L ast week, Mother Nature spent a lot of energy reminding us she was around. It was a nagging reminder, omnipresent and persistent. It’s the wind I’m speaking about, of course. Joining with her ally, the moon, Mother Nature nudged the ocean over seagirt Island roads and tossed it over the seawall in Oak Bluffs, impeding our mundane progress on errands. This wind had a particular character. Rather than giving us pelting rains and thunder storms, Mother Nature brought a boring norther — attitude rather than tantrums.
We are mostly indoor people these days and when we do go out we are armored in Gore-Tex and polyvinyl chloride so we don’t know the wind as intimately as people who lack these things. On one side of my bloodline, I am Hawaiian and on that side my ancestors lived in more intimate contact with Mother Nature. They were a seafaring people, and hardy, so in spite of their nakedness they did not take umbrage with evil weather. They were also poetic, having lived for centuries with only the spoken word as entertainment, and so in their oli and mele — their poetry and chants — they had names for everything around them, especially the winds.
They named winds for locations throughout Hawaii, thousands of them, expressing their rootedness in their aina, their land. The komomona wind blew in Kahauiki, a place near Honolulu; the ko’o pali was associated with the beautiful Halawa Valley on Molokai; the ko’o makani was a wind known on the island of Kaua’i.
The Kona winds were famous because they were an interruption in the normally steady northeast trades. The Kona hau was a penetrating damp wind; the Kona hili mai’a brought protracted rains and was strong enough to “smite the bananas,” or make them fall from trees; the Kona ku brought cold rain and the Kona lani brought gentle rain.
One of the Hawaiian words for wind is makani and so there are many winds with that name. Makani nui is a strong wind; makani olu olu a fair wind; makani hau none is an annoying cold wind from the mountains; makani kewai is a moisture laden wind; makani hilikua is a lashing furious wind and the most feared wind of all, makani ulu ulu, is a hurricane.
According to a friend of mine from Maui, Sam Ka’ai — a well known sculptor and savant of Hawaiian customs — makani was not just a word for wind but also for the god of the wind. Lord Makani, he called him, the eye of heaven who is everywhere. Sam associated Lord Makani with his ancestors, always vigilant to see that he walked the path that was pono, righteous and balanced in all things. His understanding is part of a general Hawaiian belief in the aumakua, the ancestral spirits that are always about us, protecting us and reminding us to live correctly.
So on Wednesday, when the wind gusted again to 30 knots after a brief respite on Tuesday, it was helpful to consider Lord Makani. How much better to experience the wind not as a worrying external force but as the breath of my aumakua — the ha, as Hawaiians call it — that carried their aloha, their love.
Sam Low is a writer and photographer who lives in Oak Bluffs and contributes frequently to the Gazette.