Ka Wai Ola

Ka ‘ike a ka makua he hei na ke keiki. ‘Ōlelo No‘eau # 1397
(The knowledge of the parent is (unconsciously) absorbed by the child.)


Photo: Claire Kuʻuleilani Hughes

Sharing family mo‘olelo (stories)…family history and names, is a tradition that enriches the lives of our children and grandchildren. Family stories and names provide foundational knowledge and create personal links between the youngest and oldest ‘ohana members. Families have stories of industrious efforts and achievements that can inspire and direct the lives of keiki and mo‘opuna. Sharing these traditions and knowledge enlightens, and it protects this precious personal information… passing it on before it’s forgotten. ‘Ohana (family) learn about their ancestors…who they were, where and how they lived, as well as what their work, accomplishments, and pleasures were. Families with kupuna who can tell ‘ohana mo‘olelo are fortunate indeed. Providing a historical linkage about the kuleana (responsibilities) of the kūpuna and mākua will give our keiki (children) and mo‘opuna (grandchildren) a personal view of what goes into creating and supporting a family.

Our youngsters should know the special skills and accomplishments that were practiced by their elders. Was the family large or small? What gave them joy or brought concern? Tell stories that elders have passed down to you…both, serious and funny. All family gatherings provide perfect mo‘olelo-sharing opportunities for making ancestral connections. Kawena Pukui tells us that Hawaiian families include all members of the current generation, as well as family members who are immortals…our ‘aumakua. Establishing special ties to family history strengthens respect for the accomplishments of the elders and can raise self-expectations among family youngsters.

Kawena Pukui, in Nana I Ke Kumu (QLT, 1972), shares, that in the old days, personal possessions were few but were highly valued. “Poi pounders, woven mats, a man’s malo (loin cloth), a stone adze of a canoe-maker, the bone hooks of a fisherman, the spear of a warrior…all these were prized. But even more precious, was each man’s most personal possession, his name.” “One’s name, his inoa was both owned property and a force in its own right. Once spoken an inoa took on an existence, invisible, intangible, but real.”

Mākua (parents) know the family name. But, do they know the historical origins of the name…what it means? Has it been shortened, altered or completely changed? How did the ancestors earn that name? When researching one’s kinfolk and family history, remember that names are precious family possessions, so there is kuleana to owning that name. Aunty Kawena tells us that a Hawaiian name might tell something about a child’s birth, or reveal a family lineage, the occupation of ancestors or a special mana (power). And, every name was believed to hold its own mana or… even kapu (taboo, privilege), that played a role in shaping the character, personality or fortunes of the bearer. The name could reveal a person’s specific physical characteristics, a family tradition or the family-kuleana (responsibility). Back in history, as now, names play an important role in shaping one’s self-image. Names are very important.

Not long ago, two women told how they use this cultural value…family names and family mo‘olelo… with teenagers who exhibited behavioral problems in the classroom and needed a bit of grounding. After listening to their kupuna tell their childhood stories, explaining the family name and telling the family history…the teens made changes to their behaviors…just by learning and respecting their own family history.

Our title, “Ka ‘ike a ka makua he hei na ke keiki”, (The knowledge of the parent is (unconsciously) absorbed by the child) is an appropriate ‘Ōlelo (adage) when sharing family histories with our children and grandchildren. Share a family story with your keiki today. Make them aware that their behaviors and lives can make a real difference to the entire ‘ohana.