“This is your cousin, Harry, this is Hattie, this is Dennis, and Betty,” Kay says.
I’m in the middle of meeting about 15 people at once. They all have beautiful smiling faces. And I will never remember their names.
I’m nodding and smiling, shaking each of their hands.
“Aloha,” Hattie says.
“E komo mai,” Dennis says.
“Aloha, aloha,” I say to each one.
“Aloha nui loa,” an older woman named Lokelani says.
“Aloha,” I say to her.
Gary is standing to my right, holding my hand. Kala is currently talking to his friends from the band I sang with at Da Nui the other night.
Gary says “aloha” to each family member we meet. Most of them are cousins or second cousins. A few call him “Kali.”
“Gary, why are they calling you Kali?” I quickly ask him once there’s a lull in people meeting us.
“It’s a nickname from when I was a boy,” he says. “Once we moved to the mainland, mom and dad stopped calling me that. I just became Gary,” he says with a shrug.
“Oh, hey man!” Gary says to an older man approaching us.
Gary opens his arms wide to embrace the man smiling at us.
“Uncle Paolo?” Gary asks.
“Yes, Kali,” the older man says, stepping into Gary’s embrace.
They clap each other on the back and step away, but Uncle Paolo isn’t walking away with Kala’s mom, like the cousins did.
“Josie,” Gary says. “This is your great uncle Paolo. He is your grandpa Alika’s brother.”
I open my eyes wide in surprise.
“Oh,” I say. “Nice to meet you uncle Paolo. I’m Josie,” I say, extending my hand.
“This is Alisa’s daughter, Paolo,” Gary says to the old man.
“Oh yes, I can tell,” Paolo says with a smile. “You look just like your makuahine.”
“I do?” I say, surprised.
I haven’t heard that I look like my mom very much. It’s probably because no one in my life knew my mom, except for Gary.
“It’s been a very long time, Kali,” Paolo says. “You should’ve come back long ago.”
“I know anakala,” Gary says. “Time got away from me. Our life on the mainland is so busy, but I’m glad we are finally here.”
“Being too busy just covers your truth, Kali,” Paolo says. “Your makua were too busy to visit us when they were alive, too.”
“I’m sorry,” Gary says sincerely. “I wish we could’ve come back more often.”
This is awkward and I don’t want to get in the middle of it. I’ll let Gary handle it.
“Why did we have to hear from Kay and Ori to come meet you?” Paolo asks. “Why didn’t you reach out?”
Gary sighs and laughs a little. I can tell he’s uncomfortable.
“Honestly, anakala, I wasn’t sure you would want to see us,” Gary says.
Is Gary hinting at Grandpa Alika being disowned by his family? This is the type of awkward encounter I was worried about dealing with.
“Why wouldn’t we want to see you, Kali?” Paolo asks. “You’re our ohana and you are always welcome in our home.”
“Thank you anakala,” Gary says.
“I wrote to you after my kaikaina, Alika passed,” Paolo says. “But you never responded.”
“I know,” Gary says.
Gary’s voice is getting lower and less jovial. I told him this was going to be intense.
“I was such a wreck, I couldn’t deal with much back then,” Gary says. “And then what happened to Alisa. I had to take care of Josie. It was all too much.”
A sad look crosses Paolo’s face, and it seems his pushing might finally stop.
“I’m sorry Kali,” Paolo says, looking at the ground. “You’ve been through more than anyone should have to. We wanted to help you but didn’t know how. I’m ashamed you’ve gone through this alone.”
Gary reaches out and puts his hand on Paolo’s shoulder.
“Anakala,” Gary says. “There’s nothing you could’ve done. It all happened so fast. I had to figure it out on my own. It was easier to stay on the mainland and try to make it work. We’re here now though, and I hope we can be close like we were when I was a boy.”
“I would like that,” Paolo says with a smile. “Kali, you’re the same. Such a good boy with the power of Laka.”
“Laka?” I ask.
I guess I’m interrupting this conversation.
“The goddess, Laka,” Paolo says. “That comes from your makuahine, Malia,” he says to Gary.
“My tutu Malia?” I ask him.
“Yes, your beautiful tutu, Malia,” Paolo says. “One of the most beautiful wahine to ever walk on this mokupuni.”
“Mokupuni?” I ask.
“Island,” Gary says. “Kauai,” he says motioning with his arms to the surroundings.
“You didn’t teach this kaikamahine our language, Kali?” Paolo asks.
Man, this guy is pushy. There’s something nice about him. Something comforting. But he is really pushy.
“Not really,” Gary says. “I barely remember any myself, Anakala. But it’s funny how it’s coming back to me now that I am here.”
