Ka Wai Ola

Photo: Brendon Kalei'aina Lee

On March 7th, 2019 I attended the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association’s Ka Huina conference on where tradition and innovation intersect. At the closing of the event, Executive Director John De Fries spoke of a weekend on Hawaii island in which he was tasked with hosting the executives of Google X. They met with various government and island leaders and had many site visits including Mauna Kea.

Over the course of the weekend John listened as they spoke about “moonshot ideas”. As John would come to learn, a “moonshot idea” is an idea that has life, world, or even astronomical changing effects that no one knows how it will or even if it can be achieved. The term comes from President Kennedy’s “we will go to the moon” speech. No one knew how we would accomplish this. No one knew how we would pay for this. No one knew if such an achievement was even possible. At the end of the weekend John was curious and asked his guests, who had never been to Hawai‘i before, what if anything did they believe was Hawai‘i’s “moonshot idea”? What one thing did they feel Hawai‘i had to offer the world that was on the magnitude of being a “moonshot idea”. With no hesitation or pause the answer came back from his guests immediately, the aloha spirit! It cannot be quantified, measured, identified, or even defined. It is just there, and freely given with no expectation of return or reciprocation. That is a life, world, and yes astronomically changing thing.

The aloha spirit is what Hawai‘i and its people have been sharing with the world for thousands of years. We shared it with our ocean faring cousins. We shared aloha with the first westerners to our shores. We shared aloha with the first missionaries who sought to change our ways. We continued to share aloha when outside interests worked to take our land, culture, identity and government away. And we continue to share aloha today. It is the number one reason why visitors flock to our shores annually. We are not the only destination in the world with beautiful beaches, but we are the only destination with aloha.

With such a powerful statement from a forward-thinking organization such as Google X one wonders could the aloha spirit really be that altering of a concept? I believe when someone feels aloha being given it forever changes them. Aloha binds people together no matter their background. Aloha brings those of different perspectives to common ground which allows for compromise where there was once only discord. The danger is when aloha is not given but demanded and taken.

At a forum on Mauna Kea management Mayor Harry Kim acknowledged all the aloha Native Hawaiians have given to the state and the world over the years. With regards to the management of Mauna Kea and University of Hawai‘i’s comprehensive management plans Native Hawaiians were just going to have give a little more, and that is just the way it must be. These are not the words of someone who understands the aloha spirit. It ceases to be aloha when it is demanded and taken. Aloha is only aloha when given. It is the very nature of aloha.

Hawai‘i and its people will continue to give aloha, now and forever. Not only is it the nature of aloha, it is the nature of its people. Aloha is unquantifiable, unmeasurable, unidentifiable and undefinable, yet here it is. Every day you see it manifest its self in its people and how they interact with the world around them.