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Anthropology and peacebuilding majors talk about loving each other and the land

An illustration of two people on the island of Oahu with a sunflower between them.

While living in Laie surrounded by different cultures, students studying cultural anthropology and intercultural peacebuilding (IPB) shared how important it is to understand each other and the land around them because land, culture and identity are connected.

Born and raised in Laie, Anne McCarrey, a senior studying cultural anthropology, said the significance of the land in Hawaii is a constant reminder of the sacredness of Laie and its mission.

“I think growing up in Hawaii and now studying anthropology, I’ve been able to see Hawaii and especially the land here in a different way ... It’s sacred, and to the Hawaiian people, it’s an ancestor. The land is an ancestor.

“I think just understanding the history of the land, and not just recent history, but history from oral traditions as well makes you look at a place differently. So, for me, the biggest thing is awareness– understanding wherever I live. I want to understand the history of the place and understand my relationship with that place.”

Likewise, Adriannah Metta, a senior from Papua New Guinea studying Pacific Island studies, IPB and cultural anthropology, expressed how much the land plays into identity and the history of her family.

“For all Pacific Islanders, the land is basically our identity, and everyone is just connected to it. If you take our land away, it’s more of you taking our lifestyle and identity away ... If you look at Hawaiian culture, they say ‘Mālama ʻĀina, take care of the land’ because the land will take care of you.

“In my culture in Papua New Guinea, everything is provided by the land and the sea. The Earth sustains food, the materials we build our houses on and basically life itself.”

A gospel perspective

Rachel Howden, a senior from Utah studying cultural anthropology and IPB, shared it is essential to keep a gospel-centered focus on how it is our responsibility to take care of the land.

“Even in the Bible, we’re created from the dust or created from the Earth. We have a lot of ties to nature. Within Mormon theology, we know God created us, as well as the land around us. So, for me, I think it’s pretty straightforward to know that people cannot exist without the land ... It seems kind of obvious that we’d want to do things or live our lives in sustainable ways.”

Similarly, McCarrey said learning about the land, especially for students of BYUH, can be quintessential for understanding their spiritual purpose in Laie.

“Researching about where you are is eye-opening, and it can change not only how you think, but how you act. So, if you understand the history behind Hawaii, especially behind Laie, it makes you view Laie as such a different place. It helps you understand why BYU–Hawaii is so special.”

Both McCarrey and Howden said people, especially members of