“Aaahh yes,” Paolo says. “You’re back home. Let it in and it will all come back to you.”
“I’d like that, Anakala,” Gary says.
Gary seems uncomfortable, but happy underneath those immediate feelings. The conversation felt tense from my point of view, but maybe he was more prepared for this than I thought. I wouldn’t have known how to answer any of those questions.
“Have you met Lokelani?” Paolo asks.
“I think so,” Gary says, looking in my direction.
“Yes, we did,” I say with a nod.
“Oh good,” Paolo says with a smile. “She’s very special. She’s a trained ku’auhau. She’s researched your genealogy. And yours too,” he says turning to me.
“I understand from Kay that neither of you know the mo’olelo of your family,” Paolo says.
“Well, I know some,” Gary says quietly.
He seems embarrassed to admit it.
“How about you?” Paolo asks me.
Oh no. Now he’s turned his intense questioning on me? Brother.
“I don’t know much of anything,” I admit.
“Who is your father?” Paolo asks.
Oh no. I’m not prepared to talk about this.
“Josie didn’t know her father,” Gary says, saving me from the horrible line of questioning. “He passed right after her birth.”
“Oh you poor keiki,” Paolo says to me. “E kala mai. I had no idea.”
“It’s OK,” I say unevenly.
It’s not OK, but it’s not Paolo’s fault for not knowing anything about me. It sounds like he tried to reach out to us at some point. So he must care about us.
“Lokelani won’t be able to help with your father’s side of the family,” Paolo says. “But she can tell you everything about your tutus and their mo’olelo.”
“What is mo’olelo?” I ask Paolo.
“It’s our family history,” Gary says, interrupting.
“That’s right,” Paolo says. “It has your ‘ike ku’una. The inherited knowledge of your ancestors. It tells you who you are. Helps you to make decisions. Lokelani even has information on the ancient gods that your family descended from.”
“Ancient gods?” I say without thinking.
“Yes,” Paolo says with a nod. “I think you’ll find it illuminating.”
“Oh, OK,” I say.
I can’t imagine what he means. Could anything be more interesting in my family history than my father being a dead rock star? Paolo really has no idea. But it will be nice to hear more about my tutu and grandpa. Just thinking of them makes me happy.
“You ready to eat?” Kala’s mom asks from a few feet away.
I’m grateful for a break in this conversation.
“Yes,” Gary and I say in unison.
She laughs in response.
“Well alright then,” she says. “Come on over, we’ve got a place set for you next to Kala.”
My cheeks burn at the mention of his name. Kay walks to me, puts her arm around my shoulder, and guides me to a folding table and chairs where several people are eating.
“You sit here,” she says, motioning to an empty spot. “Kala will get you a plate. I’m going to sit your uncle by me over there.”
“Thank you,” I say with a smile and a nod.
She signals to Kala and he walks to a large buffet table stacked with meats, sides, and breads that I can’t make out from my seat. There are about five folding tables in all dotting the grass and sand behind Kala’s house.
Several of the cousins we met are now sitting and enjoying the food. Many laugh and smile, enjoying each other’s company. The vibe is positive and upbeat, and I’m feeling much more comfortable here than I was before Gary and I arrived. Especially now that the conversation with Uncle Paolo is over.
I take a deep breath and look out at the ocean. The sun is starting to set, and the blue, purple, orange, and red streaming through the sky is striking. Sunsets in Venice are beautiful, and sometimes a little pink, but the sunsets here are like nothing I’ve ever seen.
I watch the tiny, foamy waves roll into the shore and back out. I realize they match my breathing. I breathe in, and a tiny wave rolls in. I breathe out and the wave retreats from the sand and back out to sea. I stare into the blue, unaware of Kala approaching until he sets a plate down in front of me.
“Hi Josie,” he whispers in my ear, making me jump.
“Aahhh,” I squeal. “You scared me!”
Kala laughs like he told a really funny joke, and pulls out the chair next to me.
“I got you a little bit of everything, I hope that’s OK,” he says.
I look down at the plate and there’s a sea of colors and textures. Meats, rice, macaroni salad and what looks like big green leaves wrapped around something.
“Yes, thanks,” I say to him. “I don’t really know what a lot of this is but I’m excited to try it.”
“Start with the lau lau pork, it’s the best,” he says.
“Which one is that?” I ask him.
I feel a little dumb, but I don’t know anything about traditional Hawaiian food except for Spam musubi.
“It’s the green leaf,” he says, pointing to the wrapped item that looks like a leaf burrito. “Pull off the ti leaf and then eat the pork and taro inside.”
