Monday, October 3, 2011

Shamanism – Hawaiian and Korean

A hedge of green la'i (ti leaf) plants,
which can be used to "protect" a property.

Sometimes I don’t know what I’m going to write about, although I may plan it the day before. This morning, I started thinking about the Korean shamanism lecture and demo, held about a week ago at the Studio Maui in Haiku. The lecture was straightforward – mostly the story of how a German woman, Andrea Kalff, developed “shaman sickness” and ended up going to South Korea to become initiated as a shaman by a master Korean shaman. The story sounds unbelievable, like a movie plot, and although Andrea talked about shaman tests to prove her shaman abilities, like being able to name the hidden contents of a box, or what is in another room, or what someone is thinking, there was no demonstration of those abilities. There was also some translation, when Andrea’s Korean “sister” talked about their shaman practice and mentioned a deity represented by an old wise man, a mountain, and a tiger. The video is a bit rough, but the sound seems okay.

Towards the end, the shamans selected a few people to give them “fortune telling,” like “You have many little businesses and they are not bringing you much money, and you are feeling frustrated by this, and be careful driving since there is a possibility of a car accident” or “You have strong shaman abilities, you are like one of us, and if you choose this path, you need to take some time away from your family to be alone for a while and later you can be with them again.” Several people in the audience were hoping to have a much longer portion of the talk devoted to “fortune telling.” Towards the end of the talk, there was a healing chant, song, and dance by the master Korean shaman herself, accompanied by a Korean drummer. The master shaman gestured for the audience to join her dance, which eventually involved joining hands and moving towards  the center of the circle and then away from the center, in a kind of undulating wave. While I did take some initial video of this chant, I joined the dance and stopped filming.

Any of this lecture and talk could have happened anywhere in the world, but it happened in Haiku, Maui. Haiku and its sister town Huelo, is a bit hippy dippy, new age, bohemian, rural, open-minded, shaggy, crunchy granola, but with a lot of local people born and raised here. So around the corner from the “om-ful” Studio Maui and bohemian Tribe Café school bus, there is also a big Matson container on the corner and a power-washing machine used for cleaning roofs and houses; a backyard with fighting chickens and their individual chicken houses; a roadside memorial to a local boy who died in a car accident replete with an upside-down Hawaii state flag, a framed picture of the boy, and boxing gloves hanging from the picture; and several Maui jungalows and former plantation worker cottages in various states of entropy, surrounded by la'i (ti leaf) plants, mango trees, chickens, pit bulls, rusting cars, and glass ball fishing net floats.

Maui jungalow with la'i (ti leaf plants), rusty roof, 
and chickens running loose in the yard.
So I was thinking about la'i (ti leaf) plants, which are used in Hawaiian culture for a variety of things, including making leis and for blessing houses.  During the Korean shamanism talk, which was kind of like a college lecture, despite the finale of fortune telling and dancing, my ears pricked up when Andrea Kalff talked about blessing homes and how the energy of a building can affect its occupants. She did not spend a lot of time talking about this, but apparently she does a bit of “space clearing” on Maui although she did not use that term.  Space clearing is an aspect of feng shui as well, and the Hawaiian culture also practices space clearing and blessing using Hawaiian sea salt and la'i (ti leaves). Even for devout Christian residents, of which there are many thanks to the missionaries, people born and raised here have respect for those aspects of Hawaiian culture. People can be Christian and still believe in Madame Pele, the volcano goddess. So maybe someone from Kansas would not call it Christianity, but as Andrea Kalff pointed out, you can be of any religion and also practice shamanism.

So, Hawaiian shamanism is around, but it is not screaming from the treetops. It’s underneath. A lot of Maui jungalows have la'i (ti leaf plant) hedges around all sides of the yard since la'i is believed to protect against bad spirits. La'i (ti leaf plants) can also be planted immediately all around a house for the same reason.

To bless a home, one can sprinkle Hawaiian sea salt around the house, especially around the corners, and wave la'i (ti leaves) in the air. Of course, there are variations of this, which may involve chanting, or sprinkling salt water.  For large public events like art openings like at Viewpoints Gallery in Makawao or the Maui Arts and Cultural Center or for new building celebrations, typically a Hawaiian kahuna or teacher will be asked to do a blessing, involving a Hawaiian chant and often la'i or sea salt.  At the Hui No’eau stickwork celebration, there was a Hawaiian blessing, and attendees were given sea salt to sprinkle around the stickwork sculpture. Even at the Hali’imaile Community Garden, after volunteers had constructed a large bamboo gathering circle, there was a blessing by two different kahunas. 

For gathering healing plants, teacher David Bruce Leonard will start with a Hawaiian prayer at the location.  At certain places on the Big Island, local residents will leave la'i (ti leaf) leis, fruits, a pig’s head, even a bottle of Jack Daniels to the goddess Pele. Along the side of the road, people may build columns of stacked prayer rocks and make wishes. The only prayer rock wish I made was in 8th grade, when I wanted to grow up to be “tall and willowy.” At the time, I didn’t know that prayer doesn't work that way.   The only places I have seen prayer rocks on Maui, so far are at Eve Hogan’s Sacred Garden of Maliko and along Makena Beach.  I suspect there may be some prayer rock columns by the remains of the he’iau, old Hawaiian temples.

There are other Hawaiian gods, besides Madame Pele, like Lono the god of agriculture among other things. My spiritual practice does not include making offerings to Lono for a good garden crop, although maybe it should! 

Though local residents might not term it shamanism, a lot of folk culture wisdom may be based on it. One story was told to me by a nurse who lived on the island of Lanai. She said one night, she was hitting at some huge moths and the people with her were horrified, saying that the moths house the souls of deceased family members. They were probably also very Christian, while practicing Hawaiian-style folk wisdom and shamanism. 

Hawaiian shamanism also includes the practice of huna, which I’ve studied only very lightly, although I have practiced one non-traditional variation of ho’oponopono which is a practice to solve conflicts and make things pono or right.  One huna teacher, Serge King, offers huna lectures and workshops on the Big Island.  Also, places like yoga studios or Mana Health Foods in Paia will often advertise “Hawaiian shamanism” workshops. I’ve never taken any of those classes, and am not sure how authentic they really are, whether the person who is teaching the class really did learn from a traditional teacher or is making his/her own creative variation. For something more academic, the Maui campus of the University of Hawaii offers some Hawaiian culture classes which may include shaman practices. I also know of shamanic workshops based on non-Hawaiian traditions. 

My experience of Hawaiian shamanism is only what I’ve cobbled through the years, rather than anything formal. It’s certainly available, to the extent that anyone is looking for it and/or paying attention. But I suspect that the key to any good shamanic practice is really observation.  Mostly for me, that just means watching people, listening to their stories, and seeing whether they grow la'i plants around their jungalow.


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