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Article: 'Ohana, the root of culture in Hawai'i

Hawaiian Taro Mandala Poster by Jozef Smit

'Ohana, the root of culture in Hawai'i

Here in Hawai‘i, family is as important as it is in other places. ‘Ohana, the Hawaiian word for family, extends beyond core family to include both blood and informally-adopted kin. There are many benefits to belonging to an 'ohana, but there are responsibilities and obligations, as well. Foremost is to behave responsibly, with integrity, so your 'ohana is pleased to claim you.

You can belong to different kinds of 'ohana -- family/clan 'ohana, work/recreational 'ohana, church/school 'ohana, and so on. It helps people understand who you are when you say, “I belong to the “Webster Company 'Ohana,” or the” Castle High School 'Ohana,” or “the Lindsey 'Ohana,” or the “Red Rebels baseball ‘Ohana.”

So today, we frequently use the word 'ohana to describe relationships beyond nuclear and kin family groups, referring to work or community groups as 'ohana. How did that come to be?

The word 'ohana is rooted in the taro plant -- 'oha-ana: ‘ohā is the shoot, the part of the taro plant which is cut from the plant and planted to become the next generation; ana is a conjunctive word connoting regeneration or procreation. Procreation and regeneration carried important implications for Polynesians, and Hawaiians think of kalo (taro) as the older sibling of man.

Today, 'ohana includes all who are brought into the family group. Your 'ohana nourishes you. There are even hānai (adopt, nourish) relationships which feed a person both physically and spiritually. In turn, you share in the responsibilities of your 'ohana's kuleana (work, responsibility, function). It's a give and take. There's a saying: “Prepare for the seven generations ahead.” That means do your work so that those seven generations from now can benefit. People in Hawai‘i. even non-Hawaiians, accept that.

So 'ohana is a general term for family, but it has deep-rooted meaning and history – it goes back to the kalo plant – the 'oha is used to create the next generation. It's a thought to keep for all your 'ohana: Plan for the coming generations.

There are responsibilities attached to 'ohana, just as there are to nuclear family units. When you're a member of an 'ohana, you share in its responsibilities, whatever they might be.

When you're part of an 'ohana, it includes everyone in that family. We all share in the 'ohana's kuleana (responsibilities). It's a give and take. The 'ohana includes those accepted into the family, those of the past, and those of the future. So we should always prepare for the generations ahead -- seven generations, it's said. We work so that those of seven generations from now can benefit. Even though you're not Hawaiian, people who live in Hawaii accept this. In my family, we have a Japanese family that we always think of as 'ohana. We all called the matriarch “Baban” -- that's Japanese for “Granny.” And that's what 'ohana is...

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