As we approach the Thanksgiving Holiday, we would like to take a moment to offer an alternative paradigm. We often gather with family, feast on delicious food, and express gratitude for the many things that we are thankful for. However, do we ever take the time to stop and think about the stories we tell during this time of year? Do those stories make spaces for all voices and experiences to be valued and honored?
In this nation, we are on indigenous land. Our purpose in writing is to encourage us, as we gather with our families, to acknowledge the people who have come before us and for the land that we now walk on. The land that we live on that has been nurtured and replenished for generations before us.
We are from many different cultures and nations around the world. However, what we have in common as members of this island community and students at BYU-H is that we are walking on and being nurtured by the sacred space that is La’ie. What we should be counting in our blessings and expressing gratitude about is the finite land on which we are living, whether for a temporary time or for longer, and how it has contributed to our own personal well being and growth. When we consider how much La’ie, its land and its people, have given to us, do we also consider what we may be giving back? Do we consider how it’s indigenous people saw this land and its people? Do we think of others living in differing circumstances around us and consider that it is indeed an abundant space, ample enough to provide for everyone who lives upon it?
The Thanksgiving Holiday, as its known as a Modern American Tradition, to “local people is not much more than an excuse to gather with friends and family to eat.” Prior to the colonization and annexation of Hawai’i in the late 19th century, Hawaiians dedicated their own holidays and celebrations to this season. The first national holiday established in Hawai’i, “La Ku’oko’a” was on November 28th 1843, where Great Britain and France formally recognized Hawai’i as an independent nation. Additional to this season was the Makahiki. This time of the year marks the beginning of the Hawaiian Calendar. It was a time to cease labor and war, and a time to feast, compete in games, and to give ritualized thanks for the abundant earth.
Even though the Hawaiian people took the Makahiki time to give ritualized thanks, they were constantly living in a state of acknowledgment and gratitude for the abundant land beneath their feet by caring for it, replenishing it, and sharing it with others. They use the term mālama which means, but is not limited to, “to care for, to care about, to keep, to hold something in a state of value, to be watchful.” While speaking with Kumu Kamoa’e, he shared an integral phrase “He wa’a he moku, he moku he wa’a,” which means the canoe is an island and the island becomes a canoe. The idea behind this is when you leave the island on a canoe, the canoe becomes the island. You are on the canoe and that is all you have in the middle of the ocean. Because of this you have to learn how to use your resources wisely, so as not to deplete them before your journey is over. Learning how to live this way, when you return to the island, the island should then become the canoe in the sense that the same principles you lived by while on a voyage should apply to the way you live on the island, which the island itself is also finite in resources. For the Hawaiian’s, “daily life was all about Malama.”
It was not only about Malama for the land, but also for the people. “Everyone had an Ohana,” and everyone took care of eachother. Kumu expressed that “there was no such thing as homelessness” in native Hawaiian societies. The idea of Kokua is also an integral value, which is “to give help, or to bring help.” Islanders showed kokua and respect for others. Even when all they had was a bowl of poi, they still stopped strangers passing by to welcome them in to share and eat. Kumu poses the question of why members of our island community fall victim to houselessness when we live in such an abundant space. He believes “that it is not only a problem of homelessness but the fact that we try to get them out of our space, where we can’t see them.” He doesn’t believe that anyone has addressed the root problem, he believes it is a clash of Hawaiian and American Culture. Members of our communities continue to be marginalized by greed-driven capitalistic movements, and the general notion towards the houseless communities is to turn a blind eye. There has never been a greater need for a call to action, to help, to kokua.
Kumu says, “Aloha by many Kupuna is said to be the defining characteristic of Hawaiians. With the motivations of Aloha, there is really no limit to what people can do. When we talk about Peacebuilding, we can’t really change anything if we don’t come from that space.”
With the elation of the Holiday season, we’d like to invite a shift in focus to the space that you’re in, to the land that grows under your feet, to the people that live in the areas around you, to the people who have come before you and have paved a way for your growth and prosperity. True reconciliation and peace can abide when we have these acknowledgments.
Written by Bailee Rasmussen
Quotes and thoughts by Kumu Kamoa’e