Ka Wai Ola

Photo: Claire Kuʻuleilani Hughes“The goodness of the taro is judged by the young plant it produces”. ‘Ōlelo Noe‘au #1232 (Parents are often judged by the behavior of their children)

In early Hawai‘i, older children learned to care for younger ones. Adolescents carried toddlers around and supervised hours of group play. Children’s groups wandered about the village, playing in open areas or along shorelines. Little ones enjoyed playing in tidepools under supervision of adolescents, while other teenagers fished and harvested shellfish and limu (seaweed) for food. No one worried when children walked to neighboring kauhale (villages) to visit relatives. Visiting children were always included whenever relatives or neighbors fed their children. And, neighbors oversaw comfort and safety of naps for tired little ones. Elder kupuna, today, can tell tales of spending youthful, fun-filled, accident-free, summer days at the beach without adult supervision.

Hawaiian keiki (children) learned kuleana (responsibilities) early. Keiki learned to sit still and listen quietly to adult instruction, holding questions until a convenient moment…never interrupting the lesson. Keiki were taught not to ask where a person was going, as it was thought to be rude and to bring bad fortune. A fisherman’s child learned this lesson, very early. Keiki were taught never to spit at other children or to beg for anything, as these were rude and embarrassing behaviors. Keiki learned very early to be disciplined about many things. Then, in early adolescence, children began to assist family-adults in performance of adult kuleana. A long-established system existed among elders for teaching grandchildren. And, elders were respected for having the greatest knowledge and wisdom.

In 2019, behaviors of children are still considered direct reflections of families. Misbehaving children bring embarrassment, while courteous children bring honor to families. Hawaiian traditions taught keiki to anticipate needs of others and to relate dutifully to their elders, these behaviors seem to have paled in the process of acculturation in mainstream America. Today, noisy, demanding, rude adolescents are noticeable in public places. Of course, cultural changes in our lives have brought discipline difficulties. Our children are highly influenced by social systems outside of the family, like, social media, rock stars, video games and unruly, misbehaving peers. Today, television, music and movies depict disruptive, disrespectful, rude, even abhorrently violent behaviors, thus, children may be confused about appropriateness of such behaviors. Many new behaviors are absolute opposites of traditional ways within the kauhale(s) of old Hawai‘i.

Until recently, Hawaiian elders and families shared kuleana that made the ʻohana existence productive, pleasant and safe. Children did daily chores and respected all ʻohana and community adults. Grandparents molded the behaviors of their children and taught them family history, chants and family kuleana, while parents did the labor-intensive work of farming, fishing, and kapa-making. Great pride was reflected in family customs and names, as surnames often referred to family achievements and kuleana. Behaviors of children and adults demonstrated their grandparent’s successes in perpetuating cultural norms.

Our children continue to be our kuleana (responsibility), our hope and the future of the lāhui (community). Looking forward, we have kuleana to persist with teaching our children, grandchildren, even, great-grandchildren, Hawaiian traditions. Our kuleana includes helping our keiki to make the best, healthiest, and most productive life choices. Our children and grandchildren continue to be reflections of the family. We want our children to succeed and to produce generations of productive families and communities. Since January 2019, we have repeatedly acknowledged the circle of life as a community, on days celebrating our mothers, fathers, our ancestors, as well as our community heroes and leaders. Let’s use these days of acknowledgement and awareness as inspiration to improve life in Hawaiʻi…striving for high achievement in all that we do…to elevate and improve lives for our families and community.