Kawa Ceremony

I came late to the faculty meeting yesterday. I walked in with my laptop and planner but the conference table was gone and everyone was sitting on the floor in a circle.

Kaina, the Hawaiian language teacher and charismatic force of nature, was sitting shirtless at the front of the circle, with three large wooden bowls in front of him. At either side hovered a shirtless teenage boy. To their left sat our two graduating seniors.

Ah. A Kawa ceremony. Cool.

I mentally changed lanes. Last year's kawa ceremony was out in the school garden one evening, in the handmade hale, and was followed by a hi'uwai-- a purifying dunk in the ocean to symbolize letting go of the old and embracing the new.  Apparently this time it was in the social studies homeroom, on the carpet.

I noted the three bowls-- one full of the stringy dried Kawa, one full of murky grey-green liquid, and one full of clean water with many little coconut bowls bobbing around.

Kaina whispered to the boy helpers, directing them to the next person in a seemingly random order. They respectfully held a small polished bowl, made from a coconut, as Kaina swirled and poured the muddy-looking Kawa liquid from the large bowl in the middle. The boys brought the small bowl to the next chosen recipient, who then gave a thought --he mana'o-- to the graduating girls-- and then drained the small bowl, even the dregs.

Kaina indicated me. My 9th grade student (terrible unrequited crush on classmate, new spacer earrings, still staying with his mom, killer dimples, natural musical talent) brought me a bowl and grinned at me as I accepted it and bowed at him.

I gave my thought in mangled Hawaiian-- I am so glad to be able to teach and learn from these graduating girls, and have so many conversations with them, and see their growth. From here, their path is wide open-- they have no limits, only options. I'm happy to watch the choices they'll make and all of the wonderful things they will do with their lives.

They rolled their eyes.

I laboriously drained the bowl, full to the brim. Swallow-- swallow-- swallow-- I eyed the dregs. My student gave me menpachi eye and I crunched them down. It tasted like dirty grass and made my mouth numb. As I passed the empty bowl back, Kaina said "Pa'i ka lima!"and everyone clapped --kahi, lua, ha!--

Everyone had a turn to talk-- some teachers crying and remembering when the girls were just wee little things-- and their classmates choking up-- and saying how much they'll miss their big sisters. The girls themselves spoke about their eagerness to move on and their gratitude for their teachers and friends who have become their real brothers and sisters.

When everyone had spoken, Kaina performed an extemporaneous oli for the girls-- look to your past, think on your ancestors, think on the Hawaiian language, and look to god. We all stood and hugged each other and the girls--

"Okay now we'll begin our staff meeting!" Admin pulled up desks and got out planners!

I vetoed the desk and sat on the floor next to the Kawa. During the meeting, Kaina passed out another bowl or two to those of us next to him.

My second cup of Kawa made me loud-- when the secretary said "make sure you send me your supply list..." I shouted, "SUPPLIES!!!" and made all the other Kawa drinkers giggle and elbow me.

The meeting split into two universes overlapping bizarrely. Finance gave a report and made it clear that all classroom inventories had to be completed and end-of-year-check-out-forms signed off by next friday-- and Kaina swirled the Kawa and poured and rinsed the glistening coconut cups and I became entranced with my neighbor's wrist tattoo.

Just another day at our Kula Olelo Hawaii-- Hawaiian Immersion school...


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