For years, I thought “aloha” was just a way of saying hello. But in fact, it goes much deeper than that. Aloha means to love, to care for one another, and to give without expecting anything in return. In essence, it’s a way of life. It’s an understanding that what we have is something special and worth sharing because, in the end, it’s all about embracing one another, helping one another out, loving unconditionally, and celebrating this beautiful gift we call life.
Madeline Guyett, a resident of Kauai, has quite a unique outlook and she’s become a very big inspiration in my life. I sat down with Madeline on several occasions and discussed her thoughts on the spirit of aloha and how it became part of her daily life. Madeline is the Accounting Manager of Hanalei Land Company, but in her free time she makes leis and dances hula. The Kauai mountains have become her getaway and home away from home. In particular, the mountains of Koke’e hold a special place in her heart. To her, those mountains are something from a fairy tale. Large spiny ridges rise directly up from the ocean floor while thick fog lingers. “It’s truly a heavy place,” she says. There is a lot of energy flowing around this zone. It’s impossible to miss. It’s one of those places that is important to show a great deal of respect when entering and that is exactly what Madeline does. Before entering these sacred mountains Madeline first asks for consent through Oli, a Hawaiian chant. It’s a way of showing her respect for the land and history of the island.
“I have learned from Hawaiian culture that intent is huge. I always chant Hawaiian chants when I’m gathering materials,” says Madeline. Her voice is beautiful and it really gets your attention. The first time I heard her chant I got the chills. It’s something so far removed from Western culture. When you hear someone chant ancient Hawaiian chants, you feel it on every level of your being, and you begin to realize that the spirit of Hawaii is still very much alive. Chanting has been around for thousands of years, since the ancient Polynesians, and it has a very rich, authentic, and vibrant sound that you can actually feel in every cell of your body. Her love for the land is seen through her chanting, hula, and leis. It makes her feel connected to everything.
Madeline picks the flowers carefully and with intention. Every lei is different and therefore unique. She takes pictures of flowers first and makes sure that it is special. She gives her leis to people for birthday presents, wedding gifts, and any other special celebration, and it’s important to her that each lei has meaning. “It’s the aloha that is in your heart that comes through in the lei,” she says. “Something from the heart, anything that is part of who you are. That’s what you are giving to someone with a lei.”
Aloha Kekahi I Kekahi: Love one another. This saying is used to describe the relationship between the ʻāina, or land, and people. To see the smiles on a recipient’s faces is a gift in itself when a lei is given and received. She picks her flowers in Koke’e or in her own or neighbors’ gardens. All of the materials she gathers are different and constantly change depending on the occasion. “When I spot something, I’ll think, ‘That would look nice in a lei.’ When I’m driving, I constantly see colors and textures that I’m attracted to or the colors pop, so I’ll pull over and check it out, do U-turns or find a safe way to turn my car around . When I find a flower or plant I haven’t used before, I check to see if it’s strong enough, because once you pick things, they start to wilt a little. You can tell if it’s sturdy enough by touching it.”
There was perhaps no one who radiated the spirit of aloha more than the legend himself, Eddie Aikau.
Madeline’s work has begun to expand and she is gaining more recognition. She has been entering lei-making contests for years and has a solidified herself as one of the best lei makers in Kauai. Inspired by other leis that her friends and fellow competitors have made, Madeline strives to make the best leis she can, and she is constantly trying to progress and master her craft. She sees other competitors’ leis as inspiration. “I’ll think, ‘I haven’t seen that flower used in a lei before,'” said Madeline. After several years of entering her employee lei contests, she gradually worked her way up to the most prestigious event on the island, the Kauai Museum Annual Lei Day contest. She went on to get a awards, ribbons, and medals in the event, but she didn’t stop there. Her notoriety continued to expand. “After the Kauai Museum contest, the governor’s liaison asked her to present a lei to the governor. “She was expecting me to just give it to him, but I did a chant while I was giving it to him, and later the liaison told me that the governor normally takes his lei off and sends it back to his office, but because I had chanted, he wanted to keep it with him all day,” she said. One of her leis even found its way onto one of the models in the cover of Sports Illustrated Magazine’s Swimsuit edition in February of 2015.
In addition to making leis, Madeline dances hula and has been a part of her “Halau,” a hula troupe for over 15 years, but has danced for over 25. “When I moved to Kauai in 1987, I ran into one of my high school friends from Los Angeles who I had no idea was living here,” Madeline says. “She was already dancing hula and she said, ‘You should come and check it out.'” During her middle school years, Madeline danced hula for a short time in California and always felt connected to Hawaii. “Everyone thought I was Hawaiian if they didn’t know me well enough. But dancing hula on Kauai is much more powerful and meaningful.” Through hula, Madeline has become more connected to the land, the sky, the ground, the plants, the`aina, the very things she dances to. Her feelings are expressed through her dance and are so powerful that she often makes people cry. Her spirit communicates to others through her dancing. She dances with such passion that her audience can feel what she is feeling. “Dancing hula has a lot to do with ancestors, the kupuna, too,” she says. “When you think about those who have come before you and you respect them, then you have respect for those who are in your present.”
As I sat at the edge of the river in South Lake Tahoe, spellbound by the raw beauty, feet emerged in the frigid water that creeps from snow-covered mountains, it all made sense what Madeline told me. The trees, birds, plants, flowers, the ancestors, and spirit of the land are all connected. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, aloha is in all of us. Each of us possesses the gift and it’s up to us to love and respect each other, the land, and those people who have come before us. Through lei making and hula dancing, Madeline has come to this realization. But there’s a vast amount of ways to gain a higher level of consciousness. For me, sitting by the river, listening to the water flow on a beautiful sunny day makes me feel connected to the universe, and I think we all should make an effort to get out and find what makes us most happy the way Madeline has done. We should also stop to give thanks to our planet for allowing us to exist here. Mahalo Ke Akua (thank you God) for this blessed life we live and thank you Madeline for you everlasting love and generosity you have put forth.