Petaga stayed with us for a time. Once he went back to South Dakota, he never returned to Maui. During his time with us we had many talks.
He told me that he became a shaman when he was in his forties. He was at a healing ceremony on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Somebody was very sick and there were people gathered 'round and there was a fire there. He looked at the fire and a thought came to him: I could reach in, scoop up those red-hot coals in my hands and if I wave them over this person's body, this person will be healed.
He said he dug both hands into the red-hot coals of the fire, picked them up. His assistant placed sage leaves and sweetgrass on the coals in his hands. Petaga held them up over this person and smudged him from one end to the other, passing his hands from their head back down to their feet several times. When he was done, this person was healed. And his name was changed from "Pete" to "Petaga."
When we met Petaga told me he had never seen a waterfall. He came from the desert. So, right then, I took him to Halawa Valley. At that time nobody lived there. It was completely empty from the highway to the sea.
We had regular trails down into the valley. There were three trails. One went to a deep swimming pool. The "Swimming Pool" was part of a series of pools and was at the end of the first trail. Another trail went through Halawa Valley and on to Honopou. It was called "Cut-short." ( It was faster to walk down that trail than to drive to Lower Honopou. You went out the back through the valley, over the ridge and into Lower Honopou. ) The low trail went to a big waterfall with a deep pool. We called that area "Lower Pools." It was all mango trees, all the way down, with muddy slippery roots.
"Hau Bush" was another upper pool at the top where the water ran so fast the hau bushes on the banks hung on for dear life. The swift water dug out a deep, beautiful pool there. Then there were the "Middle Pools" and the "Lower Pools." We never really named the pools in the area. There were too many.
In the summer, the waters below the Lower Pools were warn, About ten of us – adults and kids – would don masks and snorkels and follow the stream down to the sea, scaring the prawns and playing like otters. We would throw rotten guavas at each other and swim past the old 1901 Huelo Sugar Mill, around a 100-yard S-turn and into Halawa Bay, then snorkel out by the reef to see if we could catch a couple of lobsters for dinner. Then we would walk up to the ridge and take the short way home.
The dogs – Bo, a great Dane and a class-A short-haired mongrel named Joey – always went along, running through the trees sniffing everything and peeing.
On our walk down to the Lower Pools, I noticed that Petaga didn't stumble once in his big, slippery cowboy boots. He patted the plants as he went by as if they were both blessing each other. We went down to the falls at the Lower Pools and sat on the top watching the water. He was amazed at its beauty and clarity. For him, it was a vision of Heaven.
One day I asked him if the Lakota were peyote Indians. He said that, yes, on the reservation they did take peyote in their religious ceremonies. I asked him what the benefit of the peyote was to the people of Pine Ridge. And his answer was, "It brings the children home from the cities to take it."
I asked Petaga if he had ever been in a sun dance. He said he had been in many, many sun dances. At that point, he pulled up his shirt and he showed me the scars. There were scars from his collarbone clear down into the middle of his belly, down his back and down his front where he had ripped loose the pegs that they put through his skin to do the sun dance. (I did not know at the time that Petaga was instrumental in reviving the ancient practice.)
He told me, "Now they just pierce the skin. Before, they put the pegs through the muscle."
Petaga also told me about doing vision quests -- a real vision quest. He said he would go up into the Black Hills. Before he went he would do a bunch of sweats so he was clean, then he would take peyote and go up into the Black Hills to begin his vision quest.
He told me he would drive wooden stakes through his skin, deep into the muscles to the four directions. He would stake himself out with the stakes on strings tied to these skewers so that if he nodded in the night the pain would wake him up. He stayed up there for three to four days with no food, no water, and no sleep until he had a vision. When he had a vision, he said, he knew it was true and he would pull the stakes out and go back home.
A friend came over one day and we were sitting at the table with Petaga. My friend looked at Petaga and said, "Have you ever smoked marijuana?"
Petaga replied, "No, I never have."
"Why not?" was the question.
"Nobody offered before," he said.
"Would you like to?" my friend asked.
Petaga said, "I, my young friend, am a shaman. I deal in herbs. Is it a natural herb?"
My friend said, "Yes, of course."
"Then I would definitely like to try it," Petaga said.
My friend lit up a big, fat joint and showed Petaga how to smoke it. Petaga smoked it for about two minutes, handed it back to my friend, looked off out the window and said, "What magnificent colors!"
