Honoring Our Kūpuna


kupuna (n. 1. Grandparent, ancestor. 2. Starting point, source)
kapu (nvs. Taboo, prohibition; sacredness; prohibited, forbidden)

Photo: Sylvia Hussey

Aloha mai kākou,

“I ulu no ka lālā i ke kumu; the branches grow because of the trunk.”
Without our elders we would not be here.

In traditional Hawaiian families, as beloved kūpuna transitioned from being the head of the household, to one who requires care, they continued to be afforded great respect and affection within the family structure. They were called “hulu kupuna” to the end of their days, or “precious elder,” a family member as valuable and exquisite as feathers.

Photo: Rose Maeda and Vivian Kim
My mother, Rose Maeda, and my Aunty,
Vivian Kim, celebrating mom’s 94th birthday.

Caring for our parents and grandparents is hardwired into our moʻomeheu, our culture. Most ʻohana want to keep their kupuna at home, and if they are unable to do so because their loved one needs skilled nursing or 24/7 care that they cannot provide because everyone is working at full-time jobs, there is tremendous guilt.

Several years ago, that was the situation for my ʻohana. We tried multiple care arrangements for my mom, including having her youngest sister take care of her. Suffering from dementia, mom had a tendency to wander off from her home in Niuliʻi in Kohala, only to be brought back to my aunty’s care by ʻohana and community members. We were blessed to eventually secure her a place at Lunalilo Home on Oʻahu. She only lived another five months, but although her time there was short, it was such a wonderful environment and our ʻohana was so grateful for the loving care she received.

This issue of Ka Wai Ola honors our kūpuna. We celebrate two renowned kūpuna for whom age is just a number, share the personal experiences of three ʻohana who are determined that their kūpuna will be able to age in place, and learn more about programs offering support and services to our kūpuna such as Lunalilo Home, I Ola Lāhui, Nā Puʻuwai and Kūpuna Power.

And as the pandemic rages on, we are especially mindful that our hulu kūpuna are among the most vulnerable to the ravages of COVID-19, and that kūpuna who live in multi-generational households have a greater risk of infection than kūpuna who live alone.

To address this in a way consistent with moʻomeheu Hawaiʻi, a coalition of kumu hula have declared a kapu for a 30-day period (three anahulu) on behaviors that contribute to the spread of the coronavirus. They also encourage people to use this time to focus on ʻohana wellbeing, healthy eating and pule. You can read more about their declaration in this issue as well.

When I heard about this I was moved by how wise were our kūpuna and how beautifully, how perfectly this traditional concept of kapu can be applied in a modern setting. Kapu were restrictions on behaviors or activities that were harmful to ourselves, our ʻohana or our ʻāina.

How very Hawaiian, therefore, how consistent with our moʻomeheu in this challenging season, to observe a kapu that restricts gatherings and promotes wellbeing to protect our ʻohana, our lāhui and especially our hulu kūpuna.

Sylvia M. Hussey, Ed.D.
Ka Pouhana/Chief Executive Officer