Abstract of paper for Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania (ASAO) Annual Meeting, San Diego, CA
9-14 February, 2016. To be presented at the New Proposed Session: The Experiential Roots of Mana
MANA, KAPU, AND NOA AT KEAHUALAKA, A SACRED HAWAIIAN SITE AT KE`E, KAUA`I
Ka`Imi Na`auao o Hawai`i Nei Institute
Beautiful for situation, Keahualaka (the altar of Laka) or Kauluolaka (the inspiration and growth of Laka) hovers like a mighty bird over Ke`e beach on Kaua`i’s north shore. Lying as it does at the end of the coastal road and near the beginning of famous hiking trail, the site attracts many visitors. Some come specifically to experience the place’s mana, others inadvertently wander in. Whoever they may be and whatever their reasons may be for walking the path up to the site, these people are merely the latest in a line of visitors that goes back centuries.
Po`e hula (hula people), students of Polynesian culture, and adherents of traditional Hawaiian religion revere Keahualaka for its connections with Laka, Pele, Hi`iaka, and Lohiau. Photographers, artists, and tourists are inpressed its physical beauty. New Age religionists seek it out as a place of power. Each visitor reacts to the site’s mana differently. The common denominator is that Keahualaka affects everyone, and everyone affects Keahualaka.
This has created problems for those who look after the place. Under an agreement with its former owners, our Institute served as volunteer caretakers from 1975 to 1992. During that time, we removed rubbish, eradicated invasive plants, produced informational materials for visitors, and organized cultural performances on site. Our protocol followed the instruction of our founder, Kumu Hula Roselle Bailey.
We found that many, perhaps most, visitors to Keahualaka tried to respect the place. Frequently, however, we encountered evidence of behavior that we did not consider appropriate: consumption of alcohol, drugs, offerings of crystals, rocks wrapped in ti leaves, and other unsuitable items, etc. This sort of activity has continued since our stewardship ended. Because this site is now on public land, its present caretakers have no power to enforce standards of behaviour. The best that they can do is clean up rubbish, report illegal activity to law enforcement, and try to educate future visitors on what is appropriate.
The larger questions are, who decides whose experience of mana and reaction to a site like Keahualaka is acceptable? Who is qualified to judge? If, as some contend, the experience of mana is a neurological response and there fore potentially measurable, does this merely complicate the problem? ( I doubt that cultural organizations such as the one to which I belong would be receptive to the idea of using a Mana Meter to determine whose response qualifies as “authentic”.) Finally, assuming that a standard of behaviour can be agreed upon by various interested parties, how can it be enforced?
Keahualaka is one small site on one small island. However, the problem of visitor responses to numinous places (e.g. Easter Island, Stonehenge, the Giza Pyramids, etc.) is worldwide. As travel to these areas becomes ever easier and more popular, the need to solve this problem becomes ever more urgent.
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