Beginning Again with Kaiona

Kaiona, the Hawaiian goddess of the lost, just entered my life again after nearly 12 years.  I was first introduced to her fifteen years ago when I heard Keali’i Reichel singing the song on the radio.  It was the music that grabbed me first – gentle and soothing.   It’s written and composed in Hawaiian by Puakea Nogelmeier.   I don’t speak Hawaiian so it’s like an exciting mystery to find out what the words mean.  I’m never disappointed.

I found out that Kaiona means beautiful ocean.  She is the goddess of the lost, yet she is deaf and blind.   She lives on Mt. Ka’ala, the highest peak in the Waianae Range on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.  Believed to be a benevolent relative of Pele, the fire goddess, Kaiona helps people who are lost in the mountains. 

Wandering astray in the highlands
Through the tangling forest deeps
Drawn here by the perfumed scent
Following the desires of the heart.

She sends her pet birds, especially her favorite iwa or great frigate birds to help people get back on the path.  Iwa birds are Hawaii’s largest bird with wingspans that can be seven feet.  Sightings on land are rare.  They come when there is a storm approaching, soaring on the wind currents.  Growing up in Hawaii, we used to call them storm birds. 

I grew up on the Hamakua Coast of the Island of Hawaii.  I remember seeing them once when I was in elementary school.   It was an overcast day, dark and windy.  Recess was ending and I was on the playground heading toward class.  I saw maybe three to five of them – big, black, prehistoric looking, gliding silently towards and then over me going north.  I’ll never forget that sight. 

Kaiona has become synonymous with one who helps another find their way.  In 2009, I choreographed a hula to the song about Kaiona for my husband on the occasion of our 21st wedding anniversary.  His work as a Zen teacher and priest was all about helping others.  I taught that hula to students in NYC when I used to travel there regularly.  And then I forgot about it.

Urged onward by the blossoms
By the entrancing beauty
Seeking this way and that, hither and yon
So fickle is the nature of the heart.

We’ve had a very stormy year.  A new normal has descended upon us of mask-wearing, social distancing, and almost compulsive washing of hands because of the global pandemic.  We don’t socialize like we used to.  Millions of people have died world-wide.  And millions more are suffering.  We are lost in so many ways.

Grant the knowledge, share the insight
O Beloved Kaiona, goddess of the lost
Let the pathway be pointed out
Which will lead directly there.

Dancing this hula is dancing the story of Kaiona.  This is dancing being lost, being distracted, and challenged in many ways.  This is dancing asking for help.  This is dancing our heart – its desires, fickleness, and entanglements that can hide our path.  This is being Kaiona, and finding our path that is always here – the path that sparkles in the heart.

The sweet essence ever issues forth
Always bringing a deep stirring within
The story is known in the telling
Of the bright sparkle of the heart

My writing notebook gave me this quote as I wrote about Kaiona.

“Flowers never emit so sweet and strong a fragrance as before a storm.  When a storm approaches thee, be as fragrant as a sweet-smelling flower.” 

~Jean Paul Richter, 1763-1825.

It seems like we are being called now to be very fragrant even though we may be totally lost. What does that mean?  To me that means being kind to yourself by taking good care of yourself. A contemplative practice and a movement practice can both be healing and promote compassion.  The fragrance of such compassion then naturally exudes to others.  Kaiona is teaching us about the fundamental kindness of the heart.  This is a path worth finding and following.

© 2021 June Ryushin Tanoue All Rights Reserved


Sensei and Kumu Hula June Tanoue teaches meditation and hula at Zen Life & Meditation Center, Chicago and her hula school Halau i Ka Pono (Place that Cultivates the Goodness).  She began The Path of Hula and Zen workshop on January 2, 2021 to bring her two spiritual practices together in an effort to be useful to others.  She is teaching Kaiona to forty of her students. You can contact her at

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