story by Sally-Jo Keala-o-Anuenue Bowman
photos by Monte Costa
Three a.m. Kailua, Oahu in mid-November 2003. Winter rains began two weeks ago.
Kapono Souza, near west
Oahu's Makua Valley during
his annual walk around the island.
Kapono Aluli Souza sets out in the stormy dark from Ulupo heiau on the second leg of his annual huakai, or voyage, that will snake around the entire island of Oahu. His journey is modeled on the ancient annual observance of Makahiki, the Hawaiian new year and season of peace, a time long gone when chiefs and priests representing Lono made four-month walking circuits of their islands.
This night, as Kapono walks, he carries an eighteen-foot staff topped with a carved stone image of the ancient god Lono. White banners, symbol of Lono, hang from the cross piece.
A man appears from nowhere and starts walking beside him.
"He was a practitioner of lua, the Hawaiian martial art," remembers Kapono months later. "At Waimanalo, the strong Kona winds blew out our camp, but he stayed. He found a piece of turtle shell there, and that was his hookupu, his offering, to Lono. Then he disappeared. I never knew his name."
For Kapono, such occurrences—less and less unusual—are pieces in the puzzle as he seeks his true purpose in life and a solid identity as a Hawaiian. Makahiki is the frame he is using to put the pieces together.
As a child, Kapono knew little of Makahiki, and in that he was like most people in the Islands: It had been too many generations since anyone had celebrated the season for it to be known. Instead, in the huge family of Kapono’s maternal tutu, or grandmother, famed Hawaiian composer Irmgard Farden Aluli, the emphasis was on music. Yet Kapono never learned to play an instrument, and he grew up marked by asthma, a sickly child unable to play sports. When he couldn’t breathe—at times he thought he was dying—his tutu would calm him with lomilomi, the Hawaiian healing art of massage.