Ho’olohe Pono

Ho’olohe pono – to listen carefully, well, and rightly
Kanaka Maoli – a native Hawaiian
Akua – God
Aina – land of Hawaii

After hearing more than one pastor say, “We cannot experience the fullness of revival without the native Hawaiian people of this land,” Hawaiian campus staff member Moani Sitch felt God inspire her with a vision that would stimulate the reconciliation between Christians and native Hawaiians. Her vision became Ho’olohe Pono, an experience based on the Hawaiian phrase that means to listen carefully, well, and rightly.

“Caring for the Hawaiian people begins with listening intently to their stories of where they came from and who they are,” she said, “including their history as a people and the pain involved then and now.” The pain of native Hawaiians is not unlike other native minority peoples whose experience with prejudice and discrimination limits their ability to respond to the gospel message.

The two-week immersion into Hawaiian culture was sponsored by InterVarsity and Ka `Ohana o ke Aloha, a church in Kaneohe. In addition to listening carefully, the two-week experience included practicing “Ma ka hana ka ‘ike,” a Hawaiian proverb that means by doing we gain understanding. The first week was held on Oahu and the second week on Moloka'i (including Kalaupapa, known for its habitation by people with leprosy, now known as Hansen's disease).

The group was made up of people reflecting a variety of ethnic backgrounds, ages, and churches. They interacted with a traditional Polynesian storyteller, a manager of Hawaiian coral reef reserves, a kumu hula (hula master), a mahi ‘ai kalo (taro farmer), na kupuna (cherished elders of a Hawaiian community), kia’i loko (guardians/care takers of ancient fishponds), sovereignty activists, community activists, musicians/composers, and the head of a drug rehabilitation program for youth that incorporates culture and faith.

InterVarsity’s Area Director Brenda Wong received not only a new perspective from the experience, but also a renewed motivation to see God at work as people became more open to listen to each other. She realized that the Hawaiian culture, like many traditional cultures, emphasizes “we” instead of “I.” Though it feels strange to our modern sensibilities, that emphasis clearly reflects biblical values.

“Many of the speakers talked about how we need to remember our ancestors and live caring for those who will follow us,” she said, as she discussed Malama Aina – a network of organizations focused on preserving Hawaii’s natural resources. “This affects how we fish, take care of the land, and make decisions. I saw that so many of my attitudes are just for myself, and I don’t think of or care about those who will come after me.”

Because campus staff member Anthony Makana Paris came to this Ho’olohe pono as Kanaka Maoli – a native Hawaiian – he confronted different issues. They were all too familiar issues, reflecting unresolved tension in his own spiritual life.

“My struggles with rebellion, pride, and arrogance came out,” he said. “They clouded my judgment and pressed me to call out to Akua (God), ‘What does it mean to worship Akua in spirit and in truth as Maoli?’”

Integrating Christianity and native culture involves deep questions about the essence of Christianity and of native values. But many of us fail to scrutinize our dominant culture for values that have been unquestionably assimilated.

“Some of the most beautiful moments were those when the community members didn’t know what to expect but were refreshingly surprised to find Christians who were sincerely interested in what they had to say,” Moani reported. “To ho’olohe pono was a way to show honor and respect to those who may have had mistrust, anger, hurt, or distaste towards Christians because of history, personal experience, the disconnect they see between the traditional church and the people of the ‘aina (land of Hawaii).”

Moani said that for the one person who came with them but did not call himself a “Christian,” someone who had been involved in the Hawaiian movement for many years, the experience was life-changing.

“Through the journey of Ho’olohe Pono, he would say now that he believes in Iesu (Jesus) and that the Iesu he met at Ho’olohe Pono is one of love,” she reported. “He now seeks Iesu for help in spiritual battle, practices ho’olohe pono, tries to hear how Akua is leading him daily, and is bringing His light into the community of practitioners and activists that he serves with.”

In our culture today it seems fewer and fewer people are following the adage, be quick to listen and slow to speak. But Moani, Brenda, Makana, and all of the other participants discovered the truth in it. “Those who have ears to hear, let them hear,” Jesus said.

“I know that God has used this experience to deepen my faith and to encourage me with hope for kanaka maoli, as well as for healing and restoration in the ‘aina of Hawai’i,” Moani concluded.

To read more about Christianity’s history in Hawaii, go to Urbana.org and the story of a 19th century evangelist named Puaaiki.