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)

20 thoughts on “Being Party to a Chant

  1. I love the sound of Hawaiian and this sounds like it was a magical moment!

  2. There’s a word in French to fit the way this post made me feel: depayser. To get a total change of scene. That is what this post did for me today, so thank you. I cannot travel and needed this.

    Love the packets of vegetables. Could you perhaps post the recipe?

  3. Oh, beautiful – and I’m with Alexandra. Transported. I only wish I could hear for myself!
    Christine recently posted..Home birth in Japan

  4. What a wonderful moment in time. There’s nothing that is better for transporting you than being exposed to something mesmerizing and totally new.

  5. There really is something to chant–something that is more than either the meaning of the words or the sound. I think it’s the vibrational energy that is so mesmerizing.
    Alisa Bowman recently posted..I’m Donating My Birthday to Charity

  6. Alexandra, the recipe is simple – it’s the oven that’s hard work! We simply placed raw vegetables like onions, Hawaiian sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and carrots in each packet of ti leaves and wrapped them up. Those were placed in the imu and all the food was covered with more layers of ti and banana leaves – and then dirt. It’s quite a process. Someday I will post about it (preferably with photos, though!).

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  8. Thanks for sharing your experience so thoughtfully, Kris.I’ve experienced chant as permission to enter and focusing the energy of those present in several circumstances — this one especially brought experience with the Native peoples of northern New Mexico to mind.
    Kerry recently posted..Highlands history in song

  9. Sounds like so much fun! I’d love to see more photos

  10. Years ago I reported a story that took me to American Indian Pow-Wows all over the country. The chanting makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up, it’s so powerful, and if I hear it today it takes me back instantly.
    Melanie Haiken recently posted..Chicago the Cycling City

  11. @Alice, they were filled with vegetables; essentially the ti leaves become a cooking vessel.

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