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.