When T and I moved into the little one-BR house on Maui near the beach, no one thought to mention it had been built over an ancient Hawaiian burial ground. It had been covered up in the late 1800s to make room for a white-man’s housing development, rows of little plantation houses for the cane-field workers.
I suppose that knowledge was long gone from the minds of the people who had subsequently built up the place, but it certainly wasn’t long-gone from the locals’ minds.
On a casual stroll around the neighborhood soon after moving in, a little old local man came up to us and told us we should ‘skit’ as soon as we could. That because of the nature of the land, it was dangerous in that house, and Bad Things would happen to use if we stayed there.
“What nature? What do you mean?” I asked.
He looked at me as if I was putting him on, kidding him that I didn’t know.
“Everyone knows! That house was built on an (he whispers now) old Hawaiian burial ground!”
He gazed around as if he was being followed by the CIA or something. He shivered, and I could imagine his old bones rattling under his wrinkled leathery dark brown skin.
I smiled and thanked him, and asked if there was a way to have it be less dangerous.
He was surprised.
“No one else ever asked me that! You’re the first one to ever even think it might be true. Everyone else who’s tried to live there always laughed at me! And then awful things happened to them, and every single one of them moved out as fast as they could – sometimes leaving all their stuff! Here’s what to do…”
He told us to give offerings of food and flowers, especially on the full moon, and especially never to go outside after midnight on the full moon, since that’s when the Ancients Walked. I thanked him, and we parted ways, T and I continuing on back home.
So I started leaving flowers on a little altar table thing I placed next to a lovely old bonsai-shaped tree in the back yard.
I wanted to make a plate for Them, with a few morsels of the best parts of what we were having in that meal, but didn’t know what to do with it after the meal. I looked for the old man to ask what to do.
“Ohhh, good for you!” He just about burst his face smiling. He patted my arm, and leaned forward, saying, “You eat it!”
He stood back, laughing and laughing at the surprise on my face.
“You eat it! And as you do, tell them silently, like a prayer, that you honor them, and thank them for not hurting you! And maybe, if they like you, they will protect you!”
So, from then on, either T or I would eat the tender morsels on the Gift Plate, and focus our thoughts the way he’d said to do.
When T’s old friend Ricky was staying with us, he’d stolen some Forbidden Stuff from the infirmary at the LaHaina Chinese Tong Society (people you do NOT want to mess with!). From the location he’d taken it from, you can guess the contents of what he’d nipped.
He put it all in an old empty paint bucket, dug a hole, and buried it out by that same tree.
The day after I kicked him out, I went out to place fresh flowers on the table. I saw that somehow, that bucket had popped right out of the earth, and was lying there cool as could be, fully exposed.
I went back inside to get my gardening gloves so I wouldn’t have to touch the bucket with my bare hands. I came back out to move the thing, but it was gone. Not only that, but the hole had been completely covered. It looked as if no one ever had disturbed the earth at all.
I was so shaken I could hardly function all day. While I knew in my heart that All was OK, and that They had done it, my silly mind conjured up all kinds of doubts and fears.
As I laid in bed that night, I decided to ask Them if They had taken the bucket.
Because sure as shootin’, the narcs who had been looking for Ricky would have come in with 90 men in black and made a huge fuss. They’d have dug up the entire yard, destroying my little altar and disturbing The Tree. And left it all a wreck when they went back to Suspicion-Land. I knew for sure it wasn’t them.
I knew it wasn’t the Tongs, although I don’t know how I knew that. I just did.
I knew for sure that it wasn’t Ricky, because we’d gotten a call that he’d been arrested, and would we post bail. (I said most certainly not and hung up on them.)
So who had removed the pail, and done such a fine job of resealing the earth where it had been?
Well. You and I know who it was.
I felt blessed and fortunate to be able to leave offerings for the Ancients. I loved it that at last, someone could at least make a tiny bit of amends for the crappy way they had been treated. I made a special effort every day to leave the nicest flowers out for them.
Speaking of being protected…
While we lived there, I was suddenly able to stop smoking – a habit I had started as a lark at age 14, building up to two packs a day of unfiltered Chesterfields. Remember them? I don’t know if they are even sold anymore.
I knew it was bad for me, but never had the gumption, or whatever it was you needed, to try to stop.
T and I were into trying various hallucinogens at the time. We wanted to try eating Wood Rose seeds, because we’d heard it was like peyote.
You have to be super careful – there’s a layer of poison coating the seeds that you have to be meticulous scraping off. And even when you are that careful, just a few seeds make you so sick you spent your first hour barfing your brains out, wishing you were dead.
We tried them three times. The first time, T got sick, and I did not. I had a glorious trip, while he laid in bed the whole time groaning and moaning.
The second time, I got sick, and he was fine. It’s emblazoned in my mind how, when I got up and staggered to use the loo, I suddenly had this clear picture of me taking a puff of a cigarette, and morphing from a 22 year old, healthy thriving young woman into an old scrawny hunched-over hag with charred, eaten-out lungs, rasping and hacking and coughing up great gobs of black goo. And finally, collapsing in a broken heap into the mud, deader then a doornail.
I heard this Voice in my head, saying, “That’s you. Are you sure you want to continue lighting up paper-covered floor sweepings of dirty, dusty leaves that poison your body and sucking the smoke into your beautiful young lungs?”
I felt like I’d been struck by lightning. Stopped in my tracks. I knew had free will – I could go on like I was, or I could finally stop smoking.
I had The Choice.
I never even wanted – much less touched – another cigarette again.
The third time we ate the seeds, neither of us got sick.
I had worked in my garden all day, so I was resting in bed for a bit. T was down at the beach, watching the waves.
We had a beautiful piece of bent driftwood hanging on one of the bedroom walls. It was hefty – about 3 feet wide, and heavy enough that we’d had to exert considerable effort hanging it. I loved it.
As I laid there, I mentally floated off a bit, thinking about the Ancients, how angry and dishonored they must have felt to have their resting place destroyed and covered up.
Desecrated and reviled by people who had no clue or respect.
I thought, too, about how every night our (locked) back door would open, footsteps would stomp through the house, and the (locked) front door would open and slam shut.
The first few times it happened, I woke T up, and he’d go check for burglars or break-ins. Nothing. No one.
I mentally asked, “Is that you? Because there’s never anyone there when we go out to check!”
At that very instant, that hunk of driftwood exploded off the wall and flew over me to the other side of the room in a flash, crashing into the wall so hard it left a dent in it.
I guess I got my answer!
I never felt afraid of Them, though – not after They removed that bucket of danger Ricky had left in the yard.
I don’t remember exactly when we decided to leave, but I don’t think it was long after that incident.
I felt blessed to have lived there, and left a huge pile of mangoes and papayas and some beautiful leis on the table for Them.
Image: The Wind Danced in the Branches
text and image © Angela Treat Lyon 2023
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