The Peacock Mosaic

The Boar Hunter of Kauai


 

The dogs bark and growl in a frenzy in the valley.

Ozaki pauses on the mountain trail. From where he stands, he can see the vast valley that opens to the glorious Pacific Ocean. The multitude of soporific aromas from the tropical forest is intoxicating and makes him feel at home.

“I wouldn’t swap this for the whole world,” he says to himself as he checks his position and tries to work out where his loyal dogs are. The commotion usually means that they have found their target. Wild pigs have for centuries, occupied the immense hilly terrains and valleys created by millions of years of erosion brought on by the constant wind and rain from the ocean. The wild plums are just ripe, as are the year-round bananas and pineapples, providing ample food for the boars. They breed at an astonishing rate. Herds of boars often cause destruction to the local fauna and flora. A small group of boar hunters have maintained a delicate balance on the garden island of Kauai since time began, proud and dedicated to their tradition that has been handed down from generation to generation.

Ozaki’s pulse quickens as he promptly works out the direction of his dogs and the fastest trail to reach them. Each time this happens, he becomes excited. He feels in his element like mist melting into the clouds. What he is going to do becomes instinctive to him. His feet find their way with ease in the ancient volcanic canyon he grew up on. He knows exactly what is going on further down the valley. Over the past fifty years as a boar hunter on the island, he has learned much about the game. It is not one for the faint-hearted.

Ever since he was in 7th Grade, Ron Ozaki would follow his father and their hunting friends into the expansive bush for boar hunting. He knows every trail on the island; and every rock that perches on the cliff means something to him. He can tell the boar trail from those of the other animals without a second look. He has seen many accidents and tragedies in the bush. Each sad event reinforces caution in every step he takes. And he remembers every one of them. He would talk about the common ones like getting lost in the mountains; as well as the ones when the hunter became the hunted: how the clever boars would lure the dogs into their own territory with thick lantana, tight trails and hilly terrains, where the dogs were mauled down, one by one, by the bigger number of boars. Ozaki takes up to a dozen well-trained dogs with him on each trip in order to ensure an upper hand.

Ozaki hunts with a knife. This is the way of the Hawaiian boar hunters, a tradition too sacred to disown. To change their way of hunting is like disobeying the sacred law of nature. It is something Hawaiians don’t do. Ozaki used to take his mule with him. The mule carried provisions for the hunter and his dogs. It has grown too old to do its job now so he sets out on foot these days.

At dusk, he would be at the foot of the valley as the magnificent Hawaiian sun rolls off the horizon. The colours of the day’s last rays spill over at the edge of the ocean, before they fuse into the retreating blue sky. It doesn’t take long for him to reach his vantage spot to take in the dimming contour. He sets up camp for the night on his favourite site as he opens his heart to his island, which rises gracefully from the ocean and reaches to the clouds. Haze and clouds blur the horizon. Light breeze and gentle rain keep the universe in harmony. Nothing has changed since the days he hunted with his father: the scents of the valley percolate into the night; mist gathers and the temperature drops to an uncomfortable level. Showers are as frequent as the mountain breezes, keeping every branch and every shrub green, clean and fresh. There is constant pressure from multi-national developers to commercialise the island, but the local people fight fervently to keep it as it has always been.

As it gets dark, Ozaki takes another look at his moonlit surroundings. A tincture of silver splashes on those slender palm leaves and other trees alike, spattering over to cloak everything in its reach, like planet Earth’s large shroud. Everything is peaceful and quiet. Feeling secure, he rolls over to sleep. His loyal dogs snuggle up to him to keep warm for the night.

Dawn arrives with all her usual fanfare, with the wild bantam roosters heralding another delightful day. The island wakes to a splendid show of colours in the sky. The air is fresh and deceivingly crisp. By now, Ozaki has already given his dogs their breakfast and put on their protective metallic collars. The boars are not going to give in without a ferocious fight. He checks his razor-sharp hunting knife once more. With his whistle around his neck and his other gear, he is ready for the hunt.

With one gesture, his dogs disappear into the barely penetrable terrain, each heading in their own direction. They bark as they search forward, keeping each other in contact. Then the barking intensifies. The gorges go quiet, anticipating. Only the occasional seagull disrupts the concentration. Ozaki picks up his pace and stops here and there to determine where his dogs are. He sends an occasional signal with his whistle, then pauses and listens. A distant tumult returns his call. He is now almost running on the uneven ground he knows so well and soon he reaches the scene.

Backing up to a wall of volcanic rock and red earth is the boar twice the size of his dogs. It bares its tusks as its eyes roll from side to side, trying to find a way out of the blockade that is now spelling its doom. The dogs pace around the boar, slowly and deliberately. They show their sharp teeth to intimidate their victim as they snarl, growl and bark. The appearance of their master is the final sign to charge at the boar. The boar fights with fury. It kicks, rolls, and thrashes with its sharp tusks, finding its target sometimes and sending dogs flying across the narrow space. But they keep on advancing, trying to pin it down on its ears, legs, neck and head. The boar pants and shrieks in vain. Its action slows to whimpers and squeals. The dogs have the upper hand with the boar nailed to the ground. Ozaki jumps in to grab hold of its hind legs, one at a time, he slices off their tendons, leaving the boar out of action. He then swiftly turns to face the boar. With one lightning stroke, his knife finds the vulnerable position in the neck. The battle is over.

Back at Ozaki’s home in Kekaha, the backyard smoke oven shimmers gently in the sun. He opens its door and takes out a piece of succulent smoked pork, tears some off and samples it. He nods to himself, knowing that his children’s families and friends would enjoy it as much as he does.

“E ai kakou,bon appetite in Hawaiian, Ozaki says, as he passes the rest of it around. He turns to the rugged landscape of the Waimea Canyon in the distance; its silhouette has not changed since his youthful days. He is contented and proud that he has fought to keep his island the way it has always been.

“I wouldn’t swap this for the whole world,” he says.

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