THIS IS A YEAR OF THE DRAGON CONTEST ENTRY
"I guess it no mattah what you believe when you die—only what da people who’s burying you believes." --YEAR OF THE DRAGON CONTEST ENTRY
Way back in small kid time, Kahea an’ me always had to go church with Aunty Momo an’ dem. We nevah like havin’ to wake up early an’ get all dress up.
“When time fo’ pule (prayer),” said Aunty, “we dress up fo’ God.”
I always like listen to da stories in Sunday school cuz I thought dey kinda interesting. Jesus was like Superman to me back den. Kahea seemed interested too, but he nevah really believe. Kahea always like Uncle Kimo’s stories mo’ bettah.
Uncle would tell us all kine old Hawaiian stories. He would talk ‘bout Pele and Maui and Hiku and da Menehune and all dat kine stuff. Uncle would say dey jus’ “tales,” or “myths,” but Kahea say dey make mo’ sense den da stories ‘bout Jesus.
“Jesus one haole,” Kahea would say to Uncle. “Why I gon’ pray to one haole?”
“How you know Jesus one haole?” asked Uncle. “You seen ‘im?”
“Yea,” said Kahea, “get one big statue of him right next to da preacher—ain’t no Hawaiian.”
Uncle would just shake his head an’ ignore Kahea. Sometimes I think Uncle no believe ‘um either—or maybe he jus’ feel guilty fo’ believing in Jesus instead what Hawaiians wen’ believe for years.
Me an’ Kahea was jus’ keiki, like eight or nine, maybe ten. Twenty years later I still pray fo’ I crash every night, but I nevah know why. I no really believe any dat kine stuff since Kahea died.
I always was jealous of Kahea back den cuz he had one Hawaiian name an’ I get one Christian name. My parents named me Joseph, and aftah dey wen’ make (die), Kahea’s parents took me in as hanai. I was jus’ six years old. Aunty Momo name me Kepani (Japanese) cuz my moddah was half Japanese. I nevah did feel right calling myself Kepani, so I always introduced myself as Joseph. I figure das da name my moddah gave me so I like carry it through life. Aunty Momo an’ Uncle still called me Kepani anyways, but not Kahea. I think he understood dat I like have one connection to my parents.
Me an’ Kahea was always real close an’ doing everything together. We learned fo’ surf together at Sewers an’ fished mullet off da beach at Lohilohi Point. We wen’ everywhere together.
Once when we was only like maybe 12 or 13 we thought we could hike up Kamaileunu Ridge. We nevah even got close to da ridge fo’ we get to tired to go on so we had to spend da night in a cave by da Kamaile Heiau. I was scared we’d get in trouble fo’ being at da heiau, an’ fo’ not coming home but Kahea nevah was worried.
“Dis wea we s’posed to be brah,” he said. I nevah really understood what he meant at da time.
Aunty was worried an’ gave us scoldin’s when we came home da next morning but Uncle seemed like he proud. He took us to da garage an’ wen’ show us how fo’ make one small kine lei niho palaoa (whale tooth necklace). He told us how way befo’ time there was plenty taro patches around da area and had one spring dat starts right by da heiau. We nevah did see one spring.
Da older we got, da more Kahea like ack’ up an get into trouble. Not me though. I think I was mo’ scared cuz I nevah like go into foster care. Uncle Kimo was giving him lickins almost every day fo’ something. Either for mouthing off or for getting in scraps at school or stealing from Kimura’s or skipping church or whatevah else. Aunty always try fo’ teach him to be good but Kahea jus’ nevah listen. She say she pule fo’ him every night, but Kahea jus’ laugh at dat.
“Ma, it’s ok,” he’d say with one smirk. “Jesus already paid da price fo’ my sins so no need worry. I get unlimited credit, remember?”
When we was teenagers, like maybe 15 or 16 or so, Kahea start selling pakalolo (marijuana). He wen’ sell ‘um in school, and den aftah he would stand in front of da store and sell to all da oddah older kids an’ even some grown ups. Kahea wen’ sell plenty ‘lolo. But when Kahea got busted and brought home by da police one night, well, dat was da last straw fo’ Uncle.
