One of the reasons to return to Hawaii this time of year was to attend the annual O-bon celebration at the Haleiwa Buddhist Church and participate in the toro-nagashi.
The annual celebration is in memory of one’s ancestors and the Haleiwa ceremony features in addition to the prayers and dancing the floating of paper lanterns lighted with candles on the waters near the church.
It’s a celebration I took part in with my good friend during our college years and taken up again in recent years as a time to renew our acquaintance on an annual basis. This year was more poignant because my friend died suddenly in the last year.
In recent years the O-bon celebration and toro-nagashi in Haleiwa have become quite popular and many folks gather after dark, waiting for the entourage of priests to descend from the church, clanging their bells and leading the way to the waters beyond the sandy beach. Each lantern has a flat bottom, six sides of decorated colored rice paper and a slender candle at its bottom.
My lantern carried my deceased father’s name and I also carried a lantern with the names of my friend’s grandparents, parents and deceased brother.
I’ve not been to India or to Mecca but that’s the feeling I imagine I would experience performing a religious rite in such close quarters with so many young and old fellow pilgrims. Following the priests and buoyed along by the crowd, we work our way down to the dark waters, our candles lit by people with lighters, our feet sinking into the soft sand as we head downward and seaward. At the water’s edge we meet others returning to shore and we step into the water and walk in to knee depth where we place our lanterns on the water among the tens of hundreds floating out on the currents. We turn and return to shore, then up the soft sandy beach and turning, watch the hundreds of points of light bob and float away on the dark waters.
In this way last Saturday the spirits of my father, my good friend’s family, and that of my good friend returned to their heaven.