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As published in Hawai'i Traveler magazine:

The Family Spirit: 'Aumakua
by Amanda C. Gregg
They’ve guided fishermen and surfers to shore. They’ve shown direction to those lost in the mountains or led astray in life. They’ve come in the form of rain, night rainbows and a variety of animals.

They are ‘aumakua, (deified ancestors) and are as much a part of Hawaiian ancestry and tradition as the showing of respect for nature and its power, blessings and splendor. ‘Aumakua are family ancestors whose ‘uhane (spirit) form watch over, protect and help the living members of their ‘ohana (extended family).

The spirits make their presence known— oftentimes by the poetry of the moment. The encounter could be a flap of their wings, a distant call or an abundance of luck.

The ‘aumakua are as benevolent to living members of their families they as they are ubiquitous in nature. Davianna McGregor, a professor in the University of Hawai'i Department of Ethnic Studies, said, "Our 'aumakua are ancestors, our loved ones who have passed on. We feel or witness their presence in nature." An 'aumakua can be perceived in a bird that appears during an auspicious occasion such as a gathering of your 'ohana (extended family). For some families, their ancestor appears in the form of a mano (shark), others are a porpoise or turtle (honu) some owls (pueo) or 'iwa (frigate) bird.

'Aumakua appear in nature forms other than animals: Night rainbows are said to represent the presence of our ancestors, McGregor said. "Sometimes you just feel their presence — like during the falling of a light gentle rain at an opening of an event. ...But really, each family has their own ancestor's and therefore their own personal 'aumakua. 'Aumakua for the Hawaiian families of Puna and Ka'u are Pele, the volcano deity and her family of deities."

In Western religion, the closest concept to the 'aumakua is the guardian angel. A myth (mo'olelo) that illustrates the elevation of nature forms into 'aumakua is the legend of the famous high priest Pa'ao, who migrated from Central Polynesia to Hawai'i and founded the chiefly religious system. When Pa'ao's canoe set out on the ocean, his brother Lonopele tried to sink the canoe. He sent the stormy south winds Konaku, Kona-nui-a-nio, Kona-moe, and the stormy winds winds of Ho'oilo. But Pa'ao had mats to cover his hulls and keep the water out. While the wind was blowing fiercely with rain and the waves ran high, two kinds of fish, the aku and opeiu gathered in the waters and quieted the waves. The Kona storms died down. Because of this help, both these fish were made kapu (forbidden) to the Pa'ao family and their descendants.

While tapping into the senses and connecting to the metaphysical world has long been interpreted by some Westernized institutions as pagan or as dabbling in the 'dark side' the history behind the Hawaiian 'aumakua is less sensationalized than these myopic claims. For many Hawaiian families, their 'aumakua isn't a novel idea or tall tale told with an embellished form of mysticism. In fact, often the orally-passed anecdotes relating to one's 'aumakua are told very matter-of-factly, and with a reason: bridging generations to their ancestral bloodlines.

Whether it's a tale recounted by a free diver who hails from a mano 'aumakua helping him score a bunch of fish, or the sighting of an owl flying overhead — a sign of being protected to those hailing from the pueo 'aumakua the underlying theme is clear: Regardless of which 'aumakua is tied to your family, respect it as if it were any of your other relatives.

Many families aware of their 'aumakua history throughout the Hawaiian islands have passed on the tradition of caring for them, whether that meant burying one upon finding it dead on the road or going to them with food.

The comprehensive Hawaiian experience with 'aumakua quashes many Westernized stereotypes surrounding the relationship between man and animal, as it includes a conscious, mutual respect. One Kaua'i local, who bears a tattoo with mano teeth and a sprawling pueo, as his family hails from both 'aumakua, recalled witnessing the first shark he'd ever seen in his entire life shortly after his father died — a presence that was inspiring and peaceful for him, he said.

For those families hailing from the mano 'aumakua, the Western perception that sharks are dangerous predators is dismissive. Instead, an encounter with such a creature can be spiritual and is considered a gift — especially when an animal with such presence makes itself noticed in the aftermath of the passing of a loved one.

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A life cut short: remembering Sandy G

By Amanda C. Gregg – Special to The Garden Island

Published: Saturday, May 16, 2009 2:08 AM HST
Editor’s note: Sandra Mendonca Galas was found murdered in ‘Ele‘ele on Jan. 26, 2006. Friday would have been her 31st birthday.

Tragic. Sobering. Egregiously unfair.

Few are the words that connote the tone necessary for what today means for the memory of Sandra Mendonca Galas.

Equally challenging is attempting to summarize who she was.

Yes, she was beautiful. And young — 27.

A mother of two boys, then 3 and 7, she was all about family. Though it might seem an exaggeration, ask anyone on Kaua‘i who knew her and they will likely tell you of her vibrancy, her spunk. ...
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