Kaniela "Danny" Akaka
Eating breakfast at a café in Kona, I overhear a family of visitors at the next table. They’re talking about a television show on which one of the characters sees a hallucination.
"What’s a hallucination?" asks the son, a boy of about eleven.
"It’s when you see something that’s not really there," his mother explains. "It means you’re crazy."
Two hours later, I’m talking with the director of cultural affairs at the Mauna Lani Resort, Kaniela "Danny" Akaka, and his wife Anna at the Eva Parker Woods Cottage on the hotel’s grounds. On one side, the serene Kalahuipuaa fishponds reflect the sky; on the other, the distant, cloud-hung summit of Haleakala seems to float. A pair of visitors drifts in to check out the cottage, now a museum. Danny welcomes them with expansive warmth, encourages them to look around. "Careful, that’s the haunted room," he laughs as they peer into a small chamber off the living room. After they leave, I ask if he was serious.
"There’s a procession that used to walk right through this house," says Anna. "I don’t see them, but I can sense when they’re around." But her son, she says, can see them. "As he’s gotten older, he’s realizing that not everybody has that ability. He’s apprehensive of it," she adds. "I tell him: It’s just our kupuna—our ancestors—coming back to do their work. No problem.’"
The contrast couldn’t better illustrate the differences between Western and native beliefs. "We now call things abnormal’ that at one time were very normal because they were accepted," Danny says. "I tell people: Now you’re in Hawaii; you have to open yourself to these experiences. You’ll miss the whole thing, everything Hawaii is about, if you close your mind.’ Two hundred years ago, the elders spoke prophecies; they said the ancient ways and understandings would begin to reappear now, in our time. Those prophecies are coming to pass, and now Hawaii is becoming a spiritual magnet, drawing people seeking a deeper, more profound sense of their being. They’re seeking out a place of healing where values that have been passed on for generations are balancing the rest of the world. Some come looking for healing; others are led here by some force they don’t understand. It’s a place they’ve been searching for all their lives and found by chance." He pauses thoughtfully, then asks, "Or was it chance?"