The Maui Cargo Cult

23 Jan

They gather at dawn on Koki Beach for the sunrise.  As it peeks above the horizon solemn chanting begins. “Maserati, Donzi, Rolex, the Dakota…Maserati, Donzi, Rolex, the Dakota…Maserati...” is repeatedly intoned until the orb is fully risen.

The ritual, begun as a lark at parties in the Hamptons, has now become a credo since the Big X, as the exodus to the island is called.  It has been over ten years that these fortunate unfortunates have been in residence.  Leaving the mainland on whatever vessels could be commandeered that still had fuel, they at least had survived.  Many others would have given all they had to trade places.  Still, safety in itself cannot guarantee satisfaction or thankfulness as this wretched longing for the old ways demonstrates. 
The phenomenon being experienced here is closest to the delusions of remote Islanders in another time who were convinced that the Americans who had provided them with so much in the past would return to re-provision them again.  Any time now.  Maybe today.  Tomorrow, certainly. They waited anxiously at the water’s edge and were known as a Cargo Cult.  So now these once  Masters of the Universe are slightly unhinged and are waiting for it all to return to them.  They are the Maui Cargo Cult. 
 Among their number T.R. Straub is a standout character.  Not content with a seven figure Wall Street largesse he had conspired to establish dodgy accounts in the Caymans and Canada until it all went down.  When T.R. had seen the numbers signifying all industrial growth had ceased he knew the worst was about to happen. “The opposite of growth is not non-growth; it’s is sharing.” he uttered to his peers. ” That will be perilous for all of us who worked so hard for what we have!”. The threat this new reality represented had more seriously affected him than the others.
If we listen to their mutterings and snatches of conversation a large dollop of self pity and more than a little delusion is evident.  Ralph T., former hedge fund magnate, “The next time will be different.”
His nearest companion who may or may not have been privy to his assurance, mutters, “This time it won’t be lost. We’ll make it grow again. Growth, growth, by Jesus.”
T.R.’s voice rose to full volume to begin another chanting.  This one, regarded by the others as a lapse into tongues, “CD’ CMO’HBO’IBO’CDO’…’ LBO’ HMO,” he repeated endlessly, chanting until near foaming. It was sad to behold; he was not joined by anyone.  On the beaches and at the spas along the coast, from Kapalua to Kipahula, these Maui tribes gather each dawn.  It is much the same on the other islands except for Molokai where an entirely different class of survivors is ensconced.
However, on the West coast of Maui, near Kapalua, another bunch is repeating the performance but instead of awaiting succor from the East and the mainland they cast their hopes Westward to China praying for the growth that never begins. The litany is near to being identical. Brokers and bankers, big men in their time imploring the fates, thusly,” We were sold out. That’s it.  Those creeps on the other coast knew that two hundred buck oil was coming and never warned us. Unfair! Sold us out. Knew that growth was doomed.”
A well regarded financier from Boston, “It’s true there was excess optimism. Excess caused by everything happening too fast and by bad information and bad timing.  Yes, the timing.  When to plunge ahead and when to hold back.  How much to bet but…nothing was said about risk!”
 “Who knew? We were innocents.  School was no help; not there to learn anyway.  The MBA was for the networking, always the networking. Wonderful bunch there at school, we thought alike!”, bleated a former Detroit captain of industry who guided the destiny and fortunes of many and now is wallowing in self pity.
Still another, “Yes, mistakes were made. But by others. Our people were innocent… mostly. That other bunch, they were so clever. Made billions didn’t they, with all their high tech gadgets and puffed up real estate. They knew it was coming. The the smart ones pulled out years ago. Took the money and split, didn’t they?”

One voice, more senior than the others, was filled with disdain, “Of course, we all thought that the old familiar devices we had in place would see us through; last a lot longer at the very least. Really seemed promising; two or three wars going…not biggies, but profitable. Got the oil. Always worked before. But the boys, and they were boys you know, bunch of jackass MBA’s got playing around with serious money. Those kids, a lot of them from good families, old families too, turned out to be a frat-rats and nerdy jocks, and yet we let them handle the big dough. Jesus, they screwed it up, royally.  Couldn’t be fixed. Negative two growth…two point five! So we had to shut it down. Whole damn country stopped growing. Pity, way of life gone for good. Ah, me.”

The Bostonian,” If only we had been as successful as the Russians were when the USSR went belly up. Maybe then…you know it’s difficult to determine if naivete or hubris had contributed most in rendering us nearly uneducable in a contemporary sense. Maybe it was bizarre form of social deprivation as the result of living in a…a Golden Ghetto, with a miniscule gene-pool, in a informational cull-de-sac, lost among our peers. Maybe…”
They pace for hours searching the horizon, as if waiting… hoping. It’s their common lore, their very DNA calls out to them that the phantom ships will come back, laden, oh so heavily with liquid gold, fifty dollar sweet crude, and it all will be as it had once been. A time of plenty. Masters once more of the Universe. Wealth and power such as these scions once knew was their due. But time weighs heavily each day as they roam the shores, searching, dreaming. 

At times the loss seems overwhelming but each lives with beautiful memories…of plenty. And the dreams, oh the dreams–Back in commodities, again. Another chance. One more big energy killing, just one. Sure to be different. Way different. Any way to game it? Hope so. Can’t lose hope. Can’t. Someday…‘Maserati, Donzi, Rolex, the Dakota…Maserati, Donzi, Rolex, the Dakota…Maserati...–

On Molokai, once the site of a despised Leper Colony, and ignored by the Cargo Cultists as a warren of hippies and new-agers, life is radically different.  Loss of the old way of life, while mourned, is not paramount with them. Time is regularly set aside to contemplate the loss and to examine what it means to each individual. The core of their collective lives is in the music and art they create. 

