In the middle of the Pacific lies a string of 137 islands and atolls that extend over 1500 miles from the southernmost island to the northernmost point. This beautiful group of islands are the exposed peaks of an extensive undersea mountain range known as the Hawaiian–Emperor seamount chain, formed by volcanic activity over a hotspot in the Earth’s mantle. These islands were originally settled by Polynesian navigators nearly 1700 years ago. In 1898 they were annexed by the United States as a territory until August 21, 1959, when they were collectively admitted as Hawaii, our 50th state.
Having just returned from touring most of the main islands, I have several memorable impressions of the great natural beauty and land and ocean wildlife but my most memorable impressions are of the people of Hawaii, their kindness and generosity which extends not only to each other and their families but to non-native people as well. This kindness and generosity is part of the Aloha spirit which imbues everything within their daily experience and within their culture.
Airports have lei stands which display every type of lei to welcome visitors and loved ones. Flowers–plumeria, jasmine, frangipani, orchids–and leaves are used for leis and leis are given at times of celebration and as a welcome. They represent the Aloha spirit and make you feel a part of something bigger than yourself. Everywhere we went, we were presented with leis of flowers, shells or kukui nuts.
Kukui nuts, also called candle nuts, were used by Hawaiians for medicinal oil and to produce light by burning stacked kukui nuts which could burn for hours. Kukui nuts thus became symbolic of renewal, hope and light and as a reminder to live the Aloha spirit of kindness, love and generosity.
One additional symbol that bears mention is the importance of taro in Hawaiian life and culture. The leaf of the taro plant is shaped like a heart and taro was and remains economically, nutritionally and spiritually important to Hawaiians. Taro is the ingredient from which poi is made, a staple in the Hawaiian diet and central to their creation mythology.
Sharing food, sharing Aloha
Which leads me to the importance of food in Hawaiian culture. When most people think of Hawaiian food they think of a luau which is commonly associated with a feast of Hawaiian food, usually held outdoors and oftentimes accompanied by Hawaiian entertainment. Actually, the luau is the leaf of the taro plant and represents one of the dishes that is traditionally eaten at a Hawaiian feast. The dish is often made with chicken, octopus or squid, taro leaves and coconut milk. In actuality, the more accurate word for a Hawaiian feast or party is pa’ina. However, the word luau became more popular in the 1850s and has remained so today. The word pa’ina, however, is the most correct word for a Hawaiian party. When Hawaiians get together for a pa’ina, there are a number of traditional foods served in addition to luau. Poi, kalua pig, poke, lomi salmon, opihi, and haupia are all common foods found at a pa’ina.
We had the good fortune of attending a pa’ina where traditional foods were served as well as music using traditional instruments along with hula performances by both a man and a woman which told stories through motions which reflect Hawaiian culture and ancestral memory.
One other delicious food that bears mention—musubi. Musubi is a snack food made from a block of rice, covered with some meat (usually spam) and held together with nori.It’s a distinctly Hawaiian food with Japanese origins.
So, how does this all become part of Our Recipe for Unity℠? Well, it is manifested in so many ways. Hawaiian culture and the Aloha spirit are about unity, about respect, kindness and generosity. It is about community and sharing and welcoming the stranger to make them feel as if they are part of the great Hawaiian family. From the presentation of a lei upon welcoming someone to the sharing of food, together, sharing their culture through hula and traditional music, through pa’ina, people are made to feel welcome and a part of, not separated from. These are living examples of Our Recipe for Unity.
Mahalo Nui (Thanks very much) and
See you around the table!