Keli‘i Akina, Ph.D., Trustee, At-LargeWhen I was a student at the Kamehameha Schools, I learned a very important term that has become part of my identity. That term is beneficiary. Beneficiary is a word that puts me and my fellow students into a relationship with the benefactor and founder of the Kamehameha Schools, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop.

Princess Pauahi’s will designated for countless generations of Hawaiian children the vast land holdings of her relative King Kamehameha, as the basis for what has become the world’s largest educational trust. At Kamehameha Schools, we were well educated in the magnanimity and aloha of Princess Pauahi and her husband Charles Reed Bishop, who financially empowered her and set Kamehameha Schools on a sustainable course.

I am grateful that some of my ancestors and I are counted among the alumni of Kamehameha, as are my four children. And while the word beneficiary rightly describes what we are in relation to the princess, we are also described by the word she and her husband modeled so well: benefactor.

As part of their education, I have tried to teach my children that while they are beneficiaries, they are also called on to become benefactors. Beneficiaries are those who receive, those for whom a trust exists, and those who should be grateful. Benefactors, on the other hand, are those who give, and ultimately make the world a better place. This value of being a benefactor is part and parcel of one of the most ancient Hawaiian values and practices, that of alakaʻi or leadership. Although Hawaiians had a hierarchical system of leadership, they also experienced a very rich horizontal practice of leadership in the family, amongst household heads, and clans. The heart of leadership was always understood as that of giving, giving of oneself and one’s resources for the benefit of others.

That is why Hawaiians so lovingly embraced a story brought to them by the missionaries, in the 1820’s, from the Gospels. In the parable of Jesus and the Rich Young Man, the would-be follower of Jesus asks “Good teacher, what must I do to be saved?” Following a deeply sincere conversation, Jesus tells him to give of his wealth to others. In other words, Jesus called him to embrace the path of becoming a benefactor, not just a beneficiary.

When I think of my own personal advancement as well as that of my children and that of the Hawaiian people, seeing oneself as called to give to the world, and to other people, is the key to empowerment in every way. When we expect and plan to be a blessing, and not just receive blessings, we walk in the footsteps of those whom we have learned to admire, and we change the world.

As a trustee in the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, I am grateful to be a beneficiary and to serve my fellow beneficiaries. Our beneficiaries are worthy, and deserving of the highest commitment I can give as a trustee. At the same time, I call upon my fellow beneficiaries to embrace the pathway of becoming true benefactors to our people, to all in Hawaiʻi, and to the world. When our children and their children’s children fulfill this identity, we will have truly transformed humanity and, in giving, will have received far more in return.

E hāʻawi, e hāʻawi lilo, I kou mau waiwai. Huli a hahai mai iaʻu. I loa‘a e ke ola mau…


You may contact Trustee Akina at TrusteeAkina@OHA.org or call (808) 594-1976.


Note: Trustee columns represent the views of individual trustees and may not reflect the official positions adopted by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees.