Summer Nights - Obon Season In Hawaii

Summer is now in full swing here in the islands and there is no better way to spend a balmy, tropical evening than to attend one of the many summer Bon Odori or "Obon" Festivals held at every Buddhist Temple. Here on Maui, the best of all Obon celebrations takes place this saturday, July 2, at the Jodo Mission in Lahaina. Obon is a Japanese Buddhist festival held to honor the deceased and to assure them that we, the left behind, are making good use and enjoying our time on earth. The celebration centers on a dance... the Bon Dance... where participants move in rhythm around a central tower where traditional music is blasted thru loudspeakers. Participants in the dance often wear a short light summer kimono (Yakuta). Women will adorn their hair with beautiful flowers while men will often wear a headscarf. The dance is relatively simple and easy to imitate by watching seasoned participants. All are welcome to join in.

The Lahaina Bon Odori begins as the sun is beginning to set and a massive bronze bell is rung...

The bell signals the attendees to gather on the adjacent beach to begin the event that makes the Lahaina Jodo Bon Odori so special... the floating lantern ceremony. Paper lanterns are distributed to participants on which the names of loved ones passed away are written. Young men signed to the task accept each lantern from the participant(s) and place them on a small wooden raft. Once the sun has set below the horizon and darkness begins to fill the sky, the men take the loaded rafts out into the lagoon, setting each lantern afloat to drift with the tide.

As the last lanterns are set afloat, the crowd and action moves back to the central courtyard fronting the temple and around the big, brightly lit tower where dancers have already begun moving in unison to the music and steady beat of Japanese Taiko drums.

While the significance and intent of Bon Odori is religious, mindful & somewhat solemn, the atmosphere at these festivals is joyous and vibrant... much like a summer's eve fair. There are food vendors keeping the crowd well-fed with delicious local delicacies and drinks, old friends reunited and a diverse & multi-cultural community coming together to celebrate. Given the political tone of this year's election season and current events worldwide, it's events like Lahaina's Bon Odori that can reaffirm one's faith in human nature across all ethnic & cultural divides. In this regard, Hawaii get's it right and sets an example that can benefit the rest of the country and the world in general in these devisive times.

© Tony Novak-Clifford. All rights reserved.