No, we don’t live in grass huts. No, coconut bras aren’t our culture. And no, life in Hawaiʻi is no absolute paradise. If you’re not from Hawaiʻi you’ll never know or understand us — even those born and raised here aren’t as aware as you think. Our culture has reached a level of suppression that we have to fight day by day to resurface.
We as kanaka maoli, the natives of Hawaiʻi, were once disconnected from what made us Hawaiians, due to the hands of westerners. Because of them, we see accountability for us having to revive our cultural beliefs, practices, and moʻolelo — traditional stories. This constant fight for us is a battle as we work our way toward cultural respect, only to be slapped down time and time again by western influences.
We live our lives in our own home only to be merely strangers in it. Our cultural voices have been taken away for too long and as we find it everyday, we are no longer afraid to use it by any means.
The suppression of our identity began from the moment westerners placed their feet on the sands of our islands. The introduction of script, Christianity, and western ideals and beliefs forever changed Hawaiʻi and our people. As our ancestors openly welcomed these missionaries into our islands, we withheld a reliable system of life founded in cultural values and beliefs. This traditional lifestyle included professions, governmental rankings, and, most importantly, respect.
For us, selfishness was never an option. Our ancestors always found themselves rooted for the greater good of others.
Despite a ranking system being in place, Hawaiians worked alongside one another and the land. Those who lived near the ocean provided fish for those living upward, and vice versa; meanwhile, chiefs worked for their people, for without them he was nothing. This traditional way of life worked for us as kanaka, and the missionaries were intrigued by our primitive ability to do so. Nevertheless, their enforced ideals transformed us into something completely foreign.
In a western mindset, everything is very individualistic. Being defined, labeled, as well as having owned assets, was a concept that was highly valued to the missionaries. To them, they only wanted the best of the best, whether that meant being the most educated, richest, or closest to God. They sought out to achieve personal desires — a mindset never considered by kanaka. For us, selfishness was never an option. Our ancestors always found themselves rooted for the greater good of others. We see this through their acts as well as their traditional moʻolelo.
Within moʻolelo, we see humane values given purpose and explanation. The sense of mālama, to care, is one of the largest and most commonly practiced values found in moʻolelo. Caring for those around us, the land that thrives us, as well as the culture that identifies us, is what kept our ancestors going.
Alongside our orally passed stories, we also see the formation of akua, or gods. Akua find themselves in everything; they’re our moon, our snow, our mist, anything that you can think of is a form of one god or another. To us, linking gods to natural phenomena gives everything more purpose and significance; therefore, we must care for and respect it.
Without our moʻolelo we would not have a history nor a cultural foundation. We turn to these rich passages as our sources for revitalization, and like our ancestors once did, seek them to be our truths. In order to truly know Hawaiʻi and who we are as Hawaiians, you must know and understand our moʻolelo.
At one time these stories were almost erased by westerners, but we now use it to relight our fight against their presence, sickening mindset, and ideology. Our work to undo decades of mental destruction within kanaka is ongoing, but begins here. Here are our true stories, our moʻolelo.
Last updated 9/10/20