My family and another family -- my friend Bruce and his wife Marge and their baby -- decided that we were going to homestead this place. We went in and we cleaned it up, put in thatch dormers, cut down brush, chain-sawed trees and hauled trash. We did everything. In the end, it came out to be really like a dream of a tropical homestead.
I had 40 peacocks, a flock of white pigeons, a big black Great Dane, a horse, chickens, cats…all of the accoutrements that I, in my mind associated with paradise. There were trails of white sand, raked every day. I put in fishponds with tropical fish and goldfish and planted lots of flower beds. It was superbly beautiful.
There were two other homesteads on this whole 10-mile strip of coastline from Door of Faith Road back to Ulumalu. We were the only ones living there and the people who aspired to leave the towns -- Lahaina, whatever -- would come to see us. We started getting a lot of guests and they would bring their friends.
One day a friend arrived with an Oglala Sioux medicine man named Petaga Catches. (Actually his name was Pete. "Petaga" was part of his honorific name that had been given to him because of his shaman activities.) He was a truly beautiful human; he looked like the guy on the front of the buffalo nickel. He was probably in his mid-fifties then. His hair was braided. He had on a classic Western pearl-buttoned shirt, cowboy boots and all of the stuff.
I really liked him and he really liked me. I learned a lot from him. He taught me reverence for plants and a way of looking at things that I had never really been exposed to -- how to see spirits moving through the trees. As he walked he would pet the plants like each one was his favorite dog.
He was from the Pine Ridge reservation and one of the main advisors of the Wounded Knee American Indian Movement. He was one of the head shamans of the Pine Ridge Lakota, a very wise man.
One day I was sitting there with him at the table and he asked, "Do you know any real Hawaiians?"
"Of course, yes," I replied. "I know some beautiful Hawaiians."
"As a favor to me, would you take me and introduce me to a Hawaiian?" he asked. "There's a thing in my lineage that says that the Hawaiians and the Lakota are brothers. I would like to meet a real Hawaiian to see if it's true."
"Absolutely! Let's go!" I said. "Come on, Petaga, get in the car. They live just down the road."
There was a community of Hawaiians (actually more like a coven of old Hawaiian women) living on the Door of Faith Road. All of their children had abandoned them. The kids wanted to move to Honolulu, New York, Las Vegas…somewhere else. They didn't want to stay down on the farm because it was just too damned much work and it was boring.
Their elders were truly beautiful, mystical Christian religious people, and the oldest of them was Sarah Akiu. We called her "Tutu Sarah," which means "Grandma Sarah."
I loaded up Petaga into my old beat-up 1952 Ford pickup truck, bumped up my bad, muddy road and headed down the highway to find Sarah.
She lived in a big old homestead down the Door of Faith Road, which is two roads towards Hana from Halawa, which was the road I was living on. We went down to her house. She wasn't there. I thought, Man, she's somewhere around here.
We wandered around looking for her. We looked at her pigs, we looked at her chickens, we poked around in her house because I had free run of her place. I told Petaga, "Gosh, you know, maybe she's working down in her taro paddies."
Sarah had some really old taro paddies that she and her friend, Brother Panzo, worked. The paddies were down in the valley because the plants need gravity-flow irrigation and a lot of water.
Sarah also had an idiot son -- Jimmy Lolo, we called him (Crazy Jimmy). He spoke a few words, not much. He was a very kind and gentle giant, really powerful beyond belief. We met Jimmy on the way to the paddies and he confirmed, "Mama in taro, Mama in taro."
I said, "Okay, great! She is down there!"
Petaga and Jimmy and I headed down the little dirt trail to the taro paddies in the valley. We got down to the bottom and Sarah was, indeed, there. She was in the middle of one of the taro paddies. She was…I don't know…close to 80, and she was swinging this big, giant hoe, chopping up sod, getting ready to replant the taro.
She wore an old gingham dress that looked like "American Gothic." Completing her ensemble was a baseball hat that she wore backwards as well as rubber boots. The whole front of her dress -- half of the bodice was ripped completely off and one 80-year-old breast was hanging there down close to her waist as she keeps swinging this hoe.
Sara looked up and saw us walking towards her and she got a big smile on her face, totally not-embarrassed by anything.
(This is old Hawaiian style, before the white people really moved in. The people here had little to do with the white culture. They had been left alone for a long time and they lived it like they'd always lived it. There was "no-shame," as Sarah would say. "Matchew, Matchew…no shame, no shame," she would tell me.)
She saw us coming and walked out onto one of the walking dikes that surrounded the flooded taro paddy. She stood up on the bank then walked towards Petaga. Petaga walked towards her. They kept walking until they got right to each other.
Sarah looked at Petaga and said, "Hello, brother."
Petaga looked back at Sarah and said, "Hello, sister."
And they embraced. They stood there and they stood there and they stood there….and this was an Indian shaman from the Lakota Pine Ridge. He did not hug. He was not real big on this kind of stuff. They were there for 20 minutes hugging without letting go of each other.
Jimmy Lolo, was dancing around, jumping up and down, saying, "Mama hug Indian man, Mama hug Indian man, Mama hug Indian man…" over and over and over and over. He was just gleeful, leaping up and down.
Then they just backed off and stood there and stared at each other and smiled. Sarah said, "I'm so glad to see you, my brother." And Petaga replied, "I'm so glad to see you, my sister."
He told her, "Maybe I can come back again."
She said, "You will always be welcome in my house."
Then we left.