Maui No Ka 'Oi Magazine March-April 2014 - March-April 2014
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Behind The Rainbow

Why do Hawaiian skies put on the most amazing light shows?

(page 4 of 4)

The Hawaiian Connection

Kimokeo Kapahulehua stands at the edge of Wailea Beach, dressed in traditional garb. Across the water, dark clouds persist above Kahoolawe, though the sun is finally up. Soon two-dozen canoes will round the point and await Kapahulehua’s signal to approach, the ceremonial start to a day of workshops for the Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce. As he raises his conch to welcome the canoes, a rainbow appears and brightens to vivid intensity. It will linger until all twenty-four crews pull their vessels up onto the sand.

Cecilia Fernandez Romero and I were at the beach that day in 2010. The photo she captured of that moment became the cover of our November-December issue. Kahu Lyons Naone was there, as well. Nearly two years later, he reminds me of that morning. “It was not a good day for rainbows,” he says, “but the rainbow appeared. That was a sign from the ancestors that what we were doing was proper.”

Hawaiians have mixed views about rainbows. In such respected source books as Olelo Noeau and Nana I Ke Kumu, rainbows sometimes foretell misfortune, presage a death, or announce that a chief is journeying, watched over by the gods.

“It depends on when it happens,” says Naone, “and what the person is looking for. Many times the rainbow is a hoailona, or omen, that the ancestors or gods favor what you did or plan to do.”

Naone’s Hawaiian grandmother trained him in traditional practices almost from the time he learned to walk. Today he teaches Hawaiian healing around the world. In Austria, a men’s group asked him to design a tattoo to represent their commitment as spiritual warriors — with a rainbow to show the connection between indigenous and nonindigenous cultures.

“Physicists talk about the scientific reasons Hawaii is full of rainbows,” says Naone. “We see rainbows as a symbol; we are a bridge to the rest of the world for spirituality and healing.”

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the Color of Legend

Rainbows play more than a passing role in several Hawaiian legends. Dr. Joseph Ciotti, professor of physics and astronomy at Windward Community College, and director of the Hokulani Imaginarium, tells this story of Hina and her husband, Aikanaka:


One morning as Hina toiled wearily at her tasks, a rainbow appeared, beckoning her to escape her harsh life. She climbed, but the heat of the sun soon drove her back. Exhausted, she fell asleep, and slept until nightfall. At home, she found Aikanaka so enraged that she ran from him until she came upon a moonbow. Once again she climbed, this time under the coolness of the moon. Aikanaka chased her and cut off her foot to stop her, but Hina escaped and hobbled up to the moon, where she lives to this day. When the moon is full, you can see her silhouette beating tapa cloth; the clouds nearby are the tapa she hangs out to dry.

Olelo Noeau, Mary Kawena Pukui’s book of Hawaiian proverbs and sayings, tells how an ancient chief named Makalii once gathered all the food plants in a net and hung it high in the sky, leaving the people to starve. A rat climbed a rainbow up to the net and chewed a hole for the plants to fall through. “When the rain pours over the land and plants sprout everywhere, it is compared to the gnawed net that scattered food from the hills to the sea, bringing life to all.”


A rainbow also figures in this tale, told by cultural practitioner Kainoa Horcajo, of how Makaha Valley got its name:


“On the island of Oahu, Ke Anuenue, goddess of rain and rainbows, heard of a young chief named Makaha, who was said to be strong and brave. Longing to see him, Ke Anuenue created a double rainbow extending from her home in Manoa to the young chief’s valley. The people of the area, stunned by the sight of such a vivid and magnificent rainbow, made offerings of prayers. Later, they built a heiau, or sacred temple, in honor of Ke Anuenue and Makaha, and renamed the valley in his honor.”