Aloha; A Way of Life
Aloha! Being raised in the Islands and of Hawaiian ancestry, I’ve often been asked what does the word Aloha mean. According to the Merriam-Webster-Unabridged Dictionary, Aloha means:
Definition: used in Hawaii to say hello or goodbye; as a greeting or farewell
Origin of Aloha: Hawaiian for Aloha love. First known use: 1820
I find it interesting that we, as Hawaiians, can trace our ancestry for over 2000 years and yet the first known use of the word Aloha was in 1820. This just happens to be one year after the arrival of the missionaries to the Islands in 1819.
Yet here in the Islands, Aloha speaks of an intricate relationship, like a web woven between our traditions, Akua (God’s), ancestors, aina (land), moana (ocean), hoku (stars), ohana (family), and all living things.
The Hawaiian dictionary by Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel H. Elberts, defines Aloha as: aloha, love, affection, compassion, mercy, sympathy, pity, kindness, sentiment, grace, charity; greeting salutation, regards; sweetheart, lover, loved one; beloved, loving, kind, compassionate, charitable, lovable; to love, be fond of; to show kindness, mercy, pity, charity, affection…
Note the contrast between the English (Merriam-Webster) and the Hawaiian (Pukui-Elberts) definition of the word Aloha.
My first recollection of using the word Aloha was as a salutation, a simple greeting of hello and goodbye. I learned from an early age that it was the proper way to show respect when greeting my kupuna (elders) and ohana (family). I would say that was a vital part of what made us Hawaiians, because the other ethnic groups (Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Caucasian, and others) I grew up with had their own custom of greeting one another. I can remember the Japanese always bowing and never touching, distant, while the Hawaiians embraced, hugged, kissed each other on the cheek as they welcomed or said farewell to one another. It was that physical contact of embracing and affection that made me feel accepted and loved as a child.
The traditional and cultural background of being raised Hawaiian, yet educated and living in a Western society often clashed in our family. I went to a Catholic school from kindergarten until the third grade, where the nuns were strict and had no problem using a ruler as a means of discipline. While attending school I first felt, then noticed that my kupuna (elders) would stop speaking in Hawaiian when I came around, switched into English pleasantries, then continued speaking Hawaiian as soon as I left their group. I asked my mother why did they stop speaking Hawaiian when I came around, and how come they didn’t teach me Hawaiian, and she said it was because they didn’t want to get me into trouble at school. Now as I look back on attending Catholic school we were never taught or allowed to celebrate Hawaiian festivities (Kamehameha Day, Ho’olaulea, or Makahiki), to sing Hawaiian songs, or to dance the hula, let alone speak Hawaiian. Where was the Aloha?
Growing up in this hybrid Western and Christian society I had come to believe that the more you give the more you get. I came to believe that if I gave you this, you would give me that; that if I did this, you would do that. That was true sometimes, but not all the time. It wasn’t until my Tutu (grandmother) talked with me about what it is to be Hawaiian; to take pride in what you do and who you are; the hardships our people endured; to appreciate the difference between being barefoot and being able to afford a pair of store bought shoes; and finally what the word Aloha meant to her and our ancestors that it began to make sense to me. She said the word Aloha referred to the act of giving freely of yourself or something of material value without expecting anything in return.
My first experience of consciously performing an act with Aloha was during the transitional period from