Rain, Sine and the Luau

So much for calorie loaded feasts , occasionally followed by whimsically loud parades filled with knights, clowns and jugglers, desis never abide by such Thanksgiving traditions. The 4 day weekend was a welcome break from the endless days of work-sleep-back-to-work cycle. The bleak,cold November weather of the San Fransisco Bay area coerced Shashwathi and me to plan an impromptu trip to Honolulu, Hawaii.

When we landed, I braced myself to face the wind and the rain but much to my surprise, the showers were so warm and the wind so soothing that I knew it was going to be a eventful weekend! After an hour of vegetarian food hunting (as much of an oxymoron as it sounds), we finally settled on Subway sandwiches and headed straight for the pill box hike. The roads loop around the several hills that are a marked feature of the island. The Lanikai Pillbox hike is one of the most picturesque hikes of Oahu. The highways and crossroads named in the native Hawaiian tongue which cut across the island seemed a tad more exotic as we drove in the rain amidst the deep green mountains and cliffs that rose above us from all sides. Whenever we found a clearing in the trees, we would crane our necks to catch a glimpse of what Hawaii is best known for – the pristine clear turquoise water.

The hike rises above the beautiful Lanikai Beach. When we first caught a glimpse of the beach from the shore, we were so excited to see it from the top of the hill that we decided to head up the slushy path, rain or shine. Having skipped packing any hiking shoes, I climbed up the slippery, unmarked route , in my sandals all the while grasping at straws, literally. Even with poor visibility, we could see the breathtaking blue expanse of the ocean below below an endless grey sky. Two little islands jut out of the light blue sheet of water in the middle of the ocean, just a mile or two off the coast . The clear pattern of coral reefs , the white sandy beach and the towering palm trees around, all added to the effect of the photograph-like image that stood below us. By the time we woefully climbed down the steep, wet path, the sun shone brightly through the grey skies and we were soaked to the bone, covered in mud.

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A conch reverberates and the wind carries the sound out into the ocean. On the shores, I look up at the torches that spit fire out as the flames dance to the rhythm of the wind against the backdrop of the fiery red sky and the dark silhouettes of the palm trees that stood like giants guarding the entrance to the village. The calm golden water reflects the setting sun as I sit facing the ocean observing the torch-lighting ritual .A man clad in a straw skirt skitters from one torch to another. Women stand above me, their bright colored skirts and floral head gear perfectly in place as they prepare for the Luau – a ceremonial feast.

More men in straw coloured skirts gather outside the brown thatched roof huts. Blood red and sunshine yellow flowers stuck their heads out of the ground, dotting the edges of the mud walls. I caught glimpses of the inside through the crowd of men. The almost delicate earthen walls of the tiny room hosted a variety of pots, dangling by hooks. Cherry pink satin drapes hang crookedly across the windows, occasionally revealing a tear. The floor was crowded with dishes, baskets and other odds and ends. Everthing a family owned was contained in this 20 sq foot room. The glimpse I got of the inside somewhat belied the happiness that shone on their faces that evening. Ringing laughter and native hawaiian chatter blend and float up, forming a background chorus to the cluster of local singers and drummers that tune their instruments. The night air is filled with the  smells of the village as pigs roasted on spits and in owes dug into the earth. Ana’aina, as the feast was called was in celebration of a victory at war.

Suddenly, a man appears in the clearing, armed with a wicks, the ends lit up by fire. He twirls the baton to the beats of the drums which are now growing louder, twisting and turning his body with the movements of the fire. He swirls the batons so fast that it forms a constant circle of fire around him. He then twitches and swirls it over his head and under him, and throws them up in the air juggling them, only to catch them deftly as I hold my breath. The women begin to dance , swaying to the tune of the singers who have now picked up a song.Luau, which I  realise is a complex art form, where the varied hand motions are used to represent the words in a song or chant. The movements signify aspects of nature, such as the swaying of a tree in the breeze or a wave in the ocean, or a feeling or emotion, such as fondness or yearning. Foot and hip movements add to the charm of this ancient polynesian art form.

The feast was prepared in celebration of the glorious victory of the warriors of the village, men who had found the strength to kill, to fight to victory. The singers who had begun with a joyful melody now picked up their pace and the dancers swerved and moved fervently in frenzy to match the rhythm. Their animated expressions and hand gestures suggested danger and fear, as the men begin to put on a show of fight. Equally expressive, they seemed lost in a spell as they articulated beautifully the highs and lows of the war and the tremendous victory over the enemy tribe. The women were now chanting a happier, soothing song as the men and women united to express the final act of a safe homecoming.

The whole beach became alive with the sounds of the music, periodic swirls of green, pink and red skirts and the burning fires . Even the waves that kissed the shore seem to applaud them as the sun set over Kapolei and I was transported back to the present. The party erupted into applause as the performers beamed and the host for the evening thanked us.

Later, I found myself squeezed between the straw-skirted woman clad in a coconut shell top and a man who wasn’t dressed too differently from her- for he too wore a skirt- for a customary photograph. After assuring the man that I will not forget to tag him on Facebook, we headed out into the night.

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