I wake up this morning at 6AM and get ready for the day. Unfortunately, I don’t start soon enough and leave the house without snacks or sunscreen. On the way to the bus stop I see a family of ducklings crossing the street and whip out my phone to record their jaunt. As soon as the phone is out they all start walking toward me and squeeking! One look at mama-duck has me on my way, though. I have to run to catch the bus as it pulls into the station again (I’m still underestimating how long it takes me to walk .7 miles to the stop).
I get off near the Kailua YMCA where the Japanese girl’s tour bus will pick us up to drive us on a tour. I still am not sure what the tour will be like at this point. I had assumed it was a tour of Kailua downtown or something. One of the girls sees me walk by the bus and waves me over. She says, “aloha,” and we kiss cheeks. Soon the bus is on its way. A woman, about 30, sits down next to me and we talk quite a bit throughout the drive. She is fascinated by my project and asks if it is for a graduate program. I tell her no and she is even more impressed. I learn that she has two daughters, 5 and 7 and that her friend got her a ticket on this tour so she doesn’t really know anyone either.
We get out at our first stop and are told that we will be going to four heiaus today. A heiau can be built for several different purposes, but all of them are marked with stones which have been carried by hand to the location. They were built by the ancient Hawaiians and many of them are being preserved today. In 1819 after the Hawaiian religion was destroyed many were deliberately ruined, while others have just fallen into disrepair. Each heiau is built as a place to ask different things of the gods. The first heiau is up a small hill they tell us. As we walk up the street I hear a girl from behind me ask, “You’re a theta?” I turn around and she points to her friend, “She’s a theta too.” The woman she is pointing to was one of the girls who was so kind to tell me what to expect when I went down to the ulupo heiau on the night of the private ceremony. It’s comforting to know I have sisters here in Hawaii too.
We walk along the street up to the entrance to some woods. I look down at my flip flops. O well, onward and upward. It starts out pretty tame and the hills aren’t too steep, then suddenly we are in the depths of the woods climbing up a very steep, wet, and slippery trail covered with leaves. I can hear my dad’s voice in my head saying I didn’t wear appropriate footwear. O well, onward and upward. I make it to the top without falling, although a few of the older women do. About half of the group is wearing flip flops and roughly all of the group didn’t know what exactly we would be doing today. Some go barefoot, but I make it up with my shoes.
When we get to the entrance of the heiau the group chants together. Myself and some of the family of one of the girls don’t know the words and just listen. When the chant is finished they place a lei as an offering on the structure. We are told there are buried bodies underneath the heiau and that we are walking on sacred ground. Our tour guide asks for a blessing on us and we continue into the space. The tour guide tells us about their preservation efforts and we can see that a large portion of the heiau is overgrown.” All the weed pulling has to be done by volunteers,” she tells us. She tells us some of the legends associated with this heiau in particular and we get a chance to look around.
It doesn’t seem like too long before we are going back down the slippery path to the van. By the time we get back it is already 11. We continue on to our next heiau, my favorite of the day. This heiau doesn’t require any bushwhacking and is much better maintained. We are told this heiau was used for human sacrifice. They sing their chant again before we enter and then we follow the Kumu Hulas in and watch as some girls place the lei offerings here. This heiau is called Heiau of One Thousand Drums so the girls do their drumming piece. They line up in front of the structure and tie the small drums to their right knee. They chant and dance together and the woman from the heiau is almost in tears. She says she has never seen this piece in this location (where it was meant to be danced). We are shown around this heiau also and after an even shorter time they sing their farewell chant and we’re back on the bus.
At this point it’s about 12:30 and everyone is famished. I would have thought we would go to eat lunch now, but no such luck. Instead we go on to the third heiau which is within a wildlife preserve. As we follow the guide through we learn more about animals and plants than we do about heiaus, but it is a beautiful area. They are similarly trying to preserve the area by going through to remove invasive species. Our guide asks us why we think they also replant some of the few native Hawaiian plants. When no one offers the correct answer he says, “These plants were here when the first Hawaiians arrived and they effected the way the culture and the people developed. If we lose these plants entirely we are losing the Hawaiian identity.” That’s why it is so important for them to preserve the area. He says that this kind of work, clearing and deweeding on spiritual ground is said to strengthen your mana (or personal strength) as well and there are many groups who come throughout the week who come to help out.
It pours rain for about 4 minutes now and the woman next to me offers me half of her shawl to hide underneath and just as soon and quickly as it started it stops. I am starting to feel like I’m on Lost. We walk around the grounds and learn about some of the legends of the space and the work that is done to preserve the area. As we are walking a woman from behind me asks, “Where are you a theta?” It turns out she is a theta too and she tells me how thetas here meet every week for Theta Thursday events. She asks for my email and says she’ll forward my name on to them. She is very kind and we say we will take a picture together later in the day, although it never happens.
Back on the bus I am starting to get shaky. It’s about 2:00, the time the tour was supposed to end, and we have not eaten yet. It’s not looking promising. The woman sitting next to me is a little upset that she will have to miss her favorite heiau at Ulupo, the biggest, because she has to pick up her daughters. Maybe she notices I am getting shaky, maybe she just feels bad that we haven’t eaten yet, but in any case, she pulls some healthy snacks out of her bag and offers them to me. She lets me eat as much as I want and I start to gain some of my strength back. She says she can’t get her kids to eat these snacks so usually she just ends up eating them herself.
When we arrive at the third stop she heads off to her car, and I start for a little while to see the ritual at the Ulupo. The girls do their PBC pipe number along the edge of the heiau and, unfortunately I have to leave before the little tour in order to catch my bus, but we’ve been given pamphlets that I will be able to read later. The street seems a lot longer on my way back home, but soon I’ll be back at my doorstep.