Manaʻo from the prison notebooks of Kaʻaumoana Enos

Manaʻo from the prison notebooks of Kaʻaumoana Enos

An Abstract Web Fiction Exclusive
Winner of the Ian MacMillian Writing Award & originally published in the Hawai'i Review
Words and Images by Donald Carreira Ching


I grew up in the ahupuaʻa of Waiheʻe, in Koʻolaupoko, United States zip code 96744. A half-mile ʻākau from the school where my mother taught, one-mile hema of the aunty, a parent, who sold her painkillers in unmarked orange tubes, three miles komohana of the church in Waikāne we would go to on Sundays when my mother felt guilty enough to pray. I met my adoptive mother on one such occasion, three Sundays before Easter, in March.

Dana Lanakila Enos was studying to be a sociologist, conducting interviews with the community in the wake of recent proposals for development along the coast. I was twelve when she found me standing guard outside the women’s bathroom. Barely a foot from where I stood, my mother lay passed out on the tile floor, a bottle of oxy rolling from her loose grip.  Eight months later, I found myself in Dana’s doorway with an empty backpack and not much else.

The first thing Māmā taught me was aloha ʻāina: “We must protect it, we must preserve it. It is a part of us.” We would hike up into the mountains. To a spot that overlooked Kāneʻohe bay and she would tell me stories of the land, of the wahi pana o Koʻolaupoko. “The mokuʻāina, the districts, divide there, do you see it?” she pointed to a far off peak. “Kalaeokaʻōʻio, and then Holoapeʻe, where Pele chased Kamapuaʻa. And Hakipuʻu?” she asked me.

On this particular day, we were sitting on a pillbox, the concrete pitted and tagged with Western obscenity, abandoned to the lanalana that spun their webs inside its carcass. Māmā’s hair was woven into a bun, strands fraying loose and draping like Pele’s hair. I looked off into the distance at the clouds billowing white across the blue expanse, trying to see if I could make out the image of an ʻīlio. “Kaupē,” I said softly, “he would kill fisherman there.”

Māmā shook her head. “You are forgetting about Kahaʻi.”

I pulled my legs in toward me, dragging my feet across the concrete. “He brought the ʻulu tree,” I finally said.

“And Moliʻi?”

I shook my head.

Māmā looked at me and touched my chin. She held up my poʻo, examining the smear of foundation above my cheek. I had been hiding the bruise since just after lunch that day, stealing the make-up from a classmate’s bag, and knew she had been waiting for an opportunity. “Are you going to tell me?” she had asked.

I wasn’t sure what to say, so I lied. “I slipped, conked my head on the desk.” Not good enough, the interrogation began:

“Your teacher didn’t call.”

“She didn’t see. I didn’t want to bother her.”

“Who put the make up on?”

“I did.”

“Where did you get it from?”

“A friend.”

The first thing Māmā taught me was aloha ʻāina: “We must protect it, we must preserve it. It is a part of us.”

I was red in the face, sweat gathering in the fold where my chest met my stomach. We sat for a while, listening to the breeze sweeping through the brush behind us. I did not know the winds like Māmā”: Kui-lua, Holopali, Kiliua, Ulumano; they were strangers to me. Family to her.

I looked past Heʻeia Kea pier, toward Kealohi, where the souls of the dead leap into the wide expanse of blue and gray. Their lives judged: Kea or Uli, white or dark. The heiau that was once there is gone now as is the pineapple field that once occupied its place, lost in the commodity exchange. All that is left are tangles of green concealing the still wet of the fishpond. I did not tell her about the fight that day and she did not ask. A part of me wanted to say the words—the things they called me—to tell her how I felt, but I was young. I hid the jokes. The laughter. Eh, haole boy, wea your real maddah stay? Inside.