One beautiful Maui day Petaga and I were sitting out in the lawn. It was the kind of day when the colors were dancing in the trees and we were both enchanted by the beauty of the grove where we lived. We were looking around, taking it all in, and he turned to me and said, "The Great Spirit truly loves this place. This is a special place."
"I would like to show you the spirits," he told me.
"Great!" I said.
"Do you see how the wind moves through the trees? How the ripples Follow each other? How there's waves? That is the passing of the Great Spirit. If you watch it – how it moves, how it dances – you, too, can see it."
I looked and I saw exactly what he meant, maybe because I was there with him. I know I saw what he was trying to tell me. Ever since then I've had another awareness of the invisible beings that inhabit our lovely island.
Petaga wanted to do some healing ceremonies and one day we all converged at a house in Haiku where he wanted to practice and give a small lecture. We had always seen Petaga in his cowboy duds, his pearl button-down stuff, his cowboy boots and cowboy paraphernalia. When we went to do the healing ceremony, he went into the back room and got into his shaman outfit.
He came out dressed in full buckskins. They were hand-done, beautiful golden buckskins – a beaded buckskin jacket with buckskin pants and beaded buckskin moccasins. He also had his drum. I think it had a white buffalo on the face of his drum.
It was a truly amazing outfit. I had never seen anything quite like it and it was as formal as a tuxedo in a Native American way. It was aristocratic and so beautiful. It conveyed the elegance and power of the Native American past.
Petaga told the story of his history with White Buffalo Woman and touched on the legends and history of the Lakota in his talk.
There was a woman there who had internal problems and she asked him o heal her. He examined her and knew immediately what was wrong. He said that he had the medicine but unfortunately it wasn't here on Maui. It was still on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
All of a sudden he said, "Well, I guess I can get it if I want it. I'm going to go get it. You'll have to excuse me for a minute."
Petaga went into the back room. I sat there thinking, You're going to get it? You said it was in South Dakota!
We all sat there waiting while Petaga was in the back room. About half an hour later he came walking back out and sat down. We sat with him and chatted and chatted and chatted and all of a sudden he got a pleased look on his face and he said, "Oh, yes!" He jumped up, saying, "The medicine's here, the medicine's here," and he raced into the back room. He came out with a tan leather drawstring bag. It had herbs and things he used for healing in it.
We all looked at each other. Wow! What is going on?
"Petaga, how is this possible?" I asked him. "Why is the medicine here?"
"I sent my helpers for it," he replied.
Confused, I said, "Who are your helpers?"
He said, "My spirit helpers. They went to South Dakota for me and they brought it back and here it is." He waved the bag at me.
"Who in the world are your spirit helpers?"
He answered, "Little Red Hawk and the Thunder Beings." Then he said, "And now we can heal her."
And he did. He gave the woman the herbs and she was cured.
Later I asked him who Little Red Hawk was. "Oh, I can show you!" He exclaimed. He lifted up his arm and on the back of his hand there was a handmade black tattoo of a small red hawk. "Here he is. This is Little Red Hawk."
Little Red Hawk was his ally, he explained, and the Thunder Beings were Little Red Hawk's assistants.
On another day Petaga and I were sitting out in my yard under a plumeria tree which had a beautiful lavender cattleya orchid in full bloom. He looked up at me and said, "You know, I have never left South Dakota. This is my first trip. I can't believe what's happening. A war has broken out between the Indian agents and the Indian people and I am responsible for their safety and their welfare."
He said, "The one time, the ONE time that I leave the reservation, all hell broke loose and I have to go back."
He said, "I love all people, love all living beings, but, God, I hate that Dick Wilson." (Richard Wilson was the chairman of the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council and, with the help of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the United States government he was acting like a dictator, and had a group of followers who enforced his edicts.)
When we heard about the trouble at the reservation between Dick Wilson's Goon squad and the Lakotas at the Pine Ridge reservation, as well as the news that Petaga had to go home, I asked him, "How did you know that? You haven't been near anything for a while…no radio, no television."
He told me, "My spirit helpers, Little Red Hawk and the Thunder Beings, brought me the message."
After he left, we heard that the trouble at the Reservation continued to grow. It was part of the turmoil that led to the protest at Wounded Knee in 1973.