BY RODERICK EIME IN HAWAI’I
For many decades, the true meaning of Hawai’ian, ‘Aloha’ has been lost to commercial usage and trite tourist parlance, being used to brand everything from t-shirts to canned fruit. But in recent years, the Polynesian people of Hawai’i have sought to restore the genuine essence of this ancient term to its proper status.
‘Aloha’ as a greeting lost its way particularly after contact with Western culture in the mid- to late 19th Century. When Hawai’i was annexed by the United States in 1898 after the overthrow of the popular monarchy, it was further diluted to a simple greeting interchangeable with ‘hello’ or ‘goodbye’ and stripped of its highly spiritual connotation.
In contrast to the Fijian ‘Bula!’ which is announced with gusto, ‘Aloha’ is more subtle and reverent. Many Hawai’ians believe that a boisterous ‘Aloha!’ is disrespectful.
To greet with ‘Aloha’ when meeting someone is to exchange “the breath of life”. Much like the Maori traditional greeting, the Hawai’ian ‘Honi’ places the nose and forehead together with both parties inhaling through the nose. The breath from the nose is believed to pure, compared to that from the mouth. This is often followed by a hug or kiss to the cheek, or both. The belief is that after such an intimate introduction, it is then difficult to have hostile feelings toward your new friend.
On the Kohala Coast of the Big Island of Hawai’i is the Mauna Lani Bay Resort where historian and ‘protocol officer’, Danny Kaniela Akaka, has had a modest office in the resort’s cultural centre for 26 years. Danny runs regular tours of the resort’s significant historic sites including the former royal fish ponds that form part of the beautifully landscaped grounds of the sprawling resort, spa and golf complex 23 old miles north of the Kona International airport.
Quiz Danny a little and you’ll quickly discover his knowledge goes way beyond simply telling tales of the old days. Throughout Hawai’i he is respected as a long-standing kahu, teacher, musician, storyteller, explorer and preservationist – truly a keeper of the aloha spirit. He has dedicated his life to the preservation of Hawai’ian culture and its values.
One of the resort’s famous cultural projects under his stewardship is the building of a faithful replica of an ocean-going outrigger canoe, ‘Lau Lima’ (meaning ‘many hands’), named as such because hundreds of resort guests have lent their ‘Mana’ to the project. Preliminary sea trials were encouraging. “It rides like a Cadillac!” says Danny. Its official launching was delayed by slight damage from the Japanese tsunami, but the completion is tantalisingly close. Another 100-year-old preserved vessel can be seen next to Danny’s office.
“When the agreement to develop the resort on these sacred lands was struck in 1972,” Danny tells me, “part of the understanding was to preserve these significant sites. The Japanese partners, led by Noboru-san from Tokyo and his heirs, have held to their promise and we have these beautiful features here today.”
“This area of Hawai’i has an important spiritual significance for the traditional people and it is something like a spiritual magnet, a place for healing and renewal, and these ponds are the focal point. Without these, the place would lose its special qualities.”
At a time when respect for indigenous culture was rare, the 343-room Mauna Lani Bay was built to incorporate these sites into the landscape and to draw on their perceived significance while leaving them intact, protecting or restoring them as appropriate.
Today the resort is an acclaimed spa and golf retreat situated amid a 500 year old lava flow that extends all the way to the sea from the “mountain heavens” beyond. On a clear day, the mighty 4200m Mauna Kea and her famous observatories can be seen.