In the winter of 1856, a small sailing vessel enroute from Maui to the Big Island of Hawai’i, dropped anchor in Hilo Bay. Strong kona winds had prevented the captain from making port in Kailua on the western side of the island but two of his passengers couldn’t have been happier about their circumstance.
One was Caleb Thompson, a young man from Massachusetts. The other youth was a Hawaiian named Keone, whose home was Waiakea, scarcely a rifle shot away from the anchored ship. It seemed like providence that the brig had come to Hilo, saving them a long difficult journey around half the island. The two had become friends at Lahaina, although Keone wasn’t sure how long the relationship would last because Caleb had a wasting sickness. He was thin to the point of being only skin and bone, always tired and trembled like an ‘olapa in the slightest wind.
One of the first things that Keone did after his family had greeted them was to find out where his mother’s uncle was living.
‘He is very old but there is no better doctor anywhere,’ Keone told Caleb. ‘Before long he will have you as strong and healthful as I am.’
Caleb was frankly skeptical. He had visited many of the medical men in New England. One by one they had shaken their bearded heads and informed him that his malady, whatever it was, was incurable. Finally, he gave up going to doctors at all and decided to take an ocean voyage, less to see the world than to escape the pity showered on him by his friends and relatives. He had little hope to find a cure in Hawai’i but, if it pleased his companion, he would go to see the uncle.
A few days later, Keone took his new chum to visit the family kahuna. The old man was quite unlike any doctor that Caleb had ever seen or even heard about. He wore only a pair of trousers and a garland of green grass which passed around his scrawny neck and hung almost to his belt. His office was the convenient shade of a kou tree nearby his shack. The old kahuna listened to what Keone told him, then smelled Caleb’s breath and began a fingertip exploration of the young man’s emaciated body. When the examination ended, the old man sat for a long time staring at some point on Caleb’s neck. Finally he spoke, but with no gestures and little change of facial expression, so that Caleb found it impossible to even guess what was being said in Hawaiian.
When the kahuna finished speaking, Keone began to translate. ‘My mother’s uncle says that you yet may live. If you do not change your ways, though, you will surely die. You have moved much too fast for a long time and have left a part of yourself behind. Now you must slow down so that part of yourself may catch up. You must not just lie about, however, or your other part will have no eagerness to join you, but you must look around and when you find something new you must say aloud, ‘Look, I have found a thing I have never known before!’ This will make your other part want to join you. The more often you say this the better it will be.
At every opportunity, you must eat lu’au with red salt, for these are the things that your other part craves. By eating them in abundance you will encourage your other part to join you and stay with you. He says that he will pray for you and will pray also that you heed his words.’
Because of the old man’s prescription, Keone took Caleb to visit one relative after another. They leisurely toured the coast of Puna and everywhere they stopped the young foreigner was given his fill of green taro leaves.
Almost a year later, they reached the Ka’u district and traveled on slowly toward the southern point of the island. By that time, the kahuna’s advice had taken visible effect. Caleb no longer shook and had begun to fill out his skin, which had darkened considerably in the summer sun. It was in Ka’u that the cure became complete, for Caleb met a beautiful Hawaiian girl and, after a suitable courtship, made her his wife.
After a time, the newlyweds went to the booming land of California where Caleb went into business, raised a family and lived to an old age. This was the great, great grandfather of Mrs. Jean Thompson Foster, who told this story one chilly day on a beach not far from San Francisco.”
Story collected by Likeke R. McBride.
The Kahuna: Versatile Masters of Old Hawai’i, by Likeke R. McBride (1972, 2000)
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