A kitchen oven structure, a plastic outlet plate, and other remnants of a home are a haunting sight on the bottom of the ocean floor of Kealakekua Bay. Ke ala ke kua, the pathway to God. The wreckage lies off the shore of Manini Kapahukapu beach, a sacred gathering place for ancient Hawaiians. They deemed the site a place of healing, and it seems since time immemorial this place has been in need of healing.
Hard to find, the beach’s grassy flat is surrounded by lush foliage, and its ocean shore is crusted over with almost black, unforgivingly sharp lava rock. Across the calm bay, an odd white, stone beacon of a monument commemorates Captain Cook, who landed at this Hawaiian village amicably at first. But after the entanglements of disease and colonial politics and cultural misunderstandings, he was murdered at that spot, in plain sight across from Manini.
Of course it is odd that there is no monument there to honor the dead Hawaiians that once occupied the present day ghost village and Heiau, now overgrown by bird-filled plants and trees, the true natives of the area. Besides the monument and a plaque now in the tide waters of a rising ocean stating, “Near this spot Captain Cook met his death,” there are only loads of snorkelers by boat and kayak swimming among luminescent coral forests. The reef is growing less and less pristine, inversely to its popularity. On an unmarked spot there in the turbidity of ocean water lurks one of our wedding rings, a frightful loss at first, but now a fitting, romantic homage.
Behind Manini lies a lava field, now filled with a rural grouping of homes, the impoverished ones belonging to native Hawaiians, the gentrified ones belonging to outsiders who either own them as rentals to outsiders, or who visit there just as transiently as would-be renters. I can’t help but want one myself. But that area feels heavy, and when figuring out why, I learned that before there were homes there, the lava field was the site of historical bloodshed. A faction of Hawaiians hoping to gain control over all the islands overpowered a group supporting the disinherited. The Battle of Mokuahai, in 1781, was savage as even women took up arms for their territory and were among the losers, killed by bludgeoning instruments, or forced over cliffs into the lava strewn ocean.
In the center of the bay, a large pod of spinner dolphins rest, swimming easy circuits with their calves. One year we swam out to them. They, being the more fit for sea, and either cautious or curious, found us first. I dove into the depths of the bay as a group passed me, and for the length of a held breath I swam with them, tears filling my swim mask, my hand holding my heart hurting for the beauty still left in pockets of this contested earth. But after a little research, my heart hurt more to know that my presence was detrimental to their rest, to their impending survival outside the bay where they are forced to return earlier than necessary because of swimmers like me, wanting to experience their glory.
Today, I stayed at Manini, and resisted the coral reef at the monument, and the pod of dolphins splashing and spinning on the other side of the Bay. And there is where I found the modern day ruins of a shipwrecked home, dragged into the sea by the reach of a tsunami that just over a year ago, swept tens of thousands of people in Japan out to sea. The same grandmother working there three years ago with her infant grandson, already adept at the ocean, my son then only a shrimp in my belly, was also there today as she is everyday under her umbrella. Folks stop by regularly to hear of what news, I’m not sure. While our sprouted kids played in Manini’s one sandy opening to the surf, she explained to me the recovery taking place in the area. In the eddy where pristine waters meet the machinations of savage American imperialism and colonialism, I hope Manini prevails for all of us.
Glad sight wherever new with old
Is joined through some dear homeborn tie;
The life of all that we behold
Depends upon that mystery.
Vain is the glory of the sky,
The beauty vain of field and grove
Unless, while with admiring eye
We gaze, we also learn to love.
— Williams Wordsworth