“Under the Cliffs of Molokai” by D. Howard Hitchcock
I deliberately spent the past six months promoting “The Obsidian Mirror.” I curtailed most of my other activities to give myself time to launch my first book properly. I did not start writing the sequel, though I have thought about it a great deal.
Well, “The Obsidian Mirror” is launched, and the time has come to start working on the next novel. During a vacation last year in Oahu I came up with some really fun things that could happen to my characters if they traveled to Hawai’i—although it won’t be as much fun for them as it will be for me. I knew I needed to ground the story in Hawai’ian mythology and tradition. I’ve been to several of the Hawai’ian islands and I have read a fair amount about the Hawai’ians’ ancient culture and mythology. But there is far more that I do not know, so I felt the need to do more research.
In my previous visits to the islands I have been a tourist. I was there for the snorkeling, the beautiful beaches, the fresh-from-the-ocean fish, and the relaxing natural beauty of Hawai’i. This time, it’s different; I want to know more about modern Hawai’ian culture—the culture of the people of Hawai’ian descent—but I also want to know how modern ethnic Hawai’ians relate to the culture and beliefs of their ancestors. To do this, I need to have some meaningful conversations with ethnic Hawai’ians. I am not going to learn this from a book.
I began by trying to track down my former chiropractor, an ethnic Hawai’ian and an excellent practitioner. Kalani has apparently vanished off the face of the earth. Short of hiring a private eye, I am not going to find him. I asked a friend of mine with connections in Hawai’i if she could introduce me to people there. She tried, but the person she introduced me to via email was always too busy to talk, and finally stopped responding altogether.
Then I asked a friend who lives in Hawaii for help. He is not ethnic Hawai’ian, but having lived on the Big Island for many years, he knows many. We actually have met in person only once. He was a technology journalist while I was working in high tech public relations. We’ve stayed in touch as he moved to Hawaii to grow coffee and eventually became an expert in sustainable agricultural practices. Despite the fact that he hasn’t seen me in person for probably 30 years (!!!) he agreed to introduce me to some of his friends and acquaintances on the Big Island. I am still amazed at his generosity and trust.
At the same time I was seeking personal contacts in the islands, I did what a good researcher does; I tried to get in touch with experts at The Bishop Museum, which is recognized as the world’s best museum of Polynesian culture. I never heard back from any of my attempts to communicate by email or phone.
But I did have a commitment from my Big Island friend, so it was starting to get real. I spent a weekend setting up a week on the Big Island, going from there to Oahu, where the Bishop Museum and the University of Hawaii reside. I set it all up—places to stay, rental cars, airplane flights. I arranged eight days in Oahu, reasoning that if worst came to worst, I could always just pay the entrance fee to the Bishop Museum and then find a docent of Hawai’ian descent who might be willing to help me.
Then I started reading a book called “The Sacred Power of Huna,” by Rima A. Morrell, Ph.D. I was actually looking for books on Hawai’ian mythology and folk tales, but I had never heard of Huna, so I bought it on a whim. According to Morrell, Huna is the original Hawai’ian spiritual practice, developed before the introduction of things like the kapu system and human sacrifice, which she says was imposed on the islands by Samoan invaders around the 14th century. Huna is deeply intertwined with hula and with the Hawai’ian language. Its purpose is to help individuals to increase the light in the world—literally and metaphysically. The author—who did her Ph.D. in Hawai’ian shamanism at University College London after getting her masters and undergraduate degrees from Cambridge—firmly states that magic is REAL, and gives several examples from her personal experience. She also states that Hawai’ians on other islands suspect that Molokai—the island of fewest tourists and greatest percentage of ethnic Hawai’ians other than Ni’ihau—is where magic is still being made. How could a fantasy writer resist?
I put the book down at this point. Molokai. Why had I not thought about Molokai? I have often wondered about it. It’s described as the “Aloha Island,” the friendliest. And it’s called the last remnant of Old Hawai’i, with no high-rise buildings and not a lot of tourists, despite having beautiful white sand beaches, forested uplands, and its own share of snorkeling spots and other tropical delights. I had a strong feeling I should go to Molokai, but thought, “I can’t, because I’ve already made arrangements for Oahu. It’ll cost too much money to change now.”
So I went about my business for a few days, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to go to Molokai. I don’t really know much about the island. I certainly don’t know anybody there. But it called to me. So I gritted my teeth and made all the changes and paid the extra money to Hawai’ian Airlines to change the reservations.
I have abandoned all my reasonable and rational plans to talk to experts at the museum or the university. I am embarking on what I see as a spirit journey. I don’t know what I will do when I get there. I don’t know what questions to ask. I don’t know what I will discover or whom I will meet. I don’t know how I am going to get what I need to write the next novel. I run the risk of not finding out anything at all. I am taking a leap of faith that my inner guide is taking me to the right place to do what I need to do and learn what I need to know.
At the very least, I will have spent two weeks in one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Immediately upon posting this piece–I mean, literally within a minute or two–I happened upon a FB page called “Huna Is Not Hawaiian.” Startled, I spent quite a while reading the page and following up on many of its links to longer pieces.
It appears that, indeed, Huna is NOT Hawai’ian, but a new-age overlay on Hawai’ian spirituality. The “Huna Is Not Hawaiian” page views it as a commercialized appropriation of Hawai’an culture.
I thought I should mention this, but it doesn’t impact what I am doing. My purpose in visiting Hawai’i and Molokai in particular is not to study Huna or become Hawai’ian by some strange magic. My purpose is to learn what there is for me to learn to write my next book.
Yes, I still view it as a spirit quest and have abandoned my usual rational methodology in favor of letting what happens happen. I have found in the past that letting things unfold naturally is sometimes a more effective way to reach a goal than systematically striving.
Did the book on Huna change what I planned to do? Absolutely. It reminded me that I had always wanted to visit Molokai, and that of all the islands, Molokai may be the one closest to Old Hawai’i. I still feel excited and confident that I made the right decision–for me. There is something for me there.
But I am under no illusion that a couple of weeks in Hawai’i will do more than enrich my store of experience and knowledge and, hopefully, stoke the joy and impetus of creating a new story. If I’m lucky, I won’t get sunburned.