My mother named me Israel Meheula, the adoption papers read Israel Enos, but Māmā gave me Kaʻaumoana, deep ocean swimmer, “because,” she said, “of the waters you have survived, and those you have yet to face.” She was always meticulous with each telling of the moʻolelo of these places and of their sacred histories. It was her belief that in learning, experiencing, and giving one’s self to the pursuit of knowledge: “lawe i ka maʻalea a kuʻonoʻono,” a transformation could take place; that through respect and devotion these stories could find their way into your marrow. After our hikes, on the ride home, listening to her, I could almost see the endless loʻi, the intricate arrangement of stone terraces, the valleys dripping stalk and stem. It helped me to forget my mother, to forget the places she had been. To forget too, that I was different.

I remember playing near Kahaluʻu stream bridge when I was a child, watching families hauling up nets heavy with Samoan crab or fishing with bamboo rods. Often I’d walk along the shore, all the way out, and hide between the mangrove roots. When the tide was low I’d find baby hammerheads still alive, their tails slapping against the sand. I’d watch them for hours, and when finally they lay still, I would touch the thin, rubber flesh of their bellies and press down until I felt the warm red run across my fingernail.

Māmā had the wind in her bones, my mother had something else.


I turned seventeen the same year my mother committed suicide, two months before completing her court-ordered rehab. She left me her therapy journals, spiral notebooks filled with her chicken scratch ruminations; I had just been accepted into the University of Oregon and Māmā had thought it best if I took them with me. I was more content with boxing them up and leaving them for the moʻo and silverfish. Maybe in a couple years I’d have time to feel sorry for Darcy, but honestly I really didn’t give a shit.

The H-3 was also set to open in December of that same year.

“Danny’s Highway” was Senator Inouye’s 1.3 billion dollar wet dream, penetrating the Halawa and Haʻikū valley at 80 million a mile. Monolithic support columns imprisoned ancestors, iwi, in concrete while the 38-foot wide freeway separated a women’s heiau, Hale o Papa, from the men’s luakini; raping the sacred valley of Papahānaumoku. The act was premeditated, conceived as a military transport route between base installations on Mokapu, a sacred land of the aliʻi, and Puʻuloa during the Cold War. Thirty-seven years in the making, the time had finally come.

Māmā avoided the protests, she found her own means of resistance: a 35 mm Canon EOS A2 she bought second-hand. She used it to capture what she could, a family friend seeing to it that Māmā had access to the site during off-hours. Late at night I could hear her in the spare bedroom, humming mele to herself as she developed the film.

She had asked on several occasions if I wanted to join her, and thinking back on it now I imagine it would’ve been reminiscent of all those afternoons we spent up in the mountains, but I had already begun to distance myself from her world. The names kids used to call me had stuck in my ribs. I was haole. This was not my place.

A month into the semester, my memories of Hawaiʻi disappeared in a cannabis fog, in a perfume of Gramsci and Marx. My roommate that first semester was a Dutch-German pothead from Weller, Texas, his sister, Hannah, had an interest in cultural theory and was a junior there. She came over in the mornings before class and rolled joints with pages she tore from Benjamin and Adorno, discussing her distaste for the Frankfurt School. She gave up trying to pronounce my name and instead took to calling me Eeny rather than Enos, introducing me to her friends with the sing-song rhythm of a children’s counting rhyme.

One afternoon, we were both sitting cross-legged—“Indian-style,” she had laughed—on the linoleum floor of my dorm; her blonde-hair draping over her face, her lips visible only when she put the joint between them. She was resting her back against the wall, admiring my bare shelves, when she asked bluntly: “Who are you really?”

I wasn’t sure if she was being serious or theoretical; I was half-expecting her to launch into a rant about existentialism or give me a rundown of Spivak. She passed me the joint and watched me, waiting. “What’re you talking about?” I finally responded.

She didn’t answer, instead she stood up and started going through my drawers. I should’ve been nervous, most guys my age would be mentally cataloging their porn collection or distracting her from the hand creams and lubricants hidden between their briefs, but that wasn’t what she was looking for and we both knew there was nothing to find. When she finally sat back down beside me and stole the last bit of smoke from my lips, I still wasn’t sure what she had meant, and even afterward, when she had left, I spent the rest of the evening lying there wondering.

The names kids used to call me had stuck in my ribs. I was haole. This was not my place.

