The Story of Hakani

2 Jun

This is the story of Hakani, a girl so full of light and the joy of God, that her very name means “smile.” Hakani was born in 1995 to a woman from the Suruwaha tribe in the Amazon jungle of Brazil. Though Hakani was a beautiful little girl full of laughter, she seemed to be developing more slowly than most Suruwaha children. During the first two years of her life, Hakani never learned to speak or walk, causing her tribe to put pressure on her parents to kill her, believing that she did not have a soul. Hakani’s parents loved her so much, and desperately wanted to save her life. Knowing the consequences of the tribe for rebelling against the long-lived tradition of infanticide, but not wanting to kill their young daughter, Hakani’s parents killed themselves by eating of a poison root, leaving her behind along with her four siblings.

The responsibility to kill Hakani now fell on the shoulders of her oldest brother. He took his sister a short distance from the communal hut and buried her alive beneath the earth in a shallow grave. Hakani cried out, but her voice was muffled by the dirt that had been shoved into her young mouth. Fear gripped her heart like a vice. Death was imminent, but it never came.

A member of the tribe, deeply disturbed by her cries, dug her out and placed her into the hands of her grandfather. As the elder of the family, he knew that he had to fulfill his obligation to kill Hakani. He took his bow and arrow and shot her, narrowly missing her heart and piercing her tiny shoulder. Immediately, guilt washed over him, and he, too, ate the poison root, killing himself. Hakani was still alive, but from that day on she lived as an outcast, ostracized from her own family and her own tribe.

For three years she survived on rain water, bark, leaves, insects, and occasionally scraps of food one of her brothers managed to smuggle to her. Grossly neglected, physically and emotionally abused, Hakani remained outside the tribal hut. Day after day the tribal children burned her legs and laughed when she cried. They teased her and shouted, “Why are you still alive? You have no soul! Why don’t you just die?”

Hakani’s bright smile faded as her abusers continued their irrational persecution of her. Her spirit was breaking. Eventually, her brother, Bibi, rescued her by carrying her to the home of a YWAM missionary couple, the Suzukis, who had been working for twenty years with the Suruwaha Indians in the Amazon. The missionaries knew she was very sick; at five and a half years of age Hakani weighed only 15 pounds and was 27 inches long. The Suzukis cared for her as if she was their own daughter, showing her love and affection and treating her wounds and illness, but her recovery was a long and difficult process. Hakani responded to nothing, had no facial expressions or emotions and would scream and cry when they touched her because she had gone for so long without physical contact.

The Suzukis took Hakani out of the jungle, seeking expert medical attention for her serious illness. Within six months of receiving love and medical treatment Hakani began to walk, starting speaking, and her bright smile returned to her face. Today, Hakani is fourteen years old and loves dancing, singing, and art. Her voice today is a voice for life. Her life is evidence that with every child that dies, the dreams and hopes of somebody who could grow to be important for their community, capable of making changed and rebuilding their people’s history, also die.

In honor of her survival and with great hope to save the lives of many more children, the Suzukis have started the Hakani Project, even making a documentary that beautifully illustrates the story of Hakani to raise awareness about the issue of infanticide, the killing of unwanted babies and children. There are many reasons that lead to the children’s deaths. Those with physical or mental deficiencies are killed, as well as twins, children born out of wedlock because they are considered to be bad luck for the community. Today, many people are bound by the romanticized vision of “cultural purity,” the idea that keeping culture intact and unchanged is more important than saving individual lives, but God’s culture triumphs over all. God does not condone killing, for any reason.

Let us pray for the lives of these children. Let’s pray for their safety and protection, and that their life would be valued as it should. Let’s pray that God would reveal Himself to these indigenous people, especially the tribal elders, that they would see His children as He does – priceless.

I personally have had the incredible opportunity to spend time with my dear friend Hakani since she and her adoptive parents, the Suzukis, now live on the YWAM base here in Kona. She is so vibrant and full of life and spreads energy and love contagiously everywhere she goes. She tells people constantly that she loves them and that she is their friend. She shares everything she has selflessly. She is such a blessing to everyone that knows her. I couldn’t imagine the loss it would have been to this world had she been killed.

She blessed me so much one particular morning. I was feeling especially grumpy one Monday morning on my way to worship. I was tired and felt very lonely and sad. As I approached the worship service, Hakani came running up to me, telling me that God had told her that I was beautiful, full of energy and life. She told me that I was like sunshine. My soul soared, and she ran off.

Minutes later, she ran up to me again, this time presenting me with a beautiful yellow and pink lei, again telling me that I was beautiful, radiant, rested, and loved. This blessed my heart in ways I can’t even describe. She is truly a blessing from Heaven.

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2 Responses to “The Story of Hakani”

  1. La Vonne Earl June 2, 2010 at 6:21 pm #

    The little girl is right, You are our sunshine!! You are a blessing to all, like Hakani.

  2. erikaearl June 3, 2010 at 4:19 pm #

    Thanks Mom! I love you so much and can’t wait to see you!

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