story by Julia Steele
In the beginning there was a young Hawaiian artist, a blank canvas and a god: Solomon Enos began painting Kamapua‘a in 2004. Solomon was in the back of Nu‘uanu Valley when he started, on fire to push himself. He wanted to work on a new scale, take on a huge canvas, give birth.
And why not? The god he was painting is the ultimate symbol of birth—the manifestation of regeneration, the most fertile akua, or god, in the Hawaiian pantheon. Kamapua‘a is the one who makes love to the earth after Pele’s destruction, the procreator whose fecundity engenders new growth.
And so Solomon painted. Four days after he started, a family of wild pigs showed up, a mother and her piglets. It was a rare thing: People in the area had never seen pigs there before. And it was auspicious: Kamapua‘a, a legendary shape shifter, frequently takes the form of a pig.
The painting emerged. At its center is the god himself, powerful, vital, on the verge of movement. Is he preparing to go into battle? To chant? To transform himself? It’s impossible to tell but one thing is sure: He is about to act. He is crouched in a sea of taro—another life form he is known to assume—that casts a vivid green light. The light reflects up onto Kamapua‘a’s skin, giving it a green tinge that links god and taro in a glow of life. Behind Kamapua‘a a family of pigs moves through the field; to the side stands a massive eight-eyed pig, another manifestation of Kamapua‘a, this one as large and immovable as a mountain and gathering clouds against his kua, or backbone. The sky is filled with clouds. They are heavy and dark, and Kamapua‘a’s hair, wild and full, billows with them in the misty, foggy atmosphere. In contrast to the vibrant green below, everything in the upper part of the painting is black. But this, too, represents regeneration—from the oncoming rain and tracing all the way back to the Kumulipo, the Hawaiian creation chant, in which everything begins in po, in darkness. “That’s where life comes from,” says Solomon. “You plant a seed into darkness, and it seeks light.”