The word that says it all
written by Jocelyn:
Your comments about this column are welcome ~ e-mail Jocelyn at
“In the new millennium, the world will turn to Hawai’i in its search for world peace because Hawai’i has the key…and that key is aloha,”
Pilahi Paki declared prophetically in 1970. At the futuristic Governor’s Conference on the Year 2000 held in Honolulu, this Hawaiian
woman in a red-and-white muumuu bravely faced the international audience and shared her definition of aloha. A Hawaiian language teacher
and cultural consultant, Paki, a native of Maui, cut through the political and academic rhetoric with the wisdom of her ancestors.
She described aloha as “the coordination of mind and heart.” She said it was not just a word, but the working philosophy of her Hawaiian
ancestors, who bequeathed to her the following definition:
A stands for akahai, meaning kindness, to be expressed with
L stands for lokahi, meaning unity, to be expressed with harmony.
O stands for ‘olu’olu, meaning
agreeable, to expressed with pleasantness.
H stands for ha’aha’a, meaning humility, to be expressed with modesty.
stands for ahonui, meaning patience, to be expressed with perseverance.
One year after Pilahi Paki died, in 1985, her words
were officially adopted by the Hawai'i State Legislature as the “aloha spirit law,” Hawai’i Revised Statutes 5-7.5.
words are especially insightful in light of the 2008 election. In the run-up to his victory, at an August 2008 rally at Ke’ehi Lagoon
in Honolulu, Barack Obama spoke of the aloha spirit and how it shaped him. “It’s that we look out for one another,” he told his supporters.
“It’s that we deal with each other with courtesy and respect. It’s about the power and strength of diversity…That spirit, I’m absolutely
convinced, is what America is looking for right now.” Sound familiar? Even the New York Times, in an uncharacteristically gushy December
25 article (“Obama’s Zen State, Well, It’s Hawaiian”), described Obama’s mood as the embodiment of the aloha spirit, “a peaceful state
of mind and a friendly attitude of acceptance of a variety of ideas and cultures.”
Aloha is nothing if not lived and practiced,
and Hawaiian elders like Pilahi Paki and Nana Veary, who would have been 100 years old last year, knew this. Those who think aloha
is nothing more than a canned greeting from tour guides or a simplistic term for welcome and good-bye are either at the receiving
end of fake aloha or are missing the point. In her book, Change We Must, the pure Hawaiian Nana Veary wrote, “Alo means the bosom,
the center of the universe. Ha is the breath of God. The word is imbued with a great deal of power. I do not use the word casually.”
She said that words have power and thoughts are things, and when she hugged you—she hugged everyone she met—the power of her unconditional
acceptance could reduce even the most uptight, resistant person to tears.
I miss Nana and Pilahi Paki. I wonder how they
would view our current global challenges, how they would put their understanding into action in the wake of such frightening economic
conditions. While we await, with breathless anticipation, the latest pronouncements of the architects of our future, I think of the
legacy of our Hawaiian elders. They used no fancy words, no soaring statistics. Their prediction—that aloha would be the key to planetary
survival—may strike some as grandiose and simplistic, provincial, even, or reductionism at its best. I don’t think our kupuna were
saying that aloha spirit does not exist elsewhere—it does—or that equanimity alone will solve our horrendous challenges. They were
pointing to change from within as the genesis of external shifts.
“When assembled, the small pieces would explain the whole,”
wrote John Holland. The “small pieces”—a helping hand, the criminally inflated CEO bonuses, greed and misjudgment, one small act of
aloha—add up, good and bad, to the warp and weft of our culture, the tabula before the rasa. We know that it takes a lot more than
a loving hug to erase the pervasive sickness of dread in the national psyche. We know that the aloha spirit is not a panacea, nor
does it solve the weighty challenges of governing in this beleaguered economy. But a good dose of our kupuna’s prescription will go
a long way toward healing us. Like a loving massage for the patient in ICU, a thoughtful look backward can be a sprint forward, at
least on the comfort scale. With what lies ahead, we all need as much aloha as we can get.
A place for intelligent writers
A place for intelligent readers
founded 2004 by ron cruger