairs of the hab. I will likely keep it for many years, till there comes a time or person or place that feels like the moment to hand it off to someone else. It’s one of my favorite things I’ve got with me here, and I’m still thrilled to have been included in everything related to it.

Koa giving us a quick lecture on the process of everything she was about to do, the meaning of it, and then singing her blessings to the volcano. She can sing WAY better than I can. You can see Andrzej and Christiane were the crew members who would place our blessings on the edge after her prayer.
Koa giving us a quick lecture on the process of everything she was about to do, the meaning of it, and then singing her blessings to the volcano. She can sing WAY better than I can. You can see Andrzej and Christiane were the crew members who would place our blessings on the edge after her prayer.
Offering on the edge, you can get an idea of how very far down it is, and way off in the distance is the still active main caldera, sunk into the floor of this valley.
Offering on the edge, you can get an idea of how very far down it is, and way off in the distance is the still active main caldera, sunk into the floor of this valley.

Oh another fun little addition, once we were finished at the volcano we all headed to a very respectable Thai restaurant on island and had a grand time with pad thai, curry, and margaritas. I realize those aren’t Thai, but they were lilikoi so who’s complaining right? Koa came along and told stories, gave massages, and we were generally that loud and over exuberant table that everyone gets irritated by, but secretly wish they were at. Amazing pad thai too, only place I’ve had better was actually in Bangkok outside of a slum. The restaurant was incredibly poor, but man…the food!

Thai food! It was also Andrzej's birthday, so he got a ridiculously rich chocolate pie thing. Most authentic pad thai this side of Chiang Mai too. And yes, Christiane took this photo too, she's a sniper with a camera.
Thai food! It was also Andrzej’s birthday, so he got a ridiculously rich chocolate pie thing. Most authentic pad thai this side of Chiang Mai too. And yes, Christiane took this photo too, she’s a sniper with a camera.

So it was a very amazing experience, something you don’t quite know how to understand, even when you’ve had two weeks now to ponder on it. I actually feel ever so slightly privileged to have gotten to see that side of the culture, and it’s made me care even more about a place that has slowly been becoming a second home over the years, to say nothing of all the people I adore who live here. I’ve always enjoyed traveling, checking out local cultures and seeing how they view the world, but the Hawaiian culture and its deep love of the land is a favorite. If any of you visit, keep an open (and respectful) mind, and get out of Waikiki or the resorts, and go find some real Hawai’i. You won’t regret it.

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3 thoughts on “Hawaiian Culture and the Dome

  1. I was deeply touched by your account of the Pele story and ceremony. It helps me remember that all cultures have stories of wonder, beauty, and reverence for the world in which they live.

    Fondly..Grandma Smith

    Like

    1. Hi Grandma!
      I’m glad you liked it, I’ve always been really interested in the local culture but never had the chance to participate in it like that, it was really special. I’ll tell you more about it once I’m back on Earth!

      Like

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