Random Thoughts on a Visit to Wao Kele o Puna


Hoʻomalu (v. To rule over, especially in a peaceful way; to govern quietly; to make peace.)

Photo: Sylvia Hussey

Aloha mai kākou,

I recently traveled to my home island of Moku o Keawe as part of my kuleana with OHA. This time I did not visit my ʻohana in Kohala, but instead visited Wao Kele o Puna, the lowland forest reserve that is part of OHA’s land inventory.

It was a welcome break from my normal work routine. To have a moment to just “be” in that wahi pana, in the breathtaking beauty and peace of the pristine forest, was an opportunity to quiet my mind and renew my spirit. And as I did, random thoughts came to me – welcomed but unbidden.

My Hawaiian name is Mailenuiakahakuloa and was given to me by my mother. It is actually a shortened version of my great-granduncle’s name – Kamailenuiakahakuloakaiohia – because my dad, who was pure Japanese, worried that the full name was too long for such a tiny baby.

Hawaiians put great thought into the names that we give to places, to events, and to our children. Naming is an important, meaningful practice. Names often come to us at night, or in the moments that we open our minds and hearts to our kūpuna or to Ke Akua.

After nearly six decades of life, there in Wao Kele o Puna, I began to understand my name in relationship to my work and leadership at OHA, focusing in on the word “haku” which means (in the context of my name) “to compose, put in order, arrange, braid.”

I have grown into my name, as people do, and so my approach to leadership at OHA has been to “haku” people and ideas together on a common foundation of ʻohana, moʻomeheu (culture) and ʻāina.

When considering ways to “haku” things that might seem as far apart as the east is from the west, I have found that replacing the word “or” with the word “and” in my thinking has been effective. “Or” thinking demands that a choice must be made between one or more options. “And” thinking allows us to “haku” many options into something even better.

This train of thought started me thinking about governance. At OHA, my leadership kuleana involves establishing operational policies and making decisions to help the agency better serve our lāhui. In Hawaiian, the word for “govern” is “hoʻomalu.” Interestingly, hoʻomalu also means to shade, to protect, and to make peace. The Hawaiian concept of governance is a far cry from most of our experiences with governing and government.

In the process of governance, policy and decision-making at OHA today, we must internalize this idea of hoʻomalu and embrace it as a kuleana to protect our people and to bring them together. Queen Liliʻuokalani, whose birthday we celebrate this month, courageously modeled hoʻomalu throughout her brief reign. Indeed, in her darkest hour, she chose to abdicate under protest rather than imperil the very lives of her people.

One final random thought: I wish we made decisions out on the land rather than indoors because when we are on the land, and we listen to the land, we make very different decisions.

Sylvia M. Hussey, Ed.D.
Chief Executive Officer