The sun had now gone down below
the Waianae Range, painting the mountains and the clouds above
in red and orange. The canoes turned outward toward the sea,
preparing to launch the first lanterns.
The act of setting lanterns afloat to sea originates from a Japanese
Buddhist rite with the purpose of honoring and remembering one’s
ancestors and deceased loved ones. Their names and prayers were
written on the rice paper covering the lantern’s candlelight.
The lanterns drifting off to sea symbolizes, in a beautiful way,
the relieved spirits of the deceased leaving earthly shores,
sailing peacefully towards the distant shores of the afterlife.
Held in Hawai‘i for the eighth time, sponsored by Na Lei
Aloha Foundation and the Shinnyo-en Hawai‘i Buddhist organization,
the Lantern Floating ceremony, or Toro Nagashi in Japanese, has
become an annual gathering on the American Memorial Day. By transcending
religion, ethnicity, and culture, 20,000 people are united in
a common prayer for deceased loved one’s and world peace.
Among these were more than 2,000 people from Japan, and more
than 1,000 members of Shinnyo-en Hawai‘i. The head of the
Shinnyo-en, Bishop Shinso Ito, graced the ceremony with her presence,
underscoring the significance of the Hawai‘i Lantern Floating
ceremony for the local Buddhist community.
A total of 1,150 lanterns were launched: 700 from double-hulled
canoes, 200 by volunteers lined up along the shore, and for the
first time, 250 people from the crowd were allowed to launch
their own individual lanterns. On Magic Island, volunteers carried
six larger parent lanterns in parade, with general dedications
to world peace and remembrance of victims of war and natural
disasters. Two HPU volunteers were given the honor to carry one
of these parent lanterns, having trained and rehearsed the carrying
procedure for weeks in advance.
We did devote a lot of time to this. However, this has without
a doubt, been the best and most interesting community service
I’ve participated in” said the new president of Danish
Dynamite, Mickey Kromann-Jensen. He and new advisor Christian
Friis carried the parent lanterns on and off stage.
It was a noble experience, being a part of this ceremony gathering
multiple cultures with the sole purpose of remembering our ancestors.
It certainly is a human thing” said Friis.
Another four HPU volunteers launched lanterns from the shore.
HPU’s International Vocal Ensemble also contributed to
the ceremony with their beautiful voices.
By the time the lanterns were launched, Magic Island glowed with
entertainment for hours. Performances were given by Kanilau, ‘ukulele
virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro, singers Nalani Olds and Amy Hanaiali’i
Gilliom with Halau O Ka Hanu Lehua, along with University of
Hawai‘i Orchestra and Shomyo Choir. Both the entertainment
on stage at Magic Island and the launching of the lanterns were
broadcasted on a 50-foot large screen, as well as transmitted
to Japan and the U.S. mainland.
In more than one way, the lantern floating ceremony illustrates
the nature of Hawai‘i as a religious, ethnic, and cultural
melting pot. Not only is the ceremony an original Buddhist tradition
held on the American Memorial Day, the imagined course of the
lanterns–were they not collected afterwards for environmental
reasons – also illustrates the composition of modern Hawai‘i
as a an East-West-Pacific mix: They could sail into the West
as the Elven ships leaving Middle Earth in J.R.R. Tolkien’s
epic tales, but they could also sail towards the East, a course
just as likely. They could also sail south, towards the Polynesian
archipelago of the southern Pacific.
The atmosphere in Ala Moana Beach Park on the evening of Memorial
Day, May 29, was indeed one of uniting across cultures for a
common act of thought, prayer, and remembrance.