In the late 1970's I heard about an old man on Oahu that I wanted to talk to. He was a lineage holder in an old line of Hawaiian healer shamans. His name was Sam Lono. There was no way I could contact him. He lived on a 200-acre estate up against the pali (cliffs) above the Haiku Plantation subdivision in Kaneohe on the island of Oahu.
I went to Oahu with that in mind as well as some other things I had to do. I rented a car and drove out to the North Shore to Haiku Plantations thinking, I'll just go there and see what happens.
I parked my car, hopped out, and went through the gate. On the other side of the gate was a big stone covered with petroglyphs. I wanted to look at it, but I didn't get a chance.
We walked up a funny little dirt trail into the forest. The trail was probably 100 yards long. Along the trail, as you would come around these little curves, were little yappy dogs stationed along the way so somebody in the house would know where somebody was coming along the trail.
We said hello to the classic little Hawaiian dogs -- Vienna sausages with legs. (When one comes up for adoption, Hawaiians will trade a kid for it.) We walked back and there was an old sugar cane camp house, kind of sitting by itself, surrounded by forty big fat white Peking ducks, some little taro paddies and a whole lot of forest. The trail was literally one-inch deep with duck kukae (a.k.a. "doots").
I asked Sam why the plantation house he lived in had no termites. The house was at least 50 years old and there was no way an exterminator could get up there. Houses that old in Hawaii are usually little more than painted duct tape with termites holding hands. Sam said, "Oh, I went make deal with them." Period. Ever since I've wondered what kind of a deal he made.
Inside was the classic Hawaiian kitchen with a big table. On the table was a giant teapot, black from the kerosene stove, a box of Saloon Pilots crackers, a jar of instant Nescafe and a bowl with canned sardines in tomato sauce -- things that any local table would have sitting on it all the time.
We started telling each other bawdy stories back and forth and goofing. We liked each other. He was a very funny man. He looked like a little Sluggo-guy. He was not a handsome man. He told me in chewy pidgin that he was the caretaker of the sacred high-frequency places that helped maintain the balance in this place.
Sam said there were heiau (Hawaiian temples) in the forest above his place -- at least thirteen of them. I asked him, "How do you know when the gods come?" He answered, "They go to the heiau and I hear this loud, buzzing noise inside my head. When I hear that noise, I know they're at the heiau waiting."
Sam said he was the only one taking care of the heiau on all of the islands. Nobody else knew where they all were. Basically, he kept them alive.
He said he went all over the Hawaiian islands and every time he was cruising around to all these different places he said he used to wear funny old clothes, disguising himself as "Mr. Nobody" so nobody could see him and he would sneak in and out and go do his business without fanfare.
Sam told me about the "disguises" he put on to prevent people from knowing where he went and what he did on these "missions." He said, "Nobody even knows that I come and go, but I do."
He took me out to a couple of the heiau. One was a birthing heiau. There was a birthing chair with carved handgrips and stirrups over a small stream. Nearby there was a giant rock, at least 10 feet high and 10 feet in diameter. It had many carved holes. In the holes were what looked like ti leaf-wrapped ho'okupu, (offerings).
I was asking about different stories and he decided to tell me about the beginning of what later became the famous Hawaiian voyaging canoe, the Hokule'a. It was the first really unifying thing to happen to the Hawaiian people and it was really a politically brilliant move. The sailing canoe has done more for modern Hawaiian culture than any other thing. The few Hawaiian Homestead lots are well-appreciated, but more than that it's been the Hokule'a that's been the Hawaiian "moon-landing machine."
When a group of Hawaiians first wanted to launch the canoe, they decided they wanted one of their kahuna to bless it. So they came out to Sam's place to ask Sam to do this as a favor for them.
Sam, being a cranky old man said , "I ain't blessing no fuckin' plywood canoe!" He said, "You like me bless 'em, bring me koa canoe. You like this canoe blessed, you get one Christian to do 'em. Not me!"
Other guests at Woody's house were a potter named Beryl Jones and her friend Bob. Carmen and Beryl became great friends because of their interest in pottery-making. Beryl had made a study of seagulls and other sea birds and had developed a line of very realistic seagulls and terns made out of concrete pressed into molds. Carmen lived among the Indians on the Santa Domingo and Sandia Reservations and immersed herself in learning their forms of pottery and jewelry.
They decided to take a class in pre-Colombian statue reproductions from the local university. The man who was teaching the class was Rudolfo Torres. The Torres family had made these statues for 2,000 years and he was really a wonderful teacher.
The two women were advanced students, a teacher's dream. Rudolfo had two students who were every bit as capable as he was at the technical part of being potters. Rudolfo fell in love with these two women and they fell in love with him. They had a grand time sitting in the studio making pre-Colombian statue reproductions.
