John Kapono'ai Molitau chants as he turns to face the audience, which includes Senators Dan Inouye and Daniel Akaka from Hawaii. In one motion, Molitau dips woven leaves into a wooden bowl, snaps his wrist and lets the water fall to the floor near the traditional Hawaiian canoe in the Potomac Atrium of the National Museum of the American Indian. His chant bounces off the walls and fills the entire space with his booming, sonorous voice.
Inside the bowl is a mixture of the waters collected and carried here from the four main fresh water streams cascading down the slopes of Maui’s mountain, Mauna Kahalawai. The waters serve as the physical manifestation of the Hawaiian deity, Kane, who emerged from darkness to create the heavens and the earth. The bowl also holds Hawaiian pa’akai, or salt from the ocean, the physical manifestation of Kane's brother, Kanaloa.
The traditional blessing this morning celebrated the fifth anniversary of the museum, which opened with a great celebration in 2004.
With a green lei hanging around his nec, Senator Inouye told the story of the museum's creation. "Twenty years ago where we stand today and gather for this ceremony, nothing was here," he said. "The trail to this site is an interesting one." He recalled the founding of the Indian Affairs committee, which he chaired, the Smithsonian's boundless collection of Native artifacts, obtaining the collection of George Gustav Heye and finally, the opening.
"Here we have a building that honors those who were here before the rest of us arrived, " he said.
Senator Akaka, who served with Senator Inouye on the Indian Affairs committee, said that 20 years ago, the committee's meeting place was "just a room with old furniture." Senator Inouye transformed the space with new furniture and Indian tapestries. He did the same for the lives of native people in the United States, Senator Akaka said. The museum represents yet another step and skillfully showcases the "beauty, strength and resilience of the native people."
Mahalo nui loa and aloha. Thank you and goodbye.