Six-month-old Kai—whose name means “the sea,” and whose parents, Michael and Monica Sweet, are well-known on Maui and elsewhere for their superb photographic images of Hawai‘i’s sea life—was conceived by the ocean at Tunnel Beach on the North Shore of Kaua‘i. Marlow, the 14-month-old son of Jean Luc and Geraldine Lametrie, was born last year in May.
These two recent mothers, Monica and Geraldine (who also has an older daughter, Talulah), became best friends after meeting in San Francisco in 1997. They soon discovered a strong common thread—a to-the-depths love of the ocean and the beings who live there. Both had experienced magical dolphin swims that had expanded their awareness of God’s (Akua’s) abundant blessings—amplified through the world’s great oceans.
Without realizing it then, these two soul friends had spawned a vision together—that their future children’s lives would become linked in some indelibly cosmic way. Looking back upon those times, it appears inevitable now that their sons, to be born more than a dozen years later, would be “baptized” together in Hawai‘i’s salty sea by a passionate, full-blooded Hawaiian.
Kimokeo Kapahulehua baptizes six-month-old Kai Sweet, whose first name means “the sea.”
Photo: Michael Sweet
But first, some practical steps were needed. Through a friend at the Maui Canoe Club, Monica made contact with Julie Benitou, a board member there and also of Mana‘olana, an intrepid group of breast cancer survivors affectionately known around island canoe circles as “The Pink Paddlers.”
Then, because he resonated with Monica’s vision of blessing these children Hawaiian-style aboard a wa‘a (Hawaiian outrigger canoe), Kimokeo Kapahulehua emerged to perform the service. Mana‘olana and Maui Canoe Club offered to assist. Kïhei Canoe Club provided a suitable double-hulled canoe.
The day came up as clear sailing on a perfect Maui morning. The conch shell was blown and traditional Hawaiian chants (oli) resounded: “e ala e” in celebration of the rising sun; “e homai,” a respectful summons to unseen “powers to be” that the highest and most harmonious energies be brought forth; and “pa mai,” a humble request of God of the Wind, Hilo, that ka makani (the wind) be held in check so that everyone aboard could go out and return safely.
The two celebrated keiki were so young, of course, that they probably wouldn’t remember the event as na opio (teenagers) or as adults. Nonetheless, their participation aboard the wa‘a in intimate proximity to their parents and assembled community was delightfully and unabashedly active.
Kai Sweet basked and shone in the morning sunshine, arm-cradled securely by his glowing, full-hearted mom. The silence was broken only by his tiny vocalizations of contentment, enchanting little warbles of delight, accompanied by voices of nature: the whispering breeze and the lapping tongues of ocean against the wa‘a’s red and yellow fiberglass hull.
Wearing po‘o lei and wrapped in traditional red kihei, embodying his Hawaiian lineage with the full authority and mana that has earned him such universal respect, Kimokeo offered prayers as he anointed Kai’s tiny feet, hands and shining brow with sea water dipped and ceremonially sprayed with a green ti leaf.
Keiki-of-the-sea Kai, clearly loving every second of this special day, was then dunked waist-deep in the swirling waters. Kimokeo sang to him in Hawaiian and prepared this unique offering: two tiny bracelets fashioned of ti leaves, which he proceeded to wrap delicately around the child’s wrist and ankle. (Kai was so delighted by these living bracelets that he wore them the entire day.)
Young Marlow was next, similarly blessed and gifted by Kimokeo. Not quite as enamored of the chilly dunking as his young pal, Kai, Marlow quickly posted a storm warning on his forehead—which soon blossomed into a full-fledged baptismal yowl. (Quite honestly, I can’t blame him for these well-expressed sentiments!)
“The ceremony for the two baby boys showed that the ‘circle of life’ is a very powerful thing,” said Mary Dungans, who participated as one of the Pink Paddlers. Though not a cancer survivor herself, she feels drawn to the strong camaraderie of the “pinks” and their bold affirmation of life through canoe paddling.
Mike Elam, president of Maui Canoe Club, noted that “our club is pleased to help create memorable experiences on the water. Our members completely enjoy participating in special events such as these.”