“OK,” I say as I comply with his instructions.
“This reminds me of a tamale,” I say to him.
“Hot tamale, like the candy?” He asks.
“No,” I say, starting to laugh. “Tamales, Mexican food.”
“Oh yeah,” he says, blushing. “I’ve never had one but I know what you’re talking about.”
I feel a little less dumb now that I know something about a dish that he doesn’t.
I unwrap the warm, green leaf from the package of pork inside. Steam rolls out of it, and it smells delicious. I dip my fork into the pork mixture.
“Try the pork dipped in the poi,” Kala says, pointing to a gray colored paste on the plate.
“This?” I ask, dipping the piece of pork in the poi.
“Yeah,” he says. “That’s the best way to eat it.”
I get a hearty dip of the poi and push the fork into my mouth. I taste the pork immediately. It reminds me of the pulled pork Gary and I get at our favorite barbecue place back home, except without barbecue sauce.
But the poi doesn’t remind me of anything I’ve had before. It doesn’t have much of a flavor, but has a comforting consistency. I feel compelled to dip something else in it.
“Oh yeah, that’s good,” I say to him. “The poi doesn’t really taste like anything.”
“It’s something we grow up eating here,” he says. “My mom makes it over a day, so it’s something really special we only get once in awhile.”
“Oh, that’s really cool,” I say. “I feel special getting to eat it.”
“You are special,” he says, reaching out and tucking a long piece of my hair behind my ear.
Instead of looking down in shyness like I usually would, I maintain eye contact with him. It’s powerful and suddenly nothing else in the world matters. Not Paolo with his pushy conversation. Not the tentacles in my stomach that are lashing around. Not the thoughts I’ve been having that it’s almost time for us to return to California. This moment with him is all that matters.
“Josie!” Gary booms from a few feet away. “I can’t believe it! You’re trying poi!”
“Gary, jeez,” I say, looking around at all of the people staring in our direction from his loud exclamation. “I didn’t know it was such a big deal.”
I take another bite of the lau lau pork in the poi.
“Little girl,” he says. “You are the pickiest eater. When I got you to try musubi I never thought you’d try anything else.”
“You tried musubi?” Kala asks.
“Yeah and I liked it,” I say, defensively.
Why does Gary have to embarrass me? He thinks he’s being funny but it’s more annoying than anything.
“Hey,” Gary says. “Grab your plate and come with me. Paolo wants us to talk to Lokelani now.”
“Right now, Gary?” I ask. “I just sat down with Kala.”
“Kala can come too,” he says with a laugh. “But yeah, now. These are old people, Josie. I don’t want to keep them waiting. They came here just for us.”
I look over at Kala who seems to agree with Gary. But I’m not ready for this. I just want to sit here, entranced by the rolling ocean waves and Kala’s eyes.
“It’s cool,” Kala says to me, sensing my hesitation. “I’ll bring your food. You’ll want to hear this.”
“I’d rather sit here with you,” I say to him, leaning in to kiss him on the cheek.
He takes advantage of my leaning in to gently hold my hand. He takes it and positions it on my stomach where the tentacles gently roll.
“You want to understand what these are?” He says into my ear.
It startles me and I turn my head to catch his eyes.
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“I mean, they are going to explain everything to you,” he says with a smile. “Everything about you and me, about the other night, and about your grandparents.”
“How do you know about my grandparents?” I ask.
Is he talking about what I think he’s talking about? About my tutu Malia helping people? And grandpa being an eater?
“Josie,” he says. “Our families have been connected for centuries. You and I meeting has been fated since our birth.”
What? I’m stunned. I stare at him with my mouth open and my eyes wide. I never considered that I would learn anything about the tentacles, or Kala and I connecting like we did the other night, or how my grandparents play into any of this. I thought I’d learn about my family tree and maybe hear some stories from when my tutu was growing up.
Things slowly start to push together in my mind, like puzzle pieces that were scattered all over the floor, now beginning to fit together the way they were intended to. I stand up and follow Gary as Kala follows behind me. I feel like a zombie in a trance; Gary is the only thing I know to follow.
“Sit here,” Gary says, motioning to a seat at a small folding table.
I sit down across from Paolo and Lokelani. Gary pulls out the seat next to me, and Kala sits on the other side, plopping down my plate of food in front of me. I guess he didn’t need to bring it after all, I’m not that hungry anymore.
“Josie, Gary,” Paolo says. “This is Lokelani, a very special ku’auhau. She is here to tell you your unique mo’olelo. Once you know your mo’olelo, the future will become clear. Decisions will be easier to make and you will understand your mana. Lokelani?”
