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Vol.18, no.1
February/March 2015


The Caretakers (Page 2)

That’s still possible at Halawa, and the valley’s abundance was among the reasons the earliest Hawaiians settled it. There are about twenty heiau in Halawa attesting to the robustness of its native past. “There was almost every single kind of temple you could find, from farming to human sacrifice to a pu‘uhonua, or city of refuge,” he says. Outlaws or defeated warriors could enter a pu‘uhonua and be protected from a death sentence, he explains. If they reached the pu‘uhonua, a kahuna could absolve them. The valley’s most unique sites are its luakini heiau, commissioned by ali‘i (chiefs) for animal or human sacrifice, usually in honor of the god Ku, he says. A few yards up we find two house foundations and taro terraces. Peeking through the underbrush are large boulders with smooth indentations—birthing stones where pregnant women would come to deliver.

Greg knows Halawa like his own house; Pilipo began showing him its every secret when Greg was a boy. In the late 1960s Pilipo led noted Hawai‘i archeologist Patrick Kirch on numerous hikes to radio-carbon-date significant sites like the ones we’ve just passed. Kirch’s research details the pre-contact Hawaiian community and established Halawa as a significant settlement in ancient times. Kirch’s book Pre-history and Ecology in a Windward Hawaiian Valley: Halawa Valley, Moloka‘i credits Pilipo for his contribution. “He called dad a scholar,” Greg smiles—mainly because Pilipo himself had only an eighth-grade education. But his cultural knowledge was doctoral-level. “Kirch came to him because he lived the lifestyle,” says Greg. “He knows the stories.”

Two hours later we reach Mo‘o‘ula, where the falls thunder into a wide, dark pool. According to local custom, before entering the plunge pool you must first drop a ti leaf into the water to ask for the mo‘o’s permission. If it floats, it is safe to swim; if it sinks, stay out. Sort of, say the Solatorios. When Pilipo was a boy, his grandfather showed him the family’s way to ask permission: Snap off an entire ti crown, tie a small stone to the bottom of the crown and place it in on right side of the pool. If the crown bobs in the pool’s currents, it’s safe to swim; if it sinks, the mo‘o is in no mood for company. “I was in the fourth grade when he first showed me and my sister,” says Greg.

Sitting at the pool’s edge, Greg tells me to look up. I tilt my head back and see a reptile-shaped boulder at the upper left of the falls: the mo‘o of Mo‘o‘ula. “Do you see a chicken?” he laughs. Back at Halawa Hale, Pilipo adjusts his kihei, a rectangular piece of cloth tied at one shoulder, cocks the green haku lei on his salt-and-pepper hair and shares his story. “I was adopted,” he says. Pilipo’s mother suddenly died when he was three, leaving him and his siblings in the care of the Solatorio family. Young Pilipo bonded with his adoptive Hawaiian grandfather, who chose Pilipo to carry on the family traditions. “I didn’t understand why,” he says. “My siblings thought I would be the favorite, but I worked in the kalo [taro] patches and learned hula while they played.”

Pilipo craved a change, so at 16 he joined the Navy by fudging his age. “I went from Pearl Harbor to San Diego and was put with seventy-five boys from Texas,” he laughs. Pilipo says if it weren’t for his naval career, he would have never visited Japan or met Diana in California, an Indiana farm girl who returned to Moloka‘i with Pilipo and raised six children with him.

When he got home in the early 1960s, Pilipo was ready to assume his kuleana. “I wanted to acknowledge the kupuna,” he says. For twenty-nine years Pilipo divided his time between Halawa and working at the now-shuttered Moloka‘i Ranch during the height of the island’s biggest tourism boom, running its safari tours and the cultural programs. That’s how he met Matt Yamashita. Pilipo was Matt’s kumu hula (hula teacher); Pilipo and Diana became Matt’s second parents and Halawa valley a second home. Pilipo estimates he’s adopted—hanai in Hawaiian—twenty children in the community. “He’s a true kupuna,” says Yamashita. “There’s no one in Halawa doing what he’s doing.” Yamashita, now a filmmaker, is making a documentary on Pilipo’s life.