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Kaona Mana Iho ~ Empowered by Deeper Meaning

Camp Hawai'i Theme 2024

Every year this Hilo transplant attempts to learn a bit more about the culture she lives in and share it with her Danzan Ryu community. This year after many months, consultations, and general navigation of the diverse and complex language, this year's theme boiled down to “kaona mana iho”. Kaona was potentially a stand alone concept as it’s the deeper meaning, the inside joke, the advanced technique hidden in plain sight, but knowledge alone is not the same as being enabled to utilize it. Reading about a multifaceted secret in a book is not the same as receiving the technique from someone who knows it well, navigating its nuances and sharing additional context. Empowering the mana to flourish, take root and blossom we focus the concept with “mana iho”.

This year is an exploration of the depth and duality of the arts, how the healing and martial balance each other, but are derived from the same core curriculum. Of the images that came to mind the ‘ohia lehua was the most frequent and relevant. Hawai‘i island’s red blossomed tree is tied to numerous legends, multiple deities, and is utilized in everything from medicine to weaponry. 

Lehua Photo by Tiffany Prose

Coming out of Covid, surviving dojos begin their recovery like a lehua keiki bursting forth joyously from a new lava flow, they are the first plant to emerge after destruction has passed through. 

Like the seifukujitsu side the dark red blossoms and keiki leaves can be used as a medicine, where the strong hardwood trunks made the martial weapons, crafted into tapa cloth pounders or hula sticks, the hardwood is versatile. Though it should be noted that the lua Palua ‘o newa and the hula kālaʻau with one short and one long stick look remarkably similar.


The women of Hula Halau O Kou Lima Nani E, under the direction of kumu Iwalani Kalima, performed to “Ko Hilo Ua Kiakahi” with papa hehi. For link to article click photo.

The most common of ‘ohia legends depicts the tree as a warrior and the delicate blossom his lover, separating them brings rain as they mourn their separation. The week before Merrie Monarch (pre-Rapid Ohia Death/“ROD”) it was commonly expected to rain as the blossoms are braided into hula adornments telling legends of the lovers, ancient royalty or of Madame Pele, or her sister Hi‘iaka.

Photo from Big Island Now :Je’ani-Jade Kalamaolaikapohakea Pavao with Hula Hālau ‘O Kamuela is adorned in lehua during her kahiko on April 13, 2023. (Merrie Monarch Festival Facebook) For link to article about lehua coming back to Merrie Monarch click photo.

The shirt design carries the plant front and center as the backbone of the piece. In Hawaiian culture there can be multiple ways to divide a person. In lua male is depicted as the foundation from the waist down and female waist up, arms are the keiki, and the fingers are the grandkids. But often depicted in shirts is paneling on a given side, right for female and left for male. Lua warrior, spearheads and traditionally male markings on the left with the hula and the softer medicinal elements depicted in the right panel. With a subtle nod to the chinese yin and yang divisions for the directions of the figures. 

So next time you see an Auntie with the depiction of an ‘ohia lehua on her dress or in her hair, or manage to see them in person on the islands you’ll know how significant they are to the island, and why you should leave the blossom on the tree. May your newfound knowledge open doors enable you to discover even deeper into this stunning and complex culture. 

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