Ho’opono admired the length of the crevasse as the sun slipped below the horizon and flung Iao into shadow.
Darkness spread swiftly.
The malahini were wide-eyed on the viewing platform, drinking in the dazzling allure of this holy place. The crowd was small, intimate, like the council had agreed. Power swirled through the air, a current of breath seeking and finding the offering, pleased to discover four couples ready to augment the volcano.
Approaching the canvas flap of the pavilion, he ducked inside and found Kanunu kneeling before the altar. She arranged items beside a burning candle with precision. Fresh breadfruit rested against the curve of a pink and white pu shell. A strand of dark kakui nuts, tangled with a lei made of ti leaves, draped around a bundle of taro atop of coil of twined palm fiber cordage.
“The guests wait, Kanunu.”
She nested the coconut bowl filled with ohelo and akala berries into the array and rose to her full five foot height. “I have prepared to share the joy that is ancient Hawai’i.”
Shrugging off the unbuttoned shirt, Ho’opono dropped the garment and preceded the sister of his father back to the gathering. He drew the attention of the curious tourists to his brown torso with a contraction of muscle and endured the strength of their gazes inspecting the intricate black tattoos sweeping down his shoulders and across his chest to the bony prominences of his ribs. Desire flared in the eyes of several, but not recognition or comprehension. For those who could read the symbolism, like the elders in the village, the heavy patterns portrayed his high status and reflected the kin markings also gracing Kanunu’s forearms and hands.
Ho’opono paused near the break-away rail and watched the haoles still, their absorption shifting to Kanunu as they became captivated by her beauty. Descended from the first bloodline, older than the kingdoms, predating the territorial governance and prior to statehood, her regal bearing and graceful steps stole their gasps. The simple crown of maile leaves entranced the viewers, the brilliant pearl crescent of her smile caused each to forget her simple blouse and cotton skirt had been purchased from the local Wal-Mart.
The narrow rope bridge rippled in the late evening breeze, the sole connective link between the flanks of the Pu’u Kukui Crater and their position atop the pinnacle of basalt thousands of feet above the Iao Valley floor.
Contrasts met and embraced in this locus, fused in a blending of old and new.
When Kanunu raised her arms, the silence was complete and Ho’opono felt the past claim the present.
Tonight Maui stepped closer to becoming whole.
Unlike the flame twirlers and elaborately staged luau dinner shows popularized around the islands; their village offered a traditional experience.
The family guardians, the na ʻaumākua, brought plentiful offerings to feed the hungry na ʻunihipili who gathered beside the stream. Here the earliest and most venerated chiefs lay sequestered in hidden abodes. Honoring those leaders was as important as reviving the collective memory of the people.
The song, rooted deep within Ho’opono, climbed through his interior until the words spilled from his mouth in a rich sonorous utterance that brought the surf rushing up the faraway beach. The chanted cadence rose and fell in undulating waves of sound. The slap of his soles a staccato accompaniment, the melody carried into the clouds.
Flame burst from Kanunu’s palm. Raising her hand high, the plume stretched upward, reaching for the first stars of nightfall.
He saw her lips invoke the names of the lava beings and sensed the answering tremors from the ground.
There were no wary glances at one another, no expressions indicating unease from those present. Elation swelled and overflowed Ho’opono when each visitor stood and began to sway. His voice grew, the rhythm of intonation weaving together elements of air and wind with water and sea, binding the living of the land with the dead of the soil.
Soon now, the ground would shake and the mountain split open, the maw of the land stretch wide to swallow the offerings in Kuka ‘emoku, the sacred site of the stone spear.
The Fire Gods would gather their special gifts close, marvel at the color of the flame-haired woman, enfold the man with the big laugh and loud aloha who endeared his heart to the ancestors, and love them all. They would become ‘ohana. A single lineage. United.
“Dance. Follow the flame.” Kanunu sang, her body rolling and hips flowing, hands waving the story of the world into existence.
The guests moved en masse. Swaying and twisting, arms gracefully arched above their heads, chanting and stamping bare feet they advanced, smiling and reaching for the heat, their hearts crackling with the energy of life.
In a final fluid bow Kanunu let the blaze lick from her fingers and break free into the sky. The fire cascaded, plummeting into blackness, a golden rivulet of flickering light.
One at a time the tourists stepped through the gap into the empty abyss.
The night took them singly, silently.
Ho’opono knew envy. He longed to feel such devotion, to be consumed, devoured by the essence of the earth. To lie down in the cool soil, feel the tides pull at his bones and nourish the generations to come, to understand everything and know all.
“It is a great gift we have shared.” Kanunu’s warm hand touched his belly, calmed him.
His eyes filled with tears when she lifted the lei of bright yellow and orange blossoms over his head and lowered the fragrant blooms onto his shoulders. Inhaling, a lingering scent of lava tickled his nostrils as he controlled his emotions.
A quick glance showed eight sets of sandals and loafers neatly tucked beneath the benches. Accepting the plastic trash bag he solemnly collected the residue of their companions.
Slinging the sack over his shoulder he said. “I’ll drop these at the charity store in the morning.”
Flash Fiction Challenge: The Torch @ www.terribleminds.com
#1 by Alica McKenna Johnson on September 10, 2011 - 11:24 pm
This is amazing- I love it.
#2 by Lesann Berry on September 11, 2011 - 12:22 am
Thanks! If you've never checked out terribleminds.com, Chuck Wendig does a flash fiction challenge every week. The work is just astoundingly good. Thanks for visiting again!
#3 by Embra on September 11, 2011 - 10:10 am
Nice work. Well researched, and I like the way you worked the facts of the background into the story. Nice one.
#4 by Lesann Berry on September 11, 2011 - 4:12 pm
Thanks Embra. Everyone has written such different perspectives from the prompt photo. I appreciate the visit and comment.
#5 by Angie on September 12, 2011 - 8:19 pm
Beautifully done. Love the world so different from mine. Check it out if you feel like it
#6 by Lesann Berry on September 13, 2011 - 2:31 am
Thanks Angie! I always read the rest of the stories people post. Reading such different results from the same prompt is part of what makes it so much fun. Thanks for stopping by and I will definitely go read yours!
#7 by BJ Kerry on September 14, 2011 - 1:30 pm
Hi I loved the way you brought such an ancient timeto life and set it in modern day. I really enjoyed the richness of you writing.
#8 by Lesann Berry on September 14, 2011 - 3:56 pm
Thanks for the compliment! I really enjoy the prompts of flash fiction because I end writing things I would otherwise not explore. Even the ones that don't work so well are a good learning process.Thanks for visiting!
#9 by Jo Eberhardt on September 15, 2011 - 5:44 am
This is a beautiful story. I love the juxtaposition of deep, traditional culture with throwaway modernisms like "the local Walmart" and "the charity store". It really works to bring the whole scene to life. There's a great sense of authenticity here.
#10 by Lesann Berry on September 15, 2011 - 6:33 am
Hi Jo! I'm glad you enjoyed the story. Mixing tradition and modern is a way of life for so many, and in Maui I was really struck by the contrasts apparent in the landscape and the people. Thanks for dropping by and reading. I really appreciate the comments.