Beryl lived on the Oregon Coast Highway, outside Lincoln City. Her shop, the Quiet Gull, was there. It was an old coastal home from the 1940's with a big front yard. She had telephone pole sections set up like the pier pillars of a dock. Some of her seagulls were sitting on these poles, others were "flying above them. It was a scene.
[In 1986, The Deseret News had an article about Beryl and her gulls when she moved to Utah.]
As Rudolfo and Beryl were heading out to the Oregon coast, Carmen and I were also getting ready to leave. We planned on doing a giant circle tour of the Western Parklands. We were headed north to pick up our friend Beverly Brown and her 12-year-old son Louis at Denny in Trinity County, California. (Louis' Doberman puppy came along for the trip.)
Rudolfo knew about our plans and he asked us to look for some special low-fire clay that he needed for a project. He had gotten a contract to do Mexican mask reproductions for one of his museum clients and he wanted to work on them once he finished the work on Beryl's gulls. We told him we would certainly try.
We picked up our friends and after going through the redwood trees, we turned east to the Yosemites, then over the Feather River Pass to the Tuolumne Meadows in Nevada down to Mono Lake. From Reno we went to Las Vegas, the Barringer Meteor Crater, the Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert, then to Bryce Canyon, on to Zion to Jackson Hole then Yellowstone, through the Tetons.
The tour effectively ended after Louis slipped in the mud on the trail and ended up with his right leg stuck in the Yellowstone geyser. The tour effectively ended after Louis slipped in the mud on the trail and ended up with his right leg stuck in the Yellowstone geyser.
Something inside me said, That's the place. "Okay!" I said, "Hey everybody, that's where we're going."
We drove up. I walked in the door, followed by the rest of the crew, and there was an old man with a beautiful young girl. The old man was carving a katsina doll with a big horn-handled pocket knife. The katsina in his hands was mostly blocked out.
He said, "Oh, I went to Hawaii. I wanted to find out if the Hopi and the Hawaiians were brothers. I met a man there. Maybe you know him, that man I went to see. His name was Sam Lono."
I said, "Oh, yeah. I know Sam Lono." He thought that was great that I knew the man he had gone to see. Curious, I asked, "What happened?"
The old man said he had never been off the reservation but he wanted to go on this journey. He got a plane ticket to Honolulu and flew there. He had somehow gotten hold of Sam and Sam was to meet him at the airport. The old Indian got off the plane, walked into the airport, and met Sam standing there waiting for him.
Sam gave him the Mu handshake, which is supposedly from the lost continent of Mu, long-gone from somewhere before the Great Flood.
The Hopi knew what it was. He returned the same handshake and said, "Well, brother, I guess that's all I need to know. Anybody who knows the Mu handshake is part of the same people. I know the Hawaiians and the Hopi are related, so I can go home now." The old man said he turned around, got on the next plane to Arizona, and was gone.
When we asked about the clay, the old man said, "Yeah, they have a great clay place, right up here behind the house. You can drive your little Subaru up there and you can put as much clay in it as you want." The mission for Rudolfo was on the brink of accomplishment.
I zipped up a really bad piece of road and there was a hole in the ground up against the cliff. The hole was about 30 feet across and shaped like a clam shell. There was a cone-shaped depression that had been dug down to about 20 feet to reach the layer of viscous plastique-clay, which was gooey gray stuff. The rest of it was the crumbly body-clay. The hole was surrounded by thousands of painted pot shards, broken pottery from ages past. It was a most unusual scene.
Rudolfo had told me you needed three to four parts of the body clay to one part of the slippery stuff to make the right mix. They were both right there together so I just started scooping them up into large garbage-sized bags. We didn't have a shovel so I just scooped it out by hand with help from Louis.
We loaded up three bags of body clay to one bag of plastique clay into the little Subaru and we headed up north, sort of dragging the tailgate.
We made it. We drove into the Quiet Gull and there was Rudolfo. He was tremendously excited when we showed him the bags of clay.
He mixed up some clay and shaped it into balls about the size of golf balls. He made a fire and threw the balls onto the hot coals, heating them until they were glowing red-hot. Then he filled a bowl with ice-cold water and threw the red-hot little clay balls into the fire. The balls sank down to the bottom.
Rudolfo said, "Perfect…that's perfect!"
If the little heated balls explode in the cold water, the clay is junk, he explained. If they sink down to the bottom, however, the clay is good. It will last.
The weaving of the aka threads, the Hawaiian concept of the lines of energy that connect everything to each other, seems particularly strong through this collection of diverse stories. What were the chances that I would meet a Hopi Indian man who precipitated a most unusual encounter with my friend Sam?
Wanting to help my friend Rudolfo (who was connected to me because of his friendship with my wife and her friend Beryl) by finding clay he could use for his project, I also found a very old connecting thread between two cultures half a world away from each other -- one in the middle of the Pacific, and the other in a desert of the American West.