Kahiko (Ancient)

Easter 2020

Ua ola loko i ke aloha.

Love gives life within.

ʻŌlelo Noʻeau Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings, 2836
Mary Kawena Pukui

This week families that observe Easter and Passover will be doing so in a much quieter setting than usual. And soon, Ramadan will be upon us. In the age of COVID19, we might find ourselves alone, or only in the presence of our nuclear families. Gone are the Easter trumpets and choirs singing the Alleluia. Seder dinners, traditionally large family and extended family gatherings find tables set for two, or one. And while fasting is a solitary exercise, breaking the fast each evening during Ramadan is a community affair. Still, each of these ancient faith-based practices tells us something about the human-divine relationship. Contemplation, fasting, and acts of charity bring us closer to God. We pray that this modern plague will pass over our homes. And who isn’t longing for a resurrection of sorts when all of this is done and we can once again embrace our family and friends and return to familiar rhythms of life.

My grandmother, Abbiegail Kunane McMillen (left) & her sister, Alice Kunane Banham (right) and the family pōhaku kuʻi poi (poi pounder)

But maybe this pause from the ordinary takes the focus away from how we observe to why we observe. Being part of a church community helps me stay connected to the women of my mother’s line and that’s important to me. Church was important to them. More importantly, Aloha was important to them. Hawaiian spirituality didn’t end with the demise of the priests and the kapu system and the arrival of Christianity in 1820. I believe that when my great-grandparents adopted Christianity they brought Aloha with them and that is what has been handed down from generation to generation. I like to think that in my family, whether we are religious or not, we are all practitioners of Aloha. This is our ancient birthright. This is our genealogy. The few pictures and possessions I have from my ancestors are imbued with their mana which speaks to this singular truth – Aloha.

Piko Petroglyph – Puʻu Loa, Hawaii Island

Easter is a time of new beginnings. There is an ancient symbol etched in the rocks of places like Puʻu Loa on Hawaii Island that illustrates the connection of Hawaiians to the ʻaina (land). Small circles were carved into the rock to receive the piko, the umbilical cord of newborns. Prayers were offered for the child’s prosperity and served to create a spiritual connection between the child and her ancestral land. Sometimes this puka (hole) sits at the center of a spiral, not unlike an umbilical cord.

I have ancestors from Ireland on my father’s side and I discovered a somewhat similar symbol also carved in stone. The Celtic Triskele consists of three spirals representing continual motion, linked to the idea that things happen in threes. The Christians would adopt this symbol to represent the Trinity. But in the pre-Christian age the interpretations were varied and could include the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.

From the Newgrange Megolithic Passage Tomb, Ireland

Usually, at this time of the year, the observance of religious and cultural traditions provides context, meaning, and joy to our lives. Even though COVID19 has caused a disruption to those observances, we remain connected to ancient truths – like the piko connecting child and mother.

My piko – great-grandmother
Alice Pa Kunane
Lahaina, Maui

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