“Mahalo, Paolo,” Lokelani says with a smile. “Maika’i Ka launa ‘ana me’ oe.”
“That means ‘nice to meet you,’” Gary whispers in my ear.
I look at him with surprise. He looks like he can’t believe he understood what she said either.
“Nice to meet you too,” I say to her.
“I understand you don’t speak Hawaiian?” Lokelani asks.
“That’s right,” I say with a nod. “I’m sorry.”
“No need to be sorry, dear,” she says sweetly. “I will try to make sure to speak only English.”
“Thank you,” I say.
I look at Kala and he’s content. His yellow t-shirt makes him look extra tan, and I have to resist reaching out to touch his light brown arm and squeezing it.
“Your story starts with Lono and Laka,” she says. “Do you know who they are?”
“Yes,” I say enthusiastically. “Gary says my singing is a gift from Lono!”
I can’t believe I remembered something about my Hawaiian culture. It makes me proud, excited, and I feel less like an outsider amongst my extended family.
“That’s right,” she agrees. “Lono is one of the four main Hawaiian gods. He is the god of music, fertility, agriculture, and rainfall. It’s said that he descended a rainbow to marry his beautiful wife, Laka. She is the goddess of fertility, reproduction, love and beauty. You are both descendants of Lono and Laka, lending to your musical talent, Josie, and the powerful attraction and beauty you both possess.”
“Really?” I whisper.
I look over at Gary and he’s got his charming smile on. I can tell he feels very proud. I do too.
“Laka is very powerful in your direct lineage, Kali,” she says. “Is it OK if I call you Kali?”
“Of course,” Gary says with an affirmative nod.
In Hawaiian, Laka means to attract, or to domesticate,” she says. “Your family possesses a powerful form of attraction. You probably understand what I mean when I say that people are drawn to you. They can’t help themselves. They want to be in your presence in any way they can.”
Gary and I both nod. It’s totally true! Everyone loves Gary. He has friends everywhere he goes.
“Josie, because I don’t know the mo’olelo of your father’s family, I can’t give you a complete picture of yours,” she says. “You possess this power of attraction like Kali, but it likely takes a different form because of your father’s influence.”
I wonder if she’s right. I’m not really sure.
“Lono and Laka are important to understand the foundation of your family, but the most important goddess in your lineage is the one named Pahulu of the island Molokai. Your ancestors aren’t all from Kauai, but also from the small island of Molokai.”
I’ve never heard of the island of Molokai and I’m pretty sure that’s new information for Gary, too. He’s only ever told me that our family is from Kauai.
“Pahulu was a sorceress with many followers on Molokai, Lanai and Maui. Molokai was once filled with sorcery,” she says. “Pahulu was a special type of sorceress who practiced her powers in dreams. She was very powerful and enjoyed a rich life until she got the attention of a prophet on Molokai named Lanikaula. Lanikaula was jealous of her powers and of her extensive following on the islands. Without Pahulu’s knowledge, Lanikaula began to plot against her. In the dead of night, he traveled to Lanai and killed most of her followers. Those left behind were banished to Molokai to tell the gruesome tale as a warning to never practice sorcery under Pahulu again.”
Is this real? I remember learning about Greek and Roman gods in school but not Hawaiian ones. This being related to my family makes it take on a whole new meaning.
“Pahulu was beside herself with sorrow, and gathered all of her remaining followers near her on Molokai to continue practicing her sorcery in peace. But Lanikaula wouldn’t allow it. He had grown to be a very powerful sorcerer himself. Legends say that he could move objects, levitate, and astral travel. When he found out that Pahulu and her followers were still practicing sorcery, he cursed her and all of her descendants. That curse turned her sorcery against her, making all in her lineage susceptible to spiritual abduction and possession.”
That last part hit me in a weird place. I look over at Gary. He doesn’t have that charming smile anymore. I look to Kala. He looks serious, too.
“It’s OK, Josie,” Kala says, patting his hand on my bare leg. “Just listen.”
“Your mother, Malia, was a direct descendent of Pahulu,” Lokelani says, looking at Gary. “Your father a direct descendent of Prince Kaululaau of Lanai.”
“A prince?” Gary asks.
“Yes,” she says. “Hawaiian royalty.”
Gary and I look at each other in astonishment. Does that mean we’re royalty? I think I’ll save my questions for the end.
“After Lanikaula killed most of Pahulu’s followers on Lanai, the island became filled with ghosts and demons,” she says. “Prince Kaululaau was a mischievous young man and was banished to Lanai for destroying bread trees on Maui. Kaululaau was a strong force and battled all of the spirits and demons on Lanai, making it habitable for people once again. After he rid the island of all of the spirits, people began to move to Lanai and farm pineapple on the rich soil of the land. He earned the favor of the King of Maui and was considered a prince from that point forward.”