“You think you make da rules?” Uncle say real angry.
“Nah,” says Kahea, “I jus’ no like follow da ones you make.”
“Brah, you like lickins o’wat?” said Kimo. He was dead serious, raisin’ his hand up an’ everything. Only problem was dat Uncle was getting kinda old. Kahea no scare though, he jus’ look at Uncle with one laugh cuz he was getting plenty big and would prolly win in one scrap.
“You no like follow my rules?” Uncle said. “Fine den, go live somewhere else.”
And Kahea jus’ left. He look like he nevah even give one rip. I figured he would jus’ come back home aftah a couple days but das da last time he evah was at da house.
I still saw Kahea all da time but he wen’ quit school shortly aftah dat. I always seen him hanging around. He was cruising with some older Hawaiian braddahs who called themselves da Hakaka ‘Aina (Fight for the Land). Dey was always starting trouble, hanging in town, smashing windows in da new neighborhood developments an’ stealing rental cars from Waikiki fo’ joy ride an’ den set ‘em on fire way up on Palehua Road.
“Kepani Joe!” Kahea would say to me when I saw him around, an’ den he’d ask, “You still going church every Sunday?”
I always would smile and nod, but I nevah like listen to Kahea talk bad about being Christian. Him an’ da Hakaka hui would always try fo’ make me feel stupid.
“It’s all crap brah,” Kahea said. “Da worst thing we evah did was abandon what we believe.”
I always saw his point, but I felt guilty. I felt da kine, obligated to stay Christian fo’ Aunty Momo since she and Uncle took me in way back. Aunty say da Christian missionaries did all kine great things, not like da haoles dat came befo’ dem. She say if we wasn’t Christians we’d have all ended up pupule (crazy) drunkards like da whalers and traders.
“Da missionaries brought palapala (writing) and education,” Aunty used to say. “Mo’ bettah ya?”
Uncle Kimo and Aunty nevah did ask me about Kahea—where he was staying or what he was doing. I think Uncle knew da peoples he was running with an’ was somehow keeping an eye on Kahea himself.
Den one day, like maybe a week before I wen’ graduate from high school, I come home and Aunty Momo was crying on da floor. I ask her what’s wrong but she seem like she nevah even hear me, she jus’ keep talking to herself. All I could make out was, “He’s in heaven now.” I had dat sick feeling in my stomach an’ right away I knew she was talking about Kahea. But I jus’ wonder, would God take Kahea to heaven if he no believe?
I wanted to ask Aunty but I nevah did cuz I know da answer an’ I no like make her feel worse. No way God gon’ take Kahea aftah all da bad kine things he wen’ say ‘bout him. Kahea never did accept Jesus as his savior. I figure either Kahea stay in Hell, or none of dis’ is true. So since then, I no like believe.
At his wake, when viewing Kahea’s body I remember thinking how he still looked piss off. I noticed he was wearing da necklace like mine dat Uncle show us fo’ make. I nevah really wore mine, but I don’ think Kahea evah took his off. I knew Kahea nevah like see it get buried in one Christian cemetery so I decided fo’ take it off him when no one was looking. Uncle Kimo saw me though, an’ I think I saw him smile.
I felt real strange kine at da funeral. Preacher Michael stay giving one long speech about Jesus takin’ Kahea’s soul up to heaven and Aunty Momo’s balling her eyes out an’ wailin’ like she gon’ die. Uncle Kimo, he jus’ looked real sad. He nevah say nothing.
I jus’ kept thinking how Kahea would have wanted to be put in da sea or buried high in da mountain instead of a casket funeral with one preacher talking bout God, an Jesus, an heaven li’dat. Kahea nevah believed in dat. I guess it no mattah what you believe when you die—only what da people who’s burying you believes.
Later dat evening, aftah da funeral, Uncle an’ me wen hike up to da Kamaile Heiau an’ placed Kahea’s necklace hanging off one tree dat stay growing out of it. Uncle showed me where da stream used to be—now jus’ one wet spot on da ground. Den we sat down next to each oddah an’ look at da sun setting. I nevah could stand to look, but I heard Uncle crying a little bit as da sun wen’ slip below da horizon. I nevah will forget dat sound.