Beneath the Black

Just before I boarded a plane bound for Hawai’i, a good friend said, “I’ve had a vision.” 

 Photo by Merideth Hardwick Jaska.

Photo by Merideth Hardwick Jaska.

She could make out a mountain that seemed to release steam and smoke that soared high up into the sky.

“You were there!” she said. "You were standing on black land in a black dress with your long black hair flying in the wind."

Her vision ended with another vignette of the mountain. What seemed to be steam and smoke was sucked back into the ground beneath the black.

At the time, my ears of flesh didn’t comprehend this vision from a good friend. During the long flight to Hawai'i, I was feeling despair for all that was lost, and all that would be lost if the law-giving law-making lava continued toward Pohoiki.

Once my feet hit the ‘aina, all of that changed – all thoughts of despair and death were defeated. Surrounded by my ohana, I remembered once more what it means to give and receive faith.

Each day on the ‘aina I did my part — enjoying the abundance of Hawai’i nei. I stood my watch and stood my ground until my part was done.

Not long after returning to my "other home" we all rejoiced while hearing the good news. The liquid lava, the hot molten mana of magma, had adorned the little red house with a garment of black sand – a priceless palena purchased at a great price. Not foe but friend, the liquid lava, the hot molten mana of magma decided to do her part – protecting the little red house, her new neighbor from the ever encroaching erasure and erosion of her ancient shores. 

We all have had parts to play — lava boat captains, volcano photographers, sacrificial politicians, animal activists, praying aunties, mud-weary mothers and more.

During these times of searching for the n’au of matters that have brought much sorrow, we have all played our parts, like young keikis that cling to our kupunas through long dark nights.

We have played our parts well because we are keiki o ka ‘aina. May we always remember that forever we must play well together for that is what makes Pohoiki strong.

The Real Power of Pu’uohonua O Puna

This is a mo’olelo about pu’uhonua. In other words, this is a short kine true story about a “place of being, refuge, peace and safety.”


Before sharing my story, there are a few words that a worth hearing; words recorded in The Pu’uhonua Peace Pact as submitted at The Hague, Netherlands in 1999.

“According to Kanaka Maoli traditions of Ka Pae 'Aina Hawai'i, human beings are not the law-makers. The spiritual life givers of land and water that sustain all life are the law givers, and human beings have the responsibility to harmonize their life through a sacred response to the laws of the natural world, thus honoring the sustaining of life energy and life renewal systems throughout time. Laws of renewal that follow from these cultural practices include: asking permission before taking anything needed from the natural world, taking only what is immediately necessary, sharing with others what is taken, not wasting or contaminating, respecting the needs of all living generations and respecting the needs of all generations to come.”

In the days of old, the Kanaka Maoli were not governed by authoritarian power built upon money, politics, industry, technology and aggression. Instead, the Kanaka Maoli understood that “Real power is our relationship with the earth.” In this spirit, the authors of The Pu’uhonua Peace Pact envisioned the return of real power to the Kanaka Maoli and all other indigenous peoples of the earth.

In May 2018, real power returned to the Kanaka Maoli of Puna, Hawaii. From the start – from the eruption of the first fissure to the next, and the next and then even more –  the Kanaka Maoli of Puna respected the return of the law-maker and law-giver known as lava.

While the law-making law-giving lava formed fountains and ran rivers across the homes of humans, the Kanaka Maoli remained pono, shared aloha and gave mana. They – the Kanaka Maoli – formed a community called Pu’uhonua O Puna to encourage and empower and supply and sustain and inform and inspire the people who needed the most help – houseless humans raising babies under tents pelted by a deafening daily deluge of rain.

Like many other humans, I followed Pu’uhonoa O Puna from a great distance. In my case, some 3,663 miles away. Inspired by the generosity of many others, I messaged Pu'uohonua O Puna, offering make a donation. Not once did I receive a return email that outlined ways to give. Not once was I solicited for funding.

From a distance, I realized that the founders and followers of Pu’uohonua O Puna didn’t care about money. Pu'uohonoua O Puna had real power. The kind of real power that our ancestors had, and the kind of real power our ancestors passed down to us.

Eventually, I had to return to Puna. My bones demanded it, even if only for a short time. A trip home wouldn't be complete without enjoying lunch at Kaleo’s Bar & Grill but just as we were seated, a notification popped up on my phone. Ikaika Marzo was live at Pu’uohonua O Puna!

