Shining Spirit of Kohala: The Beloved Kumu Raylene Ha’alelea Kawaiae’a
People who move to the Big Island, or buy a second home here often explain shyly that they felt drawn by something. Even the data-driven ones (my typical reader!) sometimes confess.
Some are moved by the natural environment – the ocean and its dolphins, humpbacks, and turtles, the drama of active volcanoes, the stunning natural landscapes carved from the interaction between fire, water, earth, and wind. Some are touched by the Hawaiian culture, which seems particularly alive and well in smaller more traditional communities, such as Kohala where I live.
I’ve written before about the strong sense of place in Kohala, where residents treasure their history, working to preserve the historical sites associated with Kamehameha I, the structures of spiritual and cultural significance known as heiau, and the relational culture and values, the songs and stories of the Hawaiian tradition.
Hawaiian words and maxims pepper everyday conversations. At a fundraiser for the Kohala Hospital Foundation, a young woman confers with the musicians, then takes the floor explaining that she was born in the hospital and would like to offer a hula in appreciation. After an issue recently created tensions and divisions in the community, neighbors turned to ho’oponopono to restore broken ties.
The Spiritual Side of Kohala
On Friday, March 9th, the community was in shock and disbelief as word spread via coconut wireless: beloved Kumu Raylene Ha’alelea Kawaiae’a had been killed in an accident on the Kohala Mountain Road.
Kumu Raylene offered the blessing at the Grand Opening of the Hawaii Wildlife Center in Kapa’au (Photo credit: TropicalExposures.com)
It is hard to describe how an individual can hold the spiritual center for a community. Maybe my teammate Jana Koholoa’a, whose family has been here for generations, could explain better. Kumu taught hula and ho’oponopono, shared her cultural knowledge in the schools, helped protected cultural resources on the land…but more than what she did, it’s who she was.
At her memorial service last Saturday, I learned she’d also been called to many places on the globe as a respected practitioner of Hawaiian spiritual and cultural tradition. One of those occasions was a private audience with the His Holiness the Dalai Lama on Maui.
That made sense to me. Several times I was with the Dalai Lama in small groups, and much like with His Holiness, if you’d had even a few minutes to engage with Kumu Raylene, you would have seen the same twinkle in the eye, the same radiance. You would have felt from that few minutes that you had been truly seen, and walked away knowing you are a better person than you’d been judging yourself to be…and wanting to live up to that glimpse of a kinder, more loving, more giving, more appreciative possibility.
Throughout last week, people kept shaking their heads, wondering how the community would go on without this irreplaceable teacher and guide. Jim Channon – another resident of our community, known here and perhaps better known outside Kohala – posted on Facebook an answer I found inspired and inspiring.
R A Y L E N E
She was a one of a kind
But her qualities are not unknown to us
The difference she made was largey because she always
brought all those qualities to the soul … she walked into our presence
She was patient, kind, soft spoken, and generous, and loving, and encouraging
and always reminded us that we were in charge of our own victories
Who…will replace her?
What…will we do now?
Just choose one of her qualities
and add it to your soul
and then together
she will be here
more loving than before
Hundreds of people filled the gym at Kamehameha Park for the memorial, filling it with love and aloha. The celebration of life for Kumu was also an occasion for healing, as it was clear that Jim’s words quoted above have already come true. The spirit of aloha shines on in Kohala.
A hui hou,