Being Party to a Chant
Last Friday I found myself standing in the middle of a muddy field as a light rain fell. All around me kids were working – or putting forth lots of effort as they tried to look like they were working. The kids had, for the last six weeks, participated in a Hawaiian cultural program and today we were prepping for their ho‘ike, a gathering to share the knowledge they’d gained.
Some of us erected tents to protect the guests from the intermittent rain while others tended to the imu, or underground oven. Kids cleared the area of debris, gathered banana stalks (to be turned into plates for the evening meal), and I taught some of the kids to make pu‘olo. Mind you, until an hour before, I hadn’t known how to make these ti leaf bundles filled with vegetables for the imu, but this is no surprise. It’s kind of an expectation that once a person learns a skill, they pass it on.
Then, over the noise of our activity, we caught the sound of a chant. The frenetic buzz of preparation stopped almost instantly. At the base of a hill, the entrance to the ho‘ike site, stood a man lifting his voice in spine tingling chant. Very few of the people on hand were fluent in Hawaiian, but it was clear that this chant was one of greeting, with the visitor asking permission to enter the site. The chant commanded our attention, as kids who, moments before couldn’t contain themselves, stood still, respectfully listening to this time honored tradition of Hawaiian protocol. And as tradition requires, Makua, the leader of our group responded in kind, chanting his permission and message of welcome to the visitor in Hawaiian.
The guest entered, the kids returned to work (or pretending to), and the rain came again. But I stood for a moment more, absorbing the energy of those chants as it echoed from the trees.
(Photo credit: Perfect Box)