Embracing Hawaiian Culture

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by Thomas Tunsch

Thomas TunschWhen I drove down the highway towards Kalapana on September 6th, it was not the first time that I looked forward to spending a vacation in Kalani. But this time was different, and that became clear as soon as I spotted the plume of Puhio-o-kalaikini where Pele is fighting with her sister Nāmaka. Never before, since my first visit to Puna in 1993, was the ocean entry of a lava flow so close to Kalapana, and it made me wonder what surprises I could expect during the next month.

While entering the Red Road I felt like I was coming home. At the same time I saw the differences: there were only a few Lehua blossoms to spot. Well, my last visit in 2006 was during the Merry Monarch Festival, and I had been told already that the islands had been suffering from a serious drought for a long time. But soon I reached Kehena where the dark green tunnel over the road covered the signs of water shortage. Then I was surprised, because Hale Aloha right at the ocean front of Kalani wasn't there 4 years ago. How would the larger Kalani be different from the smaller community that I had experienced during several visits as a guest since 1998?

Soon I would know, because this time I would be a “Sabbatical Volunteer” – volunteering for two days every week and enjoying all the guests’ amenities for the remaining days. But even as a guest I would have the privileges like a regular volunteer with free classes and the choice to spend my time with other guests or in the ʻohana. Checking in at the “Guest Services” brought me back into the relaxed atmosphere of the place again – the friendly welcome, familiar faces and voices, and I'd live at “Ocean Vista” in the house which I knew from my last stay in 2006 already.

The following days were filled with friendly “welcome back” memories, introducing myself to new volunteers and the soothing rhythm of life between sunrise and sunset. My idea to work on Wednesdays and Thursdays was accepted by Barcus, the manager of the agriculture department, and so the next Wednesday I started my volunteer work. After breakfast I joined my soon-to-be coworkers on the truck to the nursery where we started with a short meeting. I introduced myself to the others, and was welcomed by the small crew of the day. I learned that my choice of working Wednesdays and Thursdays would be perfect, because these days are reserved for projects mostly.

During the four weeks I stayed in Kalani we worked on a new path for guests and staff along the road. For me this project evolved into a very satisfying experience. Combined with the botanical tour given by Barcus, I learned a lot about the plants on the property and their traditional use by Hawaiians. Joining the Lauhala weaving classes with Lynda Tuʻa and the Hula classes with Jonathan Kaleikaukeha Lopez every Tuesday completed my adventures in Hawaiian culture and nature in a beautiful way.

Thomas and agriculture crewAll these wonderful classes and the work in the agriculture department were also connected by the inspiring teachers as well as the tradition in Kalani to start every activity with the “E ho mai” chant written by Edith Kanakaʻole. When I look back on the year 2010 now, these four weeks as a sabbatical volunteer in Kalani were not only a cultural and educational experience, but nurturing for body and soul at the same time.

I'm very grateful for the time that I could spend with the wonderful people in Kalani and for their affection. And therefore stronger then during my earlier visits I felt the prophetic meaning of the Hawaiian farewell “a hui hou” – until we meet again.