Caution: Spirit Crossing

Article by Lynn Cook

The student voices are timid and low. They almost whisper "E Laka e, pupu weuweu e Laka e, o Laka...Laka of the wildwood." The kumu, their teacher, commands, "Stand up! Take a big breath. Now let me HEAR you!" Larger than life in his massive signature green head lei, renowned Hawaiian hula and chant master Charles Kaupu is leading the group of visitors in a chant. They are asking the favors of the goddess Laka. They are experiencing the ancient art of Hawaiian chant as they stand on the beach at the base of a giant black rock in Kaanapali, Maui.

The group is gathered near Puu Kekaa, Black Rock. From a hotel lobby they rode the elevator to the beach level. There the kumu tells the story of the great Maui chief, Kahekili who excelled in the game of lele kawa, leaping 300 feet from the rock cliff into the ocean. That never-equaled feat isn't left to the imagination. Every evening, at sunset, a resort diver makes a graceful leap into the ocean to honor the diving prowess of the great chief.

"The spirits are always present," kumu says, adding, "This very hotel once needed my help." The elevator - yes, the same one they just used - was constantly stopping, trapping people inside. Maintenance took it apart, repaired it. It stopped again. In a last-ditch effort before a total replacement, the management called the kumu. After a few minutes with the uncooperative equipment, he knew the problem.

The elevator was in the direct route of a path used by the ancient peoples to reach the place of Leina Ka Uhane, where the spirits leave for the next world. Moving the elevator was not possible. The kumu offered up chants as hookupu, gifts, and "respectfully requested" that the spirits travel a different route. "One week later," he says with a confident shrug, "no more pilikia, no more trouble."

Following in the footsteps of great chiefs can easily become a mission on Maui. A trip to Iao Valley can trump any epic adventure film. Today the valley is a state park with paved walking trails, a nature center and heritage pavilions. Picnic tables offer view of a tranquil park.

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