Lunch could wait. My girlfriends said, “Let’s go!” We loaded up in the Jeep and peeled down the road to the outskirts of old Pahoa town. Sweet Hawaiian music welcomed us, as if to say, this is home.


Pu'uhonua O Puna is a home for many people, especially for those who miss hanging out at Pohoiki. It was surreal to see Philip Ong behind the camera shooting the live feed. For the first time, I stood with him and many other volunteers, the ones that aren’t always on camera. Husbands and their wives. Tutus and their mo’opuna. Friends of Pohoiki. The community known as Pu’uohonua O Puna.

 Chad Aiona and Rene Ahu, friends of my dad and residents of Puna, Hawaii.

Chad Aiona and Rene Ahu, friends of my dad and residents of Puna, Hawaii.

During the spontaneous concert, a kind lady made room for me to sit next to her. We chatted and then she waved over her husband, the Kanaka Maoli who sang with Ikaika. We talked story for a few minutes, he was a tall Hawaiian man, leaning down to better hear us. I thought to myself, “This is a kind man.” So, I said, “And, who are you?” The entire crowd got a good belly laugh, including myself. As it turns out, I had been talking story with the mayor of Kaua’i!

 Me and he mayor of Kaua'i.

Me and he mayor of Kaua'i.

In that moment, I felt a kinship with everyone at Pu’uohonua O Puna, including the mayor. We shared aloha as ones who have been brought together by the law-making law-giving lava. On that day, we stood side by side: musician, filmmaker, volcanoligist, photographer, wine distributor, writer, construction workers, ministers, and yes, even politicians. Especially the kind of politicians that make music and serve soup. You know, the human kind. Even as the plume stretched out above us, we stood on the ‘aina a together, enjoying life. Enjoying the songs and the stories. Enjoying community.


The Kanaka Maoli of Pu’uohonua O Puna aren’t superhuman. They are simply humans with ku’o ko’a, an inherent self determination to “care for, protect, and enhance the natural world.” And, they are doing a damn good job at providing a “place of being, refuge, peace and safety.”

This is what it means to be a Kanaka Maoli, and Ikaika Marzo is one such Hawaiian, along with the entire ohana of Pu’uohonua O Puna – the people of real power.


The ‘Aina and the Heavens

As life and lava continues to move fast, I’ve had to pause and peer into the na'au of matters that often seem hard for me to navigate.

Like many Hawaiians, I’m grieved at the thought of losing cherished spaces and sacred places such as Pohoiki. Yet, like many Hawaiians, my bones are eager for the cleansing that our ‘aina desperately needs. So, which do I pray for?

Like many Hawaiians, I have fallen in love with a man named Iesu, and I live because of His Word and His Ways. Yet, like many Hawaiians, I have a regard for fire-making Pele and forest-eating ʻAilāʻau. So, how do I bridge my faith and culture?


These questions have been with me since the month of May. Sometime today, while running errands for my auntie, I found myself in an empty car. For once, I didn’t have my six-year old son in the backseat begging to listen to Smooth Criminal “just one more time.” In the quiet, I felt the Spirit of God with me, and so I said, “Heavenly Father, I don’t know what to pray.”

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Heavenly Father, I don’t know what to pray.
You are Ke Akua.
You are the Sovereign One.
‘Ae, that’s right, You are sovereign over all.
The ‘aina and the heavens.

Heavenly Father, I believe that I am Your child.
My dad was Your child, too.
My dad said You were the giver of all good gifts.
‘Ae, that’s right, your children can ask for the good gifts from You.
Heavenly Father and Abba Daddy.

Heavenly Father, I do know what I want to pray.
Will you please spare our ‘aina?
Will you show mercy for the ‘aina you created?
‘Ae, that’s right, you are sovereign over all.
The ‘aina and the heavens.

Heavenly Father, I don’t want Pele to take Pohoiki.
Please place a boundary before her – A Wall of Love – Kainoa’s Wall.
Please give us more time to clean our hale and care for our kupuna.
‘Ae, that’s right, you can teach us, once again, to malama the ‘aina.
Malama the ‘aina for a day more, a week more, a month more, a year more, a decade more, and more, then even more.

Heavenly Father, I call upon Your Mana.
Let Pele have the pavilions, more can be built.
Let ʻAilāʻau eat the forests, more can be grown.
‘Ae, that’s right, you alone created the heavens and the earth and you will create again.
The stars and the seas.