We spent our winter break looking for a place to live off-campus. We found a three-bedroom a couple miles away in Glenwood for cheap, it was perfect for the four of us: Hannah, her brother, one of her brother’s friends, and me. That first night, while everyone else had made beds out of counter-tops and dirty laundry, I started to go through the only box I had bothered to pack; somewhere near the bottom I found one of my mother’s notebooks. Its red cover was creased at the corners, the pages dog-eared and torn, the spine beginning to fray near the top.

It was the first time I had really taken the time to look at one of her notebooks, to even open one up. The first thing that caught me when I peeled back the cover was the smell, I could see the bottle: tall, square, onyx top. She kept it in a paper box, in her nightstand. I remember looking for lunch money, opening the pressboard drawer and finding the perfume beside cassette tapes and her wedding ring. The top notes just thin enough to be heavy, laced with softer touches of rose.

Then I noticed her handwriting, soft and delicate, as if she had just barely touched the page. I tried to recall a grocery list or a scrap near the telephone, the usual promises to change. I tried to remember her grading papers at her desk: the slope of her shoulder, the angle of her arm, how she held the pen between her fingers, her hand just hovering above the tabletop. She hated when the ink smeared on her palm or found its way to the cuff of her blouse.

I brought her into the kitchen and settled myself on the floor.

She wanted to be an artist. Between the acrostic poems and haikus her therapist made her write, there were caricatures of other patients, sketches of the walls, the hallways, the window frame. When she was outside I knew it, the pages filled with hibiscus, plumeria, sprawling branches that reached far into the margins and beyond. Pencil marks were thicker here, the details intricate and precise, no petal was the same nor flower. With every new word or image I kept wondering the same thing: what had happened to my mother? But it was the last page of her journal that struck me, the unfinished outline of what looked like mountains, what must’ve been the Koʻolaus.

I dumped out the box on the floor and sifted through the textbooks and graded papers until I found a set of photographs Māmā had sent a few months before. She had begun printing them on card stock and sending them out as postcards, scribbling moʻolelo onto the back and mailing them to everyone in her address book. It was five in the morning and I had found three.

The first was a black and white of a single concrete column. Kukui o Kane, Māmā had written on the back in thick black strokes, the largest agricultural heiau in Koʻolaupoko. Steel rims have been installed should you need to find it by remote sensing. On the second, an image taken from the Pali lookout, the sprawling peak of Kānāhuanui, Māmā wrote: Below the miles, one of Kane’s three wives, Kahuaiki stream. The last photograph was of the stone terraces of Luluku; Keahiakahoe in the background, lush, moist, penetrated. Utter destruction, Māmā translated, leaving it at that.

I couldn’t sleep.

Around 10 am, Hannah found me out on the grass. Stuart Hall was pinned under her arm and her glasses were resting at the edge of her nose, a small Ziploc dangling from her fingertips. I just kept staring out at the trees and the city and the mountains and couldn’t help but think how lifeless it all looked, like an oil painting you’d buy from Ross for cheap and hang up on your bathroom wall. “You alright?” she finally asked. Two weeks later I found myself in the passenger seat of Māmā’s car, passing the H-3 exit; questions about my mother still heavy on my mind.

It would be a long time before I got a hold of a copy of the Environmental Impact Statement the State had commissioned prior to the H-3’s construction. It predicted great change in Koʻolaupoko as a result of the highway, not just in traffic patterns but also on a social level: massive suburbanization, loss of agricultural lands, population displacement. In the same envelope was a threat assessment report published by the U.S. Department of Justice. It noted that Hawaiʻi had been designated a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area in 1999, due in large part to the ease of transporting drugs on the H-1, H-2, and H-3 freeways, and that from 1994 to 2000 the number of treatment admissions had doubled and would continue to rise.

Something had to be done.


Māmā’s brother had a reputation. Activist. Terrorist. Kahoʻolawe in ’77. Hilo airport in ’78. When word got out that The Bishop Estate had announced plans for a new hotel development on Hawaiʻi island, my hānai uncle was the first to take up arms and sabotage the cranes. Books had been written about him, but none that I had read.

