Respecting the Hawaiian Culture and the Way of Life

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No trip to the Hawaiian Islands is complete without some attempt at understanding and respecting the Hawaiian culture and way of life. There is certainly plenty of warm weather, sunny days, and sandy beaches to keep one busy.  There are plenty of things to do that have nothing inherently to do with Hawaiian culture. To spend a vacation doing only these things would be to miss the truest beauty of the Islands. So, let’s take a moment to look at the issue of respecting the Hawaiian culture and the way of life.


One of the best things visitors can do to show respect for Hawaiian culture is to adopt the concept of aloha aina.  This phrase means “love of the land.”  Hawaiians are the land, in the sense that the land provides food, water, clothing,  and shelter. To defile the land, then, would be to defile oneself: the ultimate act of disgrace.  Showing care for the land, while visiting, is a wonderful way to show care and respect to the people of Hawaii.


Another important way to respect the Hawaiian way of life is to understand a bit about the history of the islands. The culture of the Hawaiian Islands has been shaped by four major events that have occurred in her history:  1) the arrival of sea faring Polynesians to the islands, 2) arrival of warriors/chiefs from other islands with srict rules of conduct (kapu), 3) unification of the Hawaiian Islands by Kamehameha I, and 4) the first missonaries arrived in the islands. One might also argue that the arrival of Japanese and Chinese immigrants is also very important to the history of the islands.   Before visiting the islands, take some time to read about these four major divisions in the history of the Hawaiian Islands.  It will help to deepen respect for the culture and history.


A third way to show respect for the culture and way of life of Hawaii is to use native language words, when appropriate. For example, Mahalo means thank you.  Hale means house. ‘Ohana means family. Several of the tourist venues will give you a quick lesson in Hawaiian. Take the time to listen and learn a few words. Hawaiian is spoken by only around 9000 people. In this way, you help to keep the language of the islands alive.


The hula is a very important part of the Hawaiian culture, and we should do all we can help it survive. . King Kalakaua saved the hula from total extinction after it was banned by the missionaries. Training to do the hula is very strict, and every movement has a meaning. Today the hula is taught at halua hula (hula schools) through out the state of Hawaii to help keep the old custom alive. The hula has come to be as symbolic of Hawaii as the lei greeting and the pineapple. While you are watching the hula, enjoy the art form and majesty that is from Hawaii’s past.


Another important way to respect Hawaiian culture is to be very careful about moving natural objects, or walking in areas marked “off limits.”  Here is an example: the original Hawaiians built lots of stone fish ponds in which to raise fish.  Many of these ponds have fallen into disrepair.  An attempt is being made to restore these ponds.  Walking on the old walls of the ponds could cause them to fall. The sad truth is this has actually happened, and some sites have been heavily damaged.  To the uneducated eye, many sacred places will look like just a part of the landscape.  Definitely remember this rule in relation to taking home lava rock!!  Pele will get you!


The most important way to respect the Hawaiian culture and way of life is to adopt the “spirit of aloha” when in Hawaii (and take it home with you). Aloha means so much more than just “hello” and “goodbye”. The word also means the breath of life, love, affection, peace, compassion, and the list goes on. While in Hawaii it can sometimes be easy to trivialize the word. When you are in a tour group and you are invited to say aloha, the moment can become silly. But resist the temptation to not understand its full meaning. The “spirit of Aloha” is to give of oneself to others, to offer your very breath of life to one who might need it. It is a way of living gently with each other, of having a mutual respect for the other person.


So my friends, I say to you mahalo for reading this article, and aloha nui loa (fondest regards).