The clan too, had a ritual but of a different order than the Maui Cult.  At gatherings, sometimes at dawn, they would intone this Mantra: Being not Becoming, Being not Becoming, Being not Becoming…Om! …and Again.
This was their way of focusing on moment-place-being and rejecting dreaming of future in lieu of the present.  A rejection of the modern shibboleth that proscribes the reality of here and now as never sufficient unto itself. Always the future; seldom the present, never ever,right now
Most of the clan formerly lived in the Pacific Northwest and had long lived without the need of every modern convenience. Happy in rough cabin or yurt, they had neither the means nor the inclination to transport tons of food stored in cans and pails, and charged with nitrogen for long life, as did the Cultists.  Nor did they bring kilos of precious metals, gemstones and numerous weapons, as those Maui people had done.  What they did bring, however, were survival skills and a sense of purpose and direction to their lives.
They did manage to bring copious amounts of paints and brushes and were adequately supplied with yards and yards of canvas in excellent condition from the classic sailing vessel that carried them to Molokai.  Stretching and framing this bounty gave ample surfaces on which to create Visionary Art, the foundation of their spiritual lives and ethos. 
Summer Dawn, a favorite among the artists, formerly lived at the Northern terminus of the Sunshine Coast in British Columbia.  Living in close proximity to the Sliammon Band of First Nation peoples, she knew much of their ways. So it was this dynamic individual who, more often than not, was consulted for directions and guidance on a range of subjects.
“Summer,” cried Zen Wren, ” This fish is still raw!”
Summer cleaned her brush and left her canvas. “Sweet heart.  You have the circle just right but the smoke is all over the place.  Put up another screen to the windward.  Remember?  Wind is no friend to the smoke.”
“I forgot. Sorry I interrupted you.” she apologized.  
 An important staple was fish smoked the ancient way by racking each split carcass flesh side to the smoke source.  Each was supported on a wooden rack spaced in a circle around a fire pit.  In this fashion the surplus catch was preserved.  They learned to do the same when a feral pig or Axis deer had provided them with a surplus of meat in need of preservation.  Diet was balanced with macadamia, coconuts and for a treat, coffee and sugar. 
Summer had no sooner picked up a brush than Thanta Rose, dusted over with flour, shoved a pot towards her. “I can’t get this bloody mess to stick. Look at it,” she cried. Summer peered at the contents. “How many eggs did you use?” “Oh God!”, Thanta Rose was mortified.
“Bannock won’t stick without,” weighing the contents, “for this lot, at least three.” Summer decided.They were using taro and macadamia nuts as the flour, shredded coconut and a touch of kula onions, eggs of course, and bacon grease with what ever berries they could find, in the bush bread.

“Wait ’til the fish smoking is finished then heat up the fire for the bread,” she said. “Back in the day the tribes just wrapped the dough around a stick and put it near the fire to bake.”

“No way,” said Thanta. “Way,” said Summer.

The bread dough was pressed flat inside fry pans and the pans tilted against the hot coals.  With enough sugar and salt in the mix it was quite tasty.  Summer winced when she thought of what her teachers on the reservation would have made of this concoction.  But bread was bread for all of that.

images bannock
The clan had chosen to settle on the North Shore at Kalaupapa the site of the former leper Colony. They called the settlement Damien Village honoring the Belgian priest who had long tended the sick in the past. The clan had been well aware of the possibility of needing to leave the mainland before it all went critical. They, as had countless others, watched sadly as the disasters began piling one upon another..

The Gulf fishery loss from the final, devastating oil gusher; the precipitous dropping of the Ogallala Aquifer level supporting dry land grain harvest in the American West were duly noticed but the failure of Salmon runs in the Pacific Northwest in particular, struck home for the locals. Chesapeake Bay and North Atlantic dwindling seafood harvest added to this but what proved to be the real crisis maker was the complete failure of the food delivery system. Unfortunately, Piggly Wiggly, Safeway or Gristides’ fully stocked grocery shelves were treated as a given and the effect of collapse of the internet was hidden from the public until it was too late. Local suppliers, long neglected, could not begin to fill the need. There was hunger.
Molokai was a logical choice as many of their number had past association with all of the islands in the chain. Summer Dawn had done live performance painting at Alchemeyez on the Big Island many times as had several of the other artists.  Thus when it came to a final decision the Hawaiian Islands was the chosen destination and Molokai the chosen home site.
We have two disparate groups from a culture dependent on continual and perpetual growth and ignoring a rapidly changing objective environment that could not prevent its inevitable destruction, both striving to survive.  Despite similar origins, at least in potentiality and proximity, the totality of their lives could not have been more different. Their fates? Unknown to us as to themselves. Clan or Cult… your choice?


3 Responses to “The Maui Cargo Cult”

  1. Martin February 7, 2014 at 6:10 pm #

    I dunno… Molokai is pretty small and limited and really belongs to the traditional Hawaiians. Methinks I’d select the northeast uplands up around Honoka`a on the Big Island. Plenty of water – for now at least

    • ibonobos February 7, 2014 at 7:08 pm #

      Martin, points well taken. But I assumed the tycoons would opt for Maui and the clan would seek to redeem a former leper colony. Thanks for your interest.

  2. David Trammel February 9, 2014 at 5:06 am #

    Interesting story. I have added it to the Green Wizard Story list HERE

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