My Home Is Big Island – Called To Hawaii Series


Illona with my family

My friend Illona is a native Hawaiian and has helped me learn more about the Hawaiian culture, the language and the stories of the past. She graciously lent her knowledge for my Kona Newbies group and she led a discussion at my Best of Kona Festival in February 2020 to educate “malahini” (new comers) and tourists about Hawaii. I was honored when she said she would write an essay for the “Called to Hawaii” series.

My Home Is Big Island

by: Illona Honig – Lomi Lomi/Healing Massage

I was born on the island of Oahu. My father was from Molokai and my mom, from Oahu and I have chosen to call Hawaii Island, home. I have managed to live on Oahu, Molokai, Maui and Hawaii. 

In between living on these islands I also visited all the others, Kauai, Kahoolawe and Niihau. So I truly have lived up to the Hawaiian voyagers ideals of seeking out the unknown here in these islands of my ancestors. Each of these islands has their own “mana”, energy and attraction. But for me the Big Island was a safe harbor, a place of refuge.

I arrived the first time when I was 25 in the early 1970’s and I was dancing hula. We came to perform with the Waialae brothers at the old Naniloa Hotel on Bay Drive.

Our kumu (teacher) was Lokelani Lindsey and when we finished our rehearsal we went to visit Aunty Edith Kanakaole. Aunty was a well-known Hawaiian culturist, a Kumu Hula (master hula teacher) and instructor of Hawaiian Studies at the Hawai’i Community College and the University of Hawai’i at Hilo. She championed active learning and participation in indigenous culture and also saw the need to promote higher Western education among native Hawaiians. Born in 1913, she was a treasure. Kumu had us dance for her and she smiled approval telling us all that everyone would love us. She then came to me and said, “Why don’t you come live here”? I smiled and said, “Maybe someday, but not now”.

This struck a note in me it made me think is there something I should learn here. After all this was Aunty suggesting this and really I felt so torn because I had responsibilities toward my family that required that I return home. But that was when I started to look into what there was to offer for my ohana and myself on the Big Island and, yes, it had so much for all of us. But I got busy in my life working and caring for the ohana and put the move to Big Island on the shelf.

 That afternoon we went to Halemaumau crater and we made offerings (hookupu) to Pele. In those days on Oahu you would not speak of making offerings at the volcano, lest you be seen as a pagan left behind. After all, everyone had become Christians. I was so happy to stand at the crater rim chanting and being ME -Native to this land, singing praises and making offerings to promote healing in the world, the universe and unselfishly not thinking of anything but aloha, the shared breath, the love and the healing.

You do not need drugs when you join with spirit, you find so much satisfaction in the doing and no wonder we Hawaiians continue to chant and pray. Here this land had so much energy or mana, as we call it, and now I knew no matter how long I was away, I would eventually return.

I always held that vision when I returned to Oahu. I was still dancing hula at different hotels in Waikiki, but deep in my naau (gut), I kept asking myself, “Why don’t you go to the Big Island?”

I was young, married with 2 children, but that did not last and I did move, but to Maui where I started a halau, (hula school) and under the mentorship of Aunty Emma Sharp, I continued to dance and began to use the lomilomi that my father had taught me to assist those with aches and pains.

I had met another man, but he turned out to be very violent and so I fled Maui. I never took a thing from there, I still like to visit but I never wanted to live there again. I returned to Oahu now living at my parent’s home, but that was not where I wanted to be.

We were all out on a Monday shopping, the children were at school and I remember driving up Waimanalo towards the Koolau Mountains seeing big plumes of smoke going up the ridgeline. My parent’s home of 30 years was burned to the ground that day. We rummaged through the charred rooms looking for remnants of photos and anything that might not have been ruined, which was almost nothing. I decided then and there that I would go to the Big Island, who knows it just resonated with everything that had happened and I started to think of ways to go there and leave Oahu behind.