Two years home and nothing had changed, in fact, things had gotten worse. Sometimes I’d pull on the side of the road and watch the cars as they passed: tour buses, rental cars, Humvees and military transports, the exhaust would catch in my throat and burn all the way down. There was talk of puʻeo decline, asbestos pollution, the damage to the water systems; no one had seen an ʻalauahio since the H-3 had opened up. The beaches were littered with kayak rentals, the parking lots triple parked with cars. Everyone knew someone who was an addict.

“I’m sick of it, Māmā,” I told her one morning. We were sitting in the backyard, in the shade of the ʻulu tree, Māmā carefully inspecting her harvest with her fingertips. Her hands were already beginning to become knotted, but they moved efficiently over the flesh, feeling for rot.

I just kept staring out at the trees and the city and the mountains and couldn’t help but think how lifeless it all looked, like an oil painting you’d buy from Ross for cheap and hang up on your bathroom wall.

“Folks are doing what they can,” she finally answered. 

“It’s not enough. OHA needs to stop working with the state; they need to find a way to tear it down. Enough mitigation, enough cooperation, where’s the results?”

Her cheeks raised slightly, wrinkles spreading near the edges of her eyes. She didn’t answer, she only laughed.

“I’m going to talk to Nakata again,” I said, “the ʻOhana needs to be more active.”

“What would you have them do?”

“Dismantle the fucking thing.”


“Burn it down.”


“Blow it up.”

She raised her eyebrows, but still she was smiling.

“I don’t know,” I finally relented. I could feel my cheeks burning up, sweat running down my back. I grabbed the bottom of my shirt and tried to air out the heat.

Māmā rolled an orb, marbled in yellows and browns, toward me. I ran my hands over the mosaic of coarse, raised flesh, portions still thick with sap. “Every part is important,” she said softly, “from the leaves to the wood, the fruit, even the sap. It was used to catch birds, to collect their feathers and make capes for the aliʻi. It was used for dry skin. For when they were building the waʻa, to seal it.”

I took some of the sap and rolled it between my fingertips. “This isn’t the time,” I said.

“My father used to bake it with banana leaves and coconut milk. Come Christmas time, we’d mix it with poi or eat it with fish for pū-pū, When my mother was sick, my father would crush the ʻulu with his knife, make it so it was soft and then mix in a little of the juice and wrap the rest in wax paper.”

I looked at her, waiting for her to acknowledge my confusion. “What does this have to do with anything?” I finally asked.

“We are a resourceful people, Kaʻau, focus on yourself, on your studies.”

“This is just as important, Māmā.”

“I know you mean well, but I worry about you. You need to start thinking about other ways you can help, other ways you can provide support.”

“By the time I’m finished with law school they’ll have turned Kahaluʻu into a golf course. We’ll have highways in and out of every mountain, they’re already talking about rail again.”

“And you see what happens if they do,” she said, the tone in her voice growing stronger. “The land will take back what is hers, in time everything will be made pono.”

“When, a hundred years from now when everything is gone? We cannot wait.”

You,” Māmā’s tongue hung heavy on the word, “cannot wait.” I stared at her face and studied her forehead, avoiding her eyes. “This is not your fight, Kaʻau, regardless of what you think, and this is no time for foolishness. You must learn that it is not always your place to lead; sometimes you must follow. There are others who are working, who are fighting, be patient and trust—.”

“No,” I interrupted, “I will not sit around and wait.” I wasn’t sure if she had said it, like the shock of it had kept the words from setting in. “Everything you’ve taught me….this is a part of me too.” But I emptied, my stomach dropping, my hands beginning to shake. I stood up and walked back to the house, picked up my book bag and got in my truck.

To be honest with you, I had already planned to take action. I was tired of being told that this was not my home, that I had lost nothing, that I had to stay to the side and let others rush the gates. Haole or not, I would make them remember my name; if not for Māmā, then for my mother, for others who were suffering.

