When you visit Maui and are welcomed at your place of stay, you might be told you are now part of their ‘ohana. What does that mean? What is the Hawaiian concept of ‘ohana? We are all part of an ‘ohana. . . and usually more than one!
(Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)/Tor Johnson)
The concept of ‘ohana in Hawai’i is based on something universal: family. For the most part, we all love our children and grandchildren. We love our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and siblings. And they love us. Perhaps the only difference is that here in the islands we often live in the same household or on the same property. As ‘ohana, we all take care of each other, and we raise each other’s children.
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There is an ‘olelo no’eau (Hawaiian saying), “Ka lei hāʻule ʻole, he keiki,” which translates as “A lei that is never cast aside is one’s child.” To illustrate: a favorite lei of many locals is the pakalana. Pakalana is a tiny flower that when strung into a lei is very beautiful, and the scent of this lei is truly wonderful. To wear such a lei makes you feel special and brings joy, although, truth be told, sometimes the lei might get tangled in your hair, make your neck hot, or get in the way when you’re trying to do something. But, all we need to do is catch a whiff of that lovely fragrance or glimpse the lei’s beauty, and we are reminded just how lucky we are to have it. So it is with our children. Though they may get us hot and bothered at times, a small gesture or sweet smile will ultimately remind us how lucky we are to have them.
A keiki (child) is like a precious lei around your neck. Photo: Polinahe Photography
When it comes to ‘ohana in Hawai‘i, it’s often very hard for others to tell who is actually related by blood and what the relationships are. And in truth, that really doesn’t matter much here. In the older generation, families were sometimes very large so one would have many aunts and uncles. Older cousins of our parents’ age are addressed respectfully as “aunty” or “uncle” even though they are technically cousins. Friends of our parents are also “aunty” and “uncle.” And the parents of our friends are “aunty” and “uncle.” As a child, it can be a curse or a blessing to have so many aunties and uncles looking after you! If you are doing something naughty or are somewhere you shouldn’t be, there will likely appear an uncle asking, “Does your dad know you’re here?” But if you are stranded on the side of the road, an uncle will quickly be there to help. Or maybe you are at the beach and forgot to bring your lunch. Not to worry. . .there will be an aunty nearby who insists that you eat and provides what you need.
There is always an Aunty around! Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)/Tor Johnson
This sense of extended family is at the heart of Hawaiian ‘ohana. When you bring someone home here to meet your family for the first time, your parents will most certainly ask, “Who is your father/mother?” followed by “Where is your family from?” The younger generation gets embarrassed when mothers or aunties interrogate a friend. (Then this generation grows up and finds they have turned into their parents and are asking the same questions!) But there is a strong desire here to find the connection with others, and living on an island there is bound to be one. We are all inter-connected, and once the connection is found, there is acceptance.
It is very special in Hawai’i that you don’t have to be related by blood to be considered ‘ohana. We are connected one to another in many ways. The lei that brings joy and makes one feel special can also be a symbol of family. Each flower, or shell, or kukui nut in that lei is a unique individual, bound together with the others. Whether the bond is by blood or aloha matters not. This is ‘ohana.
Mahalo to Gayle Miyaguchi, Hawaiian Cultural Resource Advisor for the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel, for providing this insightful blog on Hawaiian culture. The Ka’anapali Beach Hotel has long been known as “Hawai‘i’s most Hawaiian hotel” and is highly respected for its commitment to providing an authentic Hawaiian cultural experience for its guests. When you stay there, you will most certainly become a part of their ‘ohana.
Candy Aluli, Publisher
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(Note: We recognize and respect the significance of the ‘okina and kahakō markings in the written Hawaiian language; however, we have omitted those diacritical markings on our site in order to integrate with the more common spellings used in online searches.)