“So our family is actually from Molokai and Lanai?” Gary asks.
“This is very far back,” she says. “Generations of your family have lived on Kauai but your deep roots aren’t here.”
“I never knew that,” Gary says. “I knew about Lono and Laka from my mom and dad but they never told me about Pahulu or Lanikaula.”
“Pahulu and Lanikaula are why your parents came together,” Lokelani says. “And why generations of the same family lines always come together. It’s the yin and yang of life, the positive and the negative, do you understand?”
“No,” Gary says, shrugging his shoulders. “What do my parents have to do with these gods and their stories?”
Lokelani levels her gaze at Gary. It’s like she thinks he should know better than to ask the question he just asked.
“Your mother had powers, right? Powers to conjure spirits?” She asks.
I’m shocked at her coming out and asking the question. And I’m embarrassed that Kala is hearing this.
“That’s not something we talk about with outsiders,” Gary says quietly.
“Outsiders?” Paolo interjects. “I am your ohana. Don’t you remember? There are no outsiders here. This is your mo’olelo and everyone at this gathering understands it but you.”
Gary says nothing in response. I guess I’ve got nothing to say either.
“Kali,” Lokelani says. “Did your father have powers to banish the spirits that your mother would conjure?”
Gary continues to sit in silence. Why isn’t he answering? We both know this is true. He just told me the other day.
“Yes, he did,” I say.
“Josie, you don’t know that,” Gary responds quickly. “You weren’t there.”
“Well, I know what you told me the other day,” I say sharply. “And it was exactly that. That my tutu Malia would help people with spirits and that grandpa was an ‘eater.’”
Lokelani and Paolo wince at the term “eater.”
“We don’t call those abilities ‘eating,’” Paolo says. “There are some that do, but what we practice isn’t eating, it’s clearing.”
“The ‘eater’ term is something we learned here,” Gary says defensively. “My parents never called it that.”
“I understand,” Paolo says. “I didn’t think my kaikaina practiced Huna.”
“I don’t think so,” Gary says. “But this ‘clearing’ you say my dad did. What would he do to clear the spirits?”
“See, Gary?” I say. “Why did you have to act like it wasn’t true?”
“Josie, sshh,” he says.
Did he actually just shhh me? What a jerk.
“There’s an ancient ritual that requires the spiritual and physical connection of two people,” Paolo says. “Josie, I understand that you and Kala have already practiced this.”
“What?” Gary says alarmed.
My eyes go wide again. I don’t know how to answer.
“What’s he talking about, Kala?” Gary says angrily to Kala.
“You don’t know?” Paolo asks. “How do you not know?”
“I don’t know what anyone is talking about here,” Gary says. “What did you do, Josie?”
“Me?” I ask.
He’s scaring me.
“I didn’t do anything,” I say insistently. “I swear. We just laid down beside each other and some connection happened. Not like what you are thinking. I can’t explain it.”
Oh my gosh. Did I just say that? I don’t know what happened between Kala and I, but I know I don’t want Gary to think Kala and I had sex.
“Josie,” Kala says, platting my leg again. “It’s OK.”
“It’s not OK, bud,” Gary says rudely. “If I had any idea you’d taken advantage of my niece, I wouldn’t have come here.”
“Taken advantage of?” I say.
“That’s not what happened,” Kala says calmly. “No one took advantage of anyone. I respect you, Gary, but it’s none of your business what happens between Josie and I.”
“What did you just say?” Gary says angrily, jumping up from the folding chair.
I startle with his quick movement and lean over into Kala.
“Kali!” Paolo exclaims. “Don’t disrespect this place with anger! We are here to help each other. Please calm down.”
“My name is Gary,” Gary says, evening a serious gaze at our old uncle. “And don’t tell me what to do.”
“Gary,” I say, my voice cracking.
I think I’m on the verge of tears.
“Why are you acting like this?” I ask. “Nothing happened like you think. Kala helped me when I saw the spirit at Da Nui. He was weak and then I made him better, I think. I recharged him or something, but it wasn’t disrespectful and he didn’t take advantage of me.”
Gary stares at me, seething. I know he wants to say more but I can tell he’s gaining back some measure of control. I’ve never seen him like this before. Is the thought of me having a boyfriend and having sex with him this upsetting? Or is everything we learned about our family upsetting him?
Gary suddenly pushes over the folding chair he was sitting on moments ago and stomps off towards the street and away from the barbecue.