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Congress defines "Native Hawaiian" as "any individual who is a descendant of the aboriginal people who, prior to 1778, occupied and exercised sovereignty in the area that now constitutes the State of Hawaii." (U.S. Public Law 103-150)

However, Native Hawaiians are so much more. They define themselves by their relationships to each other, their ancestors and their land. Without these bonds of interconnectedness, they would be incomplete.

Being Hawaiian involves nurturing and honoring these ties. In the Hawaiian society, one is expected to know and understand what it means to be a contributing member of the community. Everyone has a responsibility to use their talents to the benefit of the entire ohana (literally, family).

Ohana is defined as a group of both closely and distantly related people who share nearly everything, from land and food to children and status. Sharing is central to this value since it prevents individual decline.

©Historical Hikes Molokai
Hawaiians embrace the family as the basic unit of society and the best form of human expresssion, and readily reject the rugged individualism so highly valued in Euro American societies.

Hawaiians continue to have allegedly "illegitimate" children, to hanai (adopt) both children and adults outside of sanctioned Western legal concepts, to hold and use land and water in a collective form rather than a private property form, and to prescribe to the notion and the value that one person should not strive to surpass and therefore outshine all others.

By fulfilling their duties to the ohana and recognizing the accomplishments of others, Hawaiians increase their mana or spirituality.

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Reception with Ohana at Kapalua Bay, Maui

Built upon the foundation of the ohana, the family, Hawaiian culture ensures the health of the community as a whole. The Western concept of "immediate family" is completely alien to indigenous Hawaiians. The Hawaiian ohana encompasses not only those related by blood, but all who share a common sense of aloha (love and compassion). It is common to hear Native Hawaiians who are meeting for the first time ask "Who is your family?" and then joke they must be related "because we are all related".

The ties that bind ohana together cannot be broken, even by death. As loved ones pass on, they continue to fulfill their obligations to the rest of the ohana from the next realm. Hawaiians cherish their ancestors, committing to memory generation upon generation of lineage and composing beautiful chants heralding their ancestors' abilities.

Source: Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA)

Hawaiian Culture Index

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