 I met someone new and I was expecting my third child in 1980,when my husband came home saying he had a big opportunity on the Big Island. I knew this would be homecoming and it felt incredible to step onto that lava. After all the trials I settled here in Kona. It is home.

From that time until now my life has become the expression of my soul. Living on the land that continually gives new life. Being a lomilomi practitioner and dancing hula, singing the music of my ancestors. And living in the now with aloha (love) for everyone and malama (care) for this aina (land).Yes, this is where I live under a rainbow or sun filled Sky. I feel safe and secure in my tutu Pele’s arms.

After moving to the Big Island, we lived on Puuhue homestead, part of the Parker Ranch on the Kohala Mountain Road. It was like stepping back in time. It did not have any modern conveniences, no washer or dryer nor indoor stove. We cooked on a hibachi outside and watched the cattle and horses. My keiki ran around naked. It was a life we welcomed. We had a lot of privacy as our only neighbor lived a mile away. We had gorgeous gardens and we would share vegetables. I would go out and pray to Spirit to give us an abundant crop. I would watch the pueo (owls) at night hunting. I began to feel this resurgence of my culture and the closeness to nature. Perhaps I never nurtured it before like I did here. But you know it’s right when all the pieces just come together and the mana within you grows stronger each day.

As much as I enjoyed my time there, my parents were missing us and so we flew back and forth to Oahu. But then my father passed away and he had asked me to settle our family’s lands on Molokai, so I went to Molokai. I had gone there many times with the Ohana and always enjoyed it. I have a big Ohana on my father’s side that live there and they have always been very loving and good to me. But I guess I am a big sky kind of person. As beautiful and serene as Molokai is, I was always pulled back to the Big Island. I had a calling to the Big Island and when I finally let go and let God the choice was clear and when I did return to the Big Island from Molokai, I from that day until now call it home.

I had practiced Lomilomi for years and went to a couple of different schools on the Big Island and obtained my state massage licensing to be able to work wherever I might be needed. People come to see me here and I travel teaching on my own the ways of Hawaiian healing, all of which were handed down to me by my father and mother’s Ohana. I have expanded here. I opened up to not only the ancient teachings but I have also brought in many new forms of healing. I have stayed up all night to watch the star filled night skies and to bathe in Mahealani (full moon). This is one of the purest forms of energy we as humans can experience. I know that my life could have gone in many directions but I chose and here I am.

We have it all, big sky, big water

You can travel anywhere

But you will find no other

Brilliant red Lehua blossoms

Under golden clear heavens

A place of many cultures

Rainforests at the volcanoes rim

Lava flows, Amber glow

Snows upon Mauna Kea’s summit

A skier and a bird


White sands, green sands and black

Abundance of sea life

Turtles, dolphins and humpback

Above as below

You must see

This is all here

This is where I want to be.

My island home it’s the Big Island for me.

This story is only a small portion of Illona’s life. Illona, pictured here with our Kona Newbies group after a beach side talk story event, enjoys sharing stories of life in the islands. If you would like to join us in a Talk Story webinar, email me at [email protected] and we will put you on the list for more info!

Spread the word if you love what you heard! #365kona so we can say Thanks!

Meet the Author

Julie Ziemelis

Julie Ziemelis is an entrepreneur, business owner, author, blogger and vlogger in Kailua Kona. She created and moderates the “365 Things to Do in Kona” page and the Kona Newbies group on Facebook. She blogs at and and vlogs with her husband, Eric, at “365Hawaii” on YouTube. Julie also authored the books, “How to Move to Kona” and the “Insiders Guide to Buying Real Estate on the Big Island of Hawaii”. You will most likely find Julie in Kona hiking, running, biking, taking photos and sharing Aloha.

Leave a Question or Comment About this Topic

  • patty says:

    Profound. I cried.

  • Nancy Richter says:

    Oh my her story made me cry! Her poem at the end was beautiful.