That night, I stood at the end of Puʻuoni place, hood over my brown curls, machete in one hand, flashlight in the other; the nozzle of a gas can sticking out of my backpack. Although the access road was blocked off by twelve-feet of chain link, the gate was rarely locked at night and guards didn’t start duty until well into the morning. One quick look around and I slid right in, the sound of the H-3 rumbling overhead.

The Kāneʻohe Omega Station was originally built in 1943 as a communication system for the U.S. Navy in anticipation of the engagement with Japan in the Pacific. Decommissioned in 1957, the U.S. Coast Guard took over operations in 1972 and used it for its Omega long-range radio navigational system. When the H-3 was being built, the radiation from the station had been a big concern, and plans had been drawn up to incorporate a mesh cage around the highway to protect drivers from the effects; rumor had it you could stand near the station with a fluorescent tube and bring the whole valley to light. Then news broke that operations would cease, and two months before the H-3 opened, the station was finally shut down.

My chest was pounding in my ears, my whole body shaking. All around me was darkness and, in the light streaming down from the highway above, I could see the outline of the station jutting out from the center of the valley. I made my way up the path in silence, but when I neared the fence line, I heard what I thought was laughter and stopped.  

I stood still, looking through the shadow. The voices were coming from deep in the brush. I raised my machete, using the blade to peel back a branch. They were closer now. Hikers, maybe. Hunters, less so. Probably just kids…probably just looking for a place to fuck around. I felt my shoulders relax and let my weapon fall. I turned back toward the path, my right foot nudging a large orb and I watched it wobble forward, tumbling, turning, until it met the heavy thud of a hoof.

Haole or not, I would make them remember my name; if not for Māmā, then for my mother, for others who were suffering.

Overlooking the sacred heiau Kukui o Kāne, on a cliff that ribbons along Keahiakahoe, is Papuaʻa a Kāne, where the god Kāne keeps his most precious of pigs. Over the years, I have known folks who have journeyed up to the Omega station on their way to Haʻikū stairs and have told me what they have seen: fences toppled, railings broken, the innards of the site torn and ripped apart. The graffiti marking the walls suggests the work of man, but the damage suggests otherwise.

Without warning, I heard branches cracking, the air heavy with beating earth and the wet snort of puaʻa. They were shadows, dark shapes that emerged from the brush and surrounded me, blocking my path. I wasn’t sure if I was dreaming, if these pigs were truly real. I raised my machete and then lowered it, the largest approaching, his tusks twice the size of my blade. I waited for the blow, braced for it.

But it didn’t rush or attack, it moved past me, the others parting, opening up the path back toward the road. The puaʻa stopped and looked back at me, and then continued on, trotting slowly as if in waiting. In Māmā’s teaching, she always emphasized the importance of listening to your naʻau, to your gut. For me, the path was clear, I dropped my machete and followed the puaʻa, leaving the station and the other pigs behind.

When I got back down to Puʻuoni place, the street was empty. Somewhere a television was on…a radio: clear skies, no chance of rain. I got in my truck and sat there with the engine idle, still trying to process what had just happened. The breeze was slight that night, just cold enough to bring a chill, and when it blew in through the open window I swear I could make out the sweet smell of kukui nut oil. The laughter of pigs.

There is a Hawaiian proverb, i ka ʻōlelo no ke ola, i ka ʻōlelo no ka make: in language there is life, in language there is death. It speaks to the power of words, to the significance of moʻolelo, of story, and the responsibility over the mana that language holds. Māmā used her camera to resist, to document her experiences. My mother used her drawings to escape the confinements of her addiction, an addiction transported across layers of concrete and settling tar. I must find my own way to negotiate my experiences, to find my own place, to breathe life into my story so that I may work to support theirs.

That night, after leaving Puʻuoni Place, I left my car and my backpack and hiked up into the mountains overlooking Kāneʻohe Bay. When I reached the top, I sat down on the bunker, as I had when I was a child, and begun to speak the wahi pana o Koʻolaupoko, to remember the stories, as Māmā had. As the sun rose, slivers of light blooming across the horizon and bleeding the water blue, I found myself suddenly aware of everything I knew, and of everything I could not know.

And upon the rubble, I wrote my name.