A Lifetime of Commitment


Age is just a number for Hawaiian cultural icons Dr. Noa Emmett Aluli and educator Lynette Kaopuiki Paglinawan

“He mau makana nāu kēia na kō mākou kūpuna;
These are gifts for you from our elders.”

They may have found the secret to youth, hidden in the midst of the Hawaiian culture.

As revered kūpuna, Molokaʻi physician Dr. Noa Emmett Aluli and UH West Oʻahu kupuna-in-residence Lynette Kaopuiki Paglinawan, are as culturally-driven and active as folks half their ages, still making stellar contributions to the community and living their lives as examples to others of how to remain empowered in their golden years.

In fact, the soft-spoken Aluli, 76, might be the busiest man in the islands.

A member of the first graduating class of UH Mānoa’s John A. Burns School of Medicine, he has had a family medical practice at the Molokaʻi Family Health Center since 1976. He is also a medical executive director of the Molokaʻi General Hospital and kupuna president of ʻAhahui o Nā Kauka, the Native Hawaiian Physicians Association.

But the good doctor is perhaps best known for his 1970s activism which opposed and eventually stopped the military bombing of Kahoʻolawe. He is a founding member of the Protect Kahoʻolawe ʻOhana, a former chairperson of the Kahoʻolawe Island Reserve Commission, a co-founder of the Pele Defense Fund, and serves as an “uncle” Hawaiʻi Advisory Board member on the Trust for Public Lands Aloha ʻĀina projects.

Aluli, who has inspired thousands of Hawaiian youth to also stand up and be heard, describes his love for Hawaiʻi and its people with an aloha ʻāina motto that goes: “The health of the land, is the health of our people, and the health of our nation.”

And he isn’t slowing down anytime soon.

“You know, I’ve declined some recognition which honors me, mostly because I have a lot more to do to finish what I’ve started – uku pau is what I call it, finish what you start,” he said.

“I’m driven by the kūpuna I’ve known who had dreams that our generation would make changes to challenge the system to recognize our Hawaiian rights and practices, history and traditions.

“I have a legacy that is not only my generation’s, but my grandparents’ generation as well. It is the kūpuna who anticipated this charge to be a lifetime commitment. I reach out to them a lot to make sure I’m doing okay.”

To be sure, Aluli said he paces himself and tries to stay above the curve with regard to his own health and wellness. His morning exercises include stretching, some yoga and tai chi, and gardening his dry land loʻi. He said he eats a healthy diet, keeping cholesterol and fats in moderation.

“Relationships also matter, and I am so thankful for my life partner Davianna McGregor, as she keeps me focused on my wellbeing. I get a lot of inspiration from Davianna and her work. We have a great partnership and we both challenge each other,” Aluli said.

The doctor had a message for the kiaʻi protecting Maunakea and standing up for Hawaiian rights as he has done his entire life: “I have been re-inspired by their aloha ʻāina and kapu aloha modeling of what we did on Kahoʻolawe.”

Aluli said one of the requirements of a kupuna is having unconditional aloha. “For me, the best thing about being a kupuna are the memories of my own kūpuna and seeing the work and progress of our generation honoring them.”

Lynette Kaopuiki Paglinawan is also driven by a cultural kuleana.

As the kupuna-in-residence at UH West Oʻahu, she teaches hoʻoponopono (conflict resolution) in the Hawaiian and Indigenous Health and Healing concentration at the university. The concentration strives to create a pathway for the dissemination of traditional healing knowledge and skill that serves as a model for other Indigenous groups.

Paglinawan, 81, retired as a social worker in 1995.

But she has spent most of the last 25 years at various educational institutions imparting the traditional knowledge that she acquired after training under legendary Hawaiian scholar and author Mary Kawena Pukui.

Paglinawan teaches two classes a semester, and the class is open to anyone interested in the health or Hawaiian studies fields.

“The class is for anyone in the health field who wants to know and learn. You choose to enter the health field because you want to help people. The Hawaiian way is before you can help others, you have to be pono yourself. Because if you have hang-ups, when you go into the field, it’s going to interfere with what you do,” she said.

It only takes a few minutes to fall for “Aunty” Lynette. She is the embodiment of aloha, alive with sincerity and eloquence, and her eyes shine with wisdom and passion. She is gifted with a true purpose in life.

“Aloha is the foundation of hoʻoponopono. If you don’t have aloha, then you are out of balance,” she shared. “So the whole effort is not just toward resolution, but to restore love in the family. Not many people can do that, and I realize it, so I get satisfaction when I see families moving forward. I get satisfaction when I hear feedback that a family is now doing well. That’s why I’m in it, and that’s what I enjoy doing.”

She said she continues to teach because she loves to help people and there is a need to train the next generation of practitioners.

“I teach because the statistics of social breakdown within the Hawaiian community are increasing along with the population. There’s a need for others to have this knowledge. Mary Kawena Pukui believed that Hawaiian families thrived in the past but, with cultural trauma and the push to assimilate Hawaiians into the Western way, some Hawaiians gave up the culture.

“The gift of hoʻoponopono is that it allows us a process to talk it out. Once we forgive, we can take on responsibility and follow through with it. You have to have love for yourself and for others. If you have love, then you live in a way that puts you in balance with the higher powers you believe in, and the aloha spirit can come through and you can be generous and kind,” she said.

Paglinawan is also a warrior. Not even health problems can stop her.

“I practice what I preach. I’m very mindful about myself and my body. I have been on dialysis since 2013 and they’ve described me as the ideal patient,” she laughed.

“The legacy of Mary Kawena Pukui cannot just be put in box on the shelf. It is a gift that must be passed on in a living way to all Hawaiian families. And I am living out that commitment.”

Dr. Aluli has some advice on how to stay relevant and empowered as a kupuna:

  • Share your moʻolelo, the stories of your kūpuna: how hard the
    last generation worked to provide for us to be educated, how it
    was growing up being Hawaiian, and how we were influenced to
    grow the next generation.
  • Join a Hawaiian civic club and/or a Hawaiian Royal Benevolent
    Society like the Royal Order of Kamehameha or the Daughters
    and Sons of Hawaiian Warriors.
  • Volunteer at places like ʻIolani Palace or the Queen Emma
    Summer Palace.
  • Study and teach your genealogies.
  • Know and accept growing old – hopefully not by being grumpy.
  • Organize reunions.
  • Tell your moʻopuna that they should call on you as an ʻaumakua
    when needed.