This is what I have prayed today and this is what I will pray tomorrow.

The Wall of Love

While living on the Big Island of Hawai`i, my brother, Kainoa Jr., mastered the art of building rock walls made with nothing more than lava stones. In his youth, he was befriended by a Tongan man, and his son, who lived in Kona. They shared secret methods, passed down through their descendants, to my brother, the Hawaiian.

 Kainoa's rock wall at Poho`iki in Puna, Hawaii.

Kainoa's rock wall at Poho`iki in Puna, Hawaii.

Eventually, he moved to Puna, to be closer to our parents, and the rest of the ohana. Under the hot Puna sun or the unrelenting Puna rain, my brother labored to lay rock upon rock, perfectly fitting them together joint by joint. His rock walls were smooth, straight and strong – formed by the talents of the flesh and mana of the spirit.

Most of his rock walls have been absorbed by the `aina. Lava liquified by lava, that hot molten mana of magma. Only one rock wall remains in Puna, which also happens to be, the last rock wall he ever built.

Perhaps you have seen Kainoa’s rock wall, wrapping around a little red house tucked inside the bay known as Pohoiki. In the past, when Uncle Hale kept watch over Pohoiki, the little red house was surrounded by a grove of coconut trees, lava rock and green grass. The landscape changed, as is always does in Hawai`i. All the same, that little red house has weathered the tests of time.

Before leaving for the mainland, Kainoa knew that it was time to gift a rock wall, in honor of our dad, to our ohana. The coconut trees had fallen, one by one. The grass became worn thin, trampled down by a fresh wave of tourists who didn’t understand what it means to malama the `aina. Too many dirty diapers had been left to rot along the shores of Pohoiki. Too many plastic bottles found their way to the ocean. For the first time, the little red house needed the protective embrace of a rock wall.

In my brothers words, “Long before I offered to build the rock wall, or they asked to, I knew inside my heart it was the right thing to do.”

So, he called his friend, Nuku, saying, “I need to build another rock wall, for Love.” When he pulled into Pohoiki. Nuku was already there, preparing their gear. Weeks went by while my brother worked one side of the rock wall as Nuku worked on the other side. They worked this way until my brother was hurt, loosing the use of one arm. Nuku still came to work, and my brother still came to work. My brother knew that he could function with one arm, just like our dad.

When the work was finally pau, the ohana collected a little bit of money and tried to pay my brother. But he said, “No! Go pay Nuku. He is the one with a wife and three kids.”

Soon after, the economy crashed. There were no more jobs for rock wall builders like Nuku and Kainoa. A couple months later, my brother left for the mainland which began a new journey. There, he has remained except for in his dreams.

This is what he dreamt at the beginning of the month of May, in the year 2018.

“In the first dream I was at Pohoiki, standing on the outside of my rock wall facing Uncle Hale’s house. I turned to see the lava coming. I could hear people. I could hear the crying and wailing of many voices as the lava came closer and closer.
In the second dream I was at Pohoiki, once again, standing on the outside of my rock wall facing Uncle Hale’s house. Looking toward mauka, I could see both the house and the lava flow as I turned my head left to right. Again, I heard people crying but this time they were saying to me, “Tell the flow to stop.” The flow was fast-moving; I stayed and prayed for as long as I could. Then, someone came and scooped me up. When I looked back the lava was inches from the wall.”

The Best Fisherman of Pohoʻiki, and Beyond

My dad was one of the best fishermen to walk the shores of Puna, and beyond. According to my aunties and uncles – he was the best because he mastered fishing techniques passed down from our ancestors.

 Look closely in this picture and you can see my dad checking on his fish in the shallows.

Look closely in this picture and you can see my dad checking on his fish in the shallows.

At Pohoʻiki, he waited patiently for the tide to go out. At just the right moment, like an ʻaʻama crab, he deflty moved over the rocky coastline towards the waters edge. He formed a fish trap with nothing more than black rocks, worn smooth by the tide. When the final stone was in place, he returned to the shore, patiently awaiting the tide once more. As water filled the bay, fish swam into his invisible trap just as the other fishermen began to arrive at the pier across the bay. They stood on the smooth concrete surface of the sidewalk, casting their lines into the deep water, again and again. Dad would watch them from the porch of the old red house across the water. He lingered in the cool shade to talk story, knowing he had plenty time – his fish were waiting for him in the shallows.