Ēwe hānau o ka ʻāina.
Natives of the land.
People who were born and dwelt on the land.
— ʻŌlelo Noʻeau #387

In Hawai‘i, we are surrounded by family—even under our feet! The land is part of our ‘ohana. Talk about being grounded!

Who are ʻŌiwi?

An ‘Ōiwi is a person who has a genealogical relationship to Hawai‘i. Hāloa is an ancestor that connects all ‘Ōiwi to Hawai‘i. ‘Ōiwi have similar origins, stories, language, practices, and beliefs, which are founded in the Hawaiian Archipelago. Native Hawaiians are ‘Ōiwi. Another term for Native Hawaiian is Kanaka Maoli.

The origins of ʻŌiwi

‘Ōlelo ke kupa o ka ‘āina ua mālia; ua au koa‘e.
The natives of the land declare that the weather is calm when the tropic bird travels afar.
(‘Ōlelo No‘eau #2498)

‘Ōiwi have two traditions that describe our origins. One history says we are from here. The Kumulipo is an example of this tradition. In the Kumulipo, kānaka (people) share a common genealogy with the Hawaiian Islands. Everything in the Hawaiian universe—including the land, the gods, the creatures, and the people—was born.

[Kiʻi] Photo by Ruben Carillo.The Kumulipo is a mele ko‘ihonua (genealogy chant of the universe). It is more than two thousand lines long. In this chant there are sixteen periods. In each period different species are born. The first eight periods are in pō (darkness) and the second eight periods are in ao (light). The Kumulipo is one of many mele ko‘ihonua. It documents that ‘Ōiwi originate in Hawai‘i.

Another tradition says ‘Ōiwi are from a faraway place called Kahiki. This is the wayfinding tradition. Unlike the Kumulipo tradition, which says our kūpuna were born here in Hawai‘i, our wayfinding tradition starts across the Pacific Ocean.

Long journeys on sailing vessels carried people and goods to and from Hawai‘i. These travels happened many times over many generations. Some of the things our kūpuna brought from the South Pacific to Hawai‘i were animals and plants, like the ‘īlio (dog), kī (ti-leaf), and ‘ohe (bamboo). Navigators used the signs of the land, sea, and sky as instruments for sailing vast distances.

Both traditions are important in understanding Hawai‘i as a homeland and as a living force. Both traditions are central in connecting ‘Ōiwi to Hawai‘i. Over time, the waves of early migrations from the South Pacific and the descendants of Hāloa integrated to form the Hawaiian nation. The mo‘okū‘auhau (genealogy) of the lāhui (Hawaiian nation) were recorded in oral histories and ki‘i (petroglyphs).

Hāloa grounds us

Kalo kanu o ka ‘āina.
Taro planted on the land.
Natives of the land from generations back.
(‘Ōlelo No‘eau, #1447)

When we talk about ‘Ōiwi, Hāloa is a prominent figure. Hāloa is the human child of Ho‘ohōkūkalani and Wākea. He is the mo‘opuna (grandchild) of Papa and Wākea, who birthed the islands. He is also the kaikaina (younger sibling) of Hāloanakalaukapalili.

[Hāloa origins] Artwork by Maggie T. Sutrov.Hāloanakalaukapalili was ‘alu‘alu (stillborn). He was buried in the ‘āina. And from the ‘āina he grew into the first kalo plant. Hāloanakalaukapalili is the older sibling. He is the ancestor of all kalo. His younger brother, Hāloa, is the ancestor of the Hawaiian people.

From this relationship ‘Ōiwi understand that our older sibling is part of the ‘āina. And our parent generation includes the Hawaiian Islands. Kānaka have responsibility to protect and care for the ‘āina. The ‘āina also has responsibility to kānaka. The ‘āina feeds and provides for kānaka. When we each fulfill our kuleana, we all thrive.

ʻŌiwi speak

Hawaiian language is everywhere. Our street names are in Hawaiian. Our place names are in Hawaiian. Our people names are in Hawaiian. The Hawaiian language is another thing that makes ‘Ōiwi who we are.

[ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi street sign] Photo by Jeremy.Our language tells our stories, our feelings, and our thoughts. It carries our native perspectives, ancient wisdom, and witty humor.

The Hawaiian language is related to other Polynesian languages and is considered part of the Austronesian language family. And within the Hawaiian language, there are different pronunciations and different terms among people from different islands and different parts of the islands.

Before Westerners arrived, ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i was the language spoken in Hawai‘i. Education was in Hawaiian, government was in Hawaiian, business was in Hawaiian, prayers were in Hawaiian, poetry was in Hawaiian, and healthcare was in Hawaiian. But, like so much of our culture and beliefs, the very tongue of our ancestors came under threat.

The growing influence of the non-Hawaiian world suggested that ‘Ōiwi stop speaking our language. In 1896, a few years after the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom, education using the Hawaiian language was outlawed. Some kūpuna recall being punished in school for speaking ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i. And in the lifetime of many adults today, there was perhaps a fear of hearing the silence of an extinct Hawaiian-speaking voice. But that did not happen.

Through an immense resurgence in culture and language, ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i is being spoken across the pae ‘āina by people of all ages and ethnicities. You can have an education entirely in ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i, from preschool to PhD. A new generation of Hawaiian language speakers is raising children who are fluent in ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i. Kūpuna who hadn’t spoken Hawaiian for years are speaking again. Ke ola nei nō ka ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i. 

ʻŌiwi values and achievements

‘Ōiwi share similar values, beliefs, and perspectives that are influenced by our familial ties to the ‘āina. Like our kūpuna before us, we kūlia i ka nu‘u—strive for the summit. That means we do our very best and aim for the highest level of achievement. The kapa of our kūpuna is considered the finest in the Pacific. Their feather work was the most beautifully and skillfully done. The technical craftsmanship of their canoes was superior. Their cordage was much stronger than European cordage of the time. And their fishponds were the most advanced aquacultural systems in Polynesia.

[Makaliʻi] Near Hāpaialiʻi Heiau. Photo by Ruben Carillo.Our kūpuna were innovative. They invented the crab claw sail to efficiently harness wind energy to sail along coasts and between islands. They invented a reliable calendar, considered one of the finest intellectual achievements of Polynesians. They invented mākāhā, or sluice gates, for their fishponds, which allowed small fish to swim in and out of the pond but kept large fish inside to be caught and eaten.

Our kūpuna were advanced in the arts and entertainment. They invented surfing, hula, kī hō‘alu (slack-key guitar playing), and the steel guitar.

‘Ōiwi are spiritual. We pray often. We listen to our na‘au for guidance from our ancestors. We look for signs in nature to help direct our actions or to tell the future. We respect our kūpuna, who are our living connections to the past and to the spirit world. 

‘Ōiwi value wisdom and knowledge. Our kāhuna, or experts and keepers of great wisdom and knowledge, were revered and held high positions in society. There were kāhuna for various fields, like healing, spirituality, canoe making, child delivery, and other aspects of Hawaiian life. Long ago there were contests of wit, or ho‘opa‘apa‘a, in which players would ask each other riddles. The loser could be put to death.

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‘Ōiwi live aloha. We have aloha ‘āina—love and devotion to the land, aloha i ke Akua—love for God, aloha kekahi i kekahi—love for one another. Aloha includes respect, loyalty, acceptance, understanding, sympathy, and kindness. Our kūpuna taught us, “Ua ola loko i ke aloha”—love gives life within (‘Ōlelo No‘eau #2836). These are just a few ‘Ōiwi beliefs, values, and perspectives. There are many, many more. And many of these we share in common with other people.

ʻŌiwi and writing

He aupuni palapala ko‘u; o ke kanaka pono ‘o ia ko‘u kanaka.
Mine is the kingdom of education; the righteous man is my man.
(‘Ōlelo No‘eau #553)

[Ka Nupepa Kuokoa] Front page of newspaper on June 19, 1914.

Although writing wasn’t always a part of ‘Ōiwi culture, our kūpuna quickly learned and mastered it. Hawai‘i became one of the most literate nations in the world during part of the nineteenth century.

[ʻŌiwi] A Native Hawaiian journalWriting is one of the national contributions of ‘Ōiwi. ‘Ōiwi used newspapers to print history, literature, genealogies, stories, songs, news, and editorials in our ‘Ōiwi language. The writings were used to disseminate information and to establish a record.

Their work continues to be a resource for historical, cultural, and political study. And ‘Ōiwi today continue the tradition of writing. Amplifying the voices of our kūpuna, we publish works of writing in a variety of forms in both English and ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i.

‘Ōiwi today

Kū i ka moku.
Stands on the island.
Said of a person who has become ruler—he stands on his district or island.
(‘Ōlelo No‘eau #1876)

In the time following Western immigration, ‘Ōiwi suffered great loss. Disease caused a near collapse of the population within one hundred years of the arrival of settlers. This impacted every aspect of the lāhui. Food production, the care of temples, and the care of ‘ohana were all affected. On a national level, the collapse caused widespread social turmoil.

In the wake of these events, immigrants were brought to Hawai‘i to build a labor force. Chinese, Japanese, and Filipinos came to Hawai‘i between the 1820s and 1920s to work on the sugar plantations. Since then, there has been widespread intermarriage in Hawai‘i. Many ‘Ōiwi today have multiracial backgrounds. Many ‘Ōiwi are also leaving their homeland to live elsewhere. The most recent data from the US Census Bureau show that the population of ‘Ōiwi is now 527,077. Of these, 289,970 live in Hawai‘i.

Ke kupa ‘ai au.
The native [son] forever.
May the chief live without end.
(‘Ōlelo No‘eau #1764)

[Hawaiian coat of arms] Artwork by Sodacan.Today, ‘Ōiwi are still taking up kuleana—some old and some new. Some ‘Ōiwi farm and fish just as their kūpuna did. There are ‘Ōiwi lawyers who work to protect Native Hawaiian rights. There are ‘Ōiwi doctors who use native and modern medicine to heal their patients. There are ‘Ōiwi teachers who educate youth in both the Hawaiian and English languages. There are ‘Ōiwi storytellers who use art and video to tell stories, old and new.

And whatever our kuleana may be, whether small or large, we fulfill it in the same spirit as our kūpuna. We continue to strive for the highest levels of achievement. We remain humble and thankful for our blessings. And we continue to nurture our relationship with the ‘āina that makes us who we are.

“Population forecasts suggest that while the Native Hawaiian population continues to steadily increase, the population of Native Hawaiians in Hawai‘i is slowly decreasing due to the increasing cost of living and limited economic opportunities.”
Native Hawaiian Data Book, 2006

ʻŌlelo noʻeau related to ʻŌiwi values and perspectives

Kū i ke ‘aki (‘Ōlelo No‘eau #1873).
Has reached the very highest spot.

Ku‘u ēwe, ku‘u piko, ku‘u iwi, ku‘u koko. (‘Ōlelo No‘eau #1932)
My umbilical cord, my navel, my bones, my blood.
Said of a very close relative.

Ke pau ka moa, kākā i ka nuku; ke pau ka ‘iole, ahu kūkae; ke pau ka manō, lana i ke kai. (‘Ōlelo No‘eau #1782)
When a chicken finishes (eating) he cleans his beak; when a rat finishes, he leaves a heap of excreta; when a shark finishes, he rises to the surface of the sea.
A description of the table manners of people. Some are clean like the chicken; others are unclean and careless, like the rat; and still others, like the shark, loll around without offering to help.

‘O Kā‘elo ke kāne, Pulukā‘elo ka wahine, hānau mai keiki kāpulu. (‘Ōlelo No‘eau #2401)
Kā‘elo is the husband, Pulukā‘elo (Well-drenched) the wife; children born to them are filthy.
Said of a filthy person. A play on ‘elo (soak). The month of Kā‘elo is rainy and muddy.

Pau ‘ole nō ka ‘umeke i ke kahi, pau ‘ole nō ka lemu i ka hāleu. (‘Ōlelo No‘eau #2615)
When one does not clean the sides of the poi bowl properly he is not likely to wipe his backside clean after excreting.