The Kahuna

In the Fall of 1996, Jill and I were drawn into connection with a Hawaiian elder named Hale Kealohalani Makua. Through his mother’s lineage, this kahuna wisdomkeeper was a seventh generation descendent of King Kamehameha and his third wife Kahaku Ha’a Koi Wahine Pi’o. Through his father, he was a seventh generation descendent of High Chief Keoua Kuahu’ula, the son of High Chief Kalaniopu’u, making Hale Makua’s genealogy exceptional, to say the least. 

In Polynesia, genealogy is everything, and Makua, as he was generally known, was recognized as a kahuna elder and as a high chief all over the oceanic world. The Hawaiian word kahuna implies mastery, and Makua was the keeper of an extraordinary and possibly unequaled body of knowledge. He was also a warrior, a mystic, a sage, and an accomplished shaman. 

On the last day of 1996, Makua took us to the vast caldera of Kilauea in what is today known as Volcano National Park on southeastern side of the Big Island. As we walked together along a ridge called Uwe Kahuna, 500 feet above the frozen lake of stone in the vast crater below us, he paused at a particular place and began to chant in Hawaiian. 

He was calling in the spirits of his ancestors to witness our meeting, extending an invitation as well to the volcano spirit Pele whose traditional place of residence, Halema’uma’u, was directly below us. It was there that our friendship took root and began to grow.

The Gift

Toward the end of that long day, Makua suddenly and unexpectedly gave us a gift--a simple Hawaiian bowl fashioned of kamani wood. “This is your bowl of light,” he intoned with dignity. “This light is the essence that you brought into this life, a gift from your ‘aumakua, your higher self which divided itself.”

He looked thoughtful as he turned the bowl this way and that. “As we pass through life, things happen. Sometimes we take things that don’t belong to us; sometimes we injure others through our words, our thoughts, or our actions; sometimes we achieve success at the expense of the failure of others. Whenever such things happen, we step into the negative polarity and some of our light goes out.”

He smiled wistfully as he finished his thought, “Each time we do this, it is like we put a stone into our bowl… (long pause). Eventually our bowl fills up with stones, and no light is forthcoming anymore.”

The kahuna elder turned to us in the twilight, “Hopefully, we come to realize what we are doing before it fills completely. Do you know what you do then?” He abruptly burst into laughter, his full gray beard and long white hair quivering with mirth around his dark face. He flipped the bowl over deftly and shook it. “You dump it out!” More laughter shared by us all. Then his gaze turned serious once again.

“When that we come to realize what we have been doing, we begin to live our lives differently. And it is then, precisely then, that we start to walk our path as spiritual warriors.”

The Three Kapus

The elder looked us over slowly. “As spiritual warriors, our path is narrow, and it is constrained by three kapus, three sacred directives. Since you have reached that place of knowing, I can offer these three kapus to you…

Love all that you see, with humility…
Live all that you feel, with reverence…
Know all that you possess, with discipline.

In those moments, surrounded by flowering ‘ohia trees, scrubby ‘ohelo bushes, and ferns growing directly out of the volcanic stone in the dying light, I was aware that something quite rare had just occurred. I glanced at Jill. There were tears gathering in her eyes.

Makua just smiled, and a silence descended as we digested his words. “When we come from a place of humility,” he continued gently, “we connect with the energy of compassion, allowing us to experience the power of aloha. When we accept this aloha and live it, we are drawn inexorably toward reverence, an active respect for everyone and everything that we encounter in life. Through knowing what we possess…  and this includes all that possesses us, (more laughter), we find our discipline. And in order to discover who we are, as well as where and what we are, self-discipline is essential, because without it, we cannot progress.” 

This was the beginning of an extraordinary friendship that extended over the next eight years, the final years of Makua’s life. During this time, he shared an amazing body of knowledge with us, and with our workshop groups as well, none of which is currently written in any books on Hawaiian spirituality. 

The Walking Stick

Toward the end, in the summer of 2003, he gifted Hank with one of his carved walking sticks, a copy that he had had made of an original that came from Rarotonga 300 years ago on the canoe of one of his ancestors. This gifting was a testament to the great love that had unexpectedly come into being between these two men, a Hawaiian kahuna elder and a Western-trained anthropologist. 

In March of 2004, after spending most of a week with us at one of our retreats, he died in a car accident near Pahoa on Hawaii Island, a great shock and irreversible loss to all who knew him. For the past five years, Hank has carried Makua’s stick everywhere with him, and the kahuna’s bowl holds the light in the center of our circles.

Makua’s influence upon us all has been profound and his wisdom regularly finds its way into our week-long Visionseeker retreats, offered on the breath in the oral tradition in the same manner that he shared it with us. 

In response to his friendship and his aloha, we have experienced enhanced qualities within ourselves such as humility and reverence, compassion and forgiveness, … and every moment has become an opportunity for grace. 

For us to enter into this relationship with him reflected our honor. And to be of service from this foundation has helped us to be of service in redeeming the world.

The Plan

In the last years of his life, Makua increasingly began to share with us his thoughts about what he called ‘The Ancestral Grand Plan,’ so please see our brief essay outlining this amazing revelation, one in which each of us may find our kuleana—our rightful place of responsibility as well as action, a place from which each of us may offer our work in the world, as well as our gifts, from a place of grace, honor and integrity. 

This is part of what he wanted us to do… and there is more to come.