Baila and I have a dream to travel to Hawaii and enjoy the beauty of the land and people. We keep it in our spirits and it motivates us. I thought doing a spotlight on Native Hawaii would be fitting. We just celebrated our 11th wedding anniversary. May it be for many more.
Enjoy this spotlight Lumin!
Marked by ingenuity and resourcefulness, the indigenous Hawaiian culture is internationally celebrated for its artistry and sophistication. While excelling in such arts as poetry, dance and sculpture, Hawaiians also established a well-developed judicial system and instituted complex scientific and agricultural methods.
But, who are Native Hawaiians?
Congress defines “Native Hawaiian” as “any individual who is a descendant of the aboriginal people who, prior to 1778, occupied and exercised sovereignty in the area that now constitutes the State of Hawai‘i.” (U.S. Public Law 103-150)
However, Native Hawaiians are so much more. We define ourselves by our relationships with each other, our ancestors and our land. Without these bonds of interconnectedness, we are incomplete.
Being Hawaiian involves nurturing and honoring these ties. In the Hawaiian society, one is expected to know and understand what it means to be a contributing member of the community. Everyone has a kuleana, responsibility, to use his or her talents to the benefit of the entire ‘ohana (literally, family). By fulfilling our duties to the ‘ohana and recognizing the accomplishments of others, Hawaiians increase their mana or spirituality.
Built upon the foundation of the ‘ohana, Hawaiian culture ensures the health of the community as a whole. The Western concept of “immediate family” is alien to indigenous Hawaiians. The Hawaiian ‘ohana encompasses not only those related by blood, but all who share a common sense of aloha (love and compassion). It is common to hear Native Hawaiians who are meeting for the first time ask “Who is your family?” and then joke we must be related “because we are all related.”
The ties that bind ‘ohana together cannot be broken, even by death. As loved ones pass, they continue to fulfill their obligations to the rest of the ‘ohana from the next realm. Hawaiians cherish their ancestors, committing to memory generation upon generation of lineage and composing beautiful chants heralding our ancestors’ abilities.
A lo‘i of kalo
The most important ancestor for all Hawaiians is the land itself. Legend names the first Hawaiian as the kalo (taro) plant. Therefore, as the Hawaiian progenitor, it is every Hawaiians obligation to care for their elder brother, the land.
In the beginning, there was Papa (Earth mother) and Wākea (sky father). From these gods descended a still-born child, Hāloa (literally, long stem). Papa and Wākea buried their child, and watched as he changed and grew into the Hawaiian staff of life, kalo (the taro plant).
After Hāloa, another child was born, the first Hawaiian was born. Also named Hāloa in honor of his older brother, the first human to inhabit these islands was inextricably linked to the land that gave birth to him. As the younger siblings, Hawaiians understood their duty to care for their ‘āina, their land, so that it would in turn sustain them.
The Native Hawaiian people cherish their connection to the land. Our language is resonant with allusions to our heritage as kama‘āina, children of the land. The word for “family,” ‘ohana, literally translates as “from the kalo stem.” In acknowledging their interdependence with their ‘āina, Hawaiians created a unique culture, vibrant, sophisticated and efficient in its perceptiveness of the natural world.
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