Aloha kakou e ku’u mau hoa heluhelu.
Greetings all my reading friends who’ve joined us on our excursion to lands unknown and unseen. Lands beyond Kahikiku, touching the skies of Kahikikepapalani. Yesterday was the canonization of Father Damien. The experience ended up being…..well…. I don’t know where to begin. There were so many experiences, observations, emotions, reflections. I ask you, how does one standing under a beautiful star filled sky describe just one twinkling star? It’s too grand…. And I suppose that’s how yesterday was too. Simply grand. So maybe let me start with my own family story.
When I decided to go on this trip I happened to be talking with my mom about the canonization of Father Damien and then this new thing called blogging. I told her that a blog is like writing articles only online. I told her about the Ku Makou E Hele Nei piece that I had written and how we were going to write about our Italian and Greek trip as well. We ended our conversation there, uneventful. Well, that evening she called me back and said, “You know. I remember your father talking about a letter. It had something to do with his uncle who died at Kalaupapa. I think it was a letter to his grandmother.” “Whoah, really?” I replied thinking how coincidental her recollection was as I did make a statement in the Ku Makou piece stating that every single Hawaiian family has been affected and impacted negatively by leprosy. I didn’t intend on researching or finding out about my own Hawaiian family, but now I know mine was as well. You know? Every Hawaiian sort of knows about the history of leprosy and since it was so painful and negative we try and forget about it. It seems that my generation sort of isn’t in touch with the story. Well… maybe I’m being too general and should just say that I hadn’t known my own story intimately.
The next morning my mom calls and says, “I found the letter. You want it?” Whoah! All these thoughts ran through my head. Of course I wanted to see it. My father had placed the letter in a ziplock bag and tucked it in a book. My great grandmother had raised my father for a significant chunk of his youth and this letter probably was kept as one hides a keepsake from others. So the next time I returned home to Maui, I visited my parents and they gave me the letter. It was a lovely hand written letter in a beautifully embossed envelope. The envelope simply said in the upper left hand corner; From Mamie Apiki, Kalaupapa, Molokai.
I gingerly opened the letter and began reading it. The letter writer was a woman named Mamie Apiki and she called my grandmother “Aunty,” as is customary in Hawai’i. What surprised me the most is that the letter was dated Oct. 1, 1941. Two things popped in my head about the date. The first and most immediate was that Oct 1 was going to be the day that I was flying to Rome for my trip. The second was, “1941? That’s not very far from today.” And then I remembered that people are still separated from the world on Kalaupapa. The letter returned $90 to my great grandmother which belonged to her son, John Nu’uhiwa. We are unsure if he had been inflicted with ma’ika’awale or if he had gone over with a friend of family member. My father said that his grandaunt had also been sent to Kalawao. So we are unsure if he had gone with her or if he had been sent there as well. The letter explained that he had left the compound to go fishing for the community and was found a few days later on the beach by another fisherman. A Rev. Alice Kahakuoluna had conducted the services for him and a Mr. Anderson was going to send the ashes and his personal belongings to my great grandmother.
Later I was sitting in Kona with Aunty Kalani Hamm who is a genealogy researcher. I told her about my trip and the letter. She told me about her family members and that she’d visit her family members in Kalaupapa every summer until 1976 when the last member died. She said to me, “You are going to this canonization as a pilgrimage on behalf of your grand uncle. Father Damien represents the sacrifice that we have all made. You stand before the Pope for the victory we will experience at Father Damien’s sainthood. You go on behalf of my family as well.”
These thoughts were swimming around in my head when we went to the ceremony yesterday. I am sitting here again wondering how I’m going to describe the experience of the canonization. Again it’s like describing a single star on the huge black tapestry in the evening sky. It was sensory overload. I didn’t expect to have any feelings about the catholic ceremony, but interestingly since I was raised in a catholic family all the rituals came back instantly. They spoke Latin, but I knew what was going on, when to stand, when to sit, when to respond. I did get choked up a bit a few times. Mostly because I saw similarities in some of our Hawaiian religious ceremonies, i.e. kaku’ai, hulahula & lupalupa, and the catholic ones. The blessing of water, the need for fire, the kinolau of iesu, and the mele kahoahoa that happens. The only difference is the bling and the angelic voices. The singing by the way was extremely moving. People from all over the world converged in the Vatican. Five individuals were being canonized. Four men and one woman. The other four were from spanish countries. Father Damien, however, had the biggest following. I visited the vatican the week previously and didn’t find any religion or spirituality, but yesterday I saw it, felt it, and heard it. So I will attach photos instead and you guys decide what you feel about. Sensory overload Gangeh. I took hundreds of photos. Father Damien became Saint Damien. People from France, Belgium, Poland, Hawai’i, Moloka’i & Italy were all fans of Damien. He became the patron saint of Lepers, HIV/AIDS, diseases that separate the inflicted from the others & the State of Hawai’i right before our eyes. I got choked up again when the Pope came out and spoke ten different languages addressing all of the different countries who came to witness the event. As he spoke each language the crowd spoken to would wave their flags and cheer. It was very colorful. You know. I’m saddened by the fact that I cannot articulate the event properly to you all. Just imagine a clear bright blue sky, encircled pillared walls, bright colored flags of all kinds, priests of all kinds, nuns of all kinds, brothers & fraternities of all kinds, and people of all kinds. Everyone came to participate in one way or the other. Everyone was joyous. Everyone was kind. Everyone had embarked upon their own pilgrimage for whomever they represented. When it was over the bells began to ring and the throngs of people stood on chairs, waved their flags, and sang or cheered. You couldn’t help but get caught up in the fervor. I think my family members who lived and died at Kalawao are joyous that I made the pilgrimage on their behalf. I think those who perished upon the shores of Kalaupapa may feel some sort of atonement. Maybe not about the Provisional Government who forced them to be there, but for the sacrifices they were all forced to make.
Again I feel that I have done a poor job articulating everything. Just email comments and I will be more than happy to respond accordingly.
Eventually I’m going to upload all the photos on our smugmug.com website. I’ve got some up already from previous days.
(c) 2009 Kalei Tsuha