“What parents do, children will do” (ʻŌlelo Noʻeau #1295)

Photo: Claire Kuʻuleilani HughesOur title is an ʻōlelo noʻeau describing a child’s behavior as a reflection of his or her family’s behaviors and practices. Our Hawaiian ancestors knew this phenomenon. Thus, much family time was spent teaching keiki appropriate behaviors, manners and practices. You see, culturally inappropriate behavior, back then, could result in heavy penalties to the child and his family. And, “thoughtfulness” or noʻonoʻo was a key cultural value. Fortunately, all children learned the same cultural behaviors and protocols, so acceptable community behaviors and cautions prevailed. Examples include the practice of maintaining public pathways and trails to assure safety, and keeping all fresh water in wells, springs and streams clean. This latter practice assured sources of clean water that were critical to life and health for the entire community. It also provided for kānaka passersby, who needed water from the village’s water supply. Keiki learned these and other kuleana.

In past generations, behavioral norms and supportive cultural practices kept village environments viable, productive and livable. Children learned early to maintain their environment, assuring continued benefits to their family, neighbors and friends. Children were taught about the gods who brought these gifts for the kauhale (community) to use and share. Community practices assured their continued availability. Now, sadly, cultural and family practices that were passed on are no longer universally taught and are mostly forgotten. And our environment suffers.

Recent news reported on “ghost fishnets” that ruin Hawaiʻi’s sea life, reefs and fishing grounds. This problem is an example of thoughtless and irresponsible behavior. Other news reported plastic fragments in beach sand and this threat to fish, birds, pets and humans is mostly due to carelessness and thoughtlessness. Tons of debris carelessly cast aside, causing blight and filth in our communities, is mostly an example of thoughtlessness. An area in Kalihi on Hālona Street comes to mind. The sidewalk there is used to dump mechanical or construction waste. Hālona Street was clean for about six months, however it is once again littered with debris. Obviously, the guilty individuals never had kūpuna or mākua who taught them kuleana and respect. We need grandparents with our ancestors’ skills and tenacity to teach behavior that is pono, and that the kuleana is ours, personally, to maintain.

Growing up, punishments for failing to heed rules of appropriate behavior were rather straight-forward. My mother promised more chores, mostly difficult ones, and no participation in fun activities. I also recall hearing, early on, stories that anyone tainting a fresh-water spring, well, or source of drinking water, would pay the highest penalty… being fed to the sharks! Many stories were told of strong adult men who met a helpless old woman…and when they did not help her, they were frightened into near heart attacks as the woman turned into Pele. I can recall a couple of nights on the sleeping porch at our boarding school after lights out, being “scared sleepless” by scary Pele or ghost stories that my classmates told. Adding ghost stories to the promises of extra duties, more hard work at home for misbehaviors – and sharks – helped us adhere to the lessons of our kūpuna.

Occasional ill-mannered, misbehaving children can usually be tolerated. However, ill-mannered, misbehaving young adults are more difficult to overlook. Usually, a lack of early parental and family training is to blame. However, littering and polluting public areas with cast-off industrial waste is intolerable and should lead to castigation and penalty. Policing this level of misdeed is very difficult, however, this is the point at which most of us feel the fullest appreciation for, and marvel at, the wisdom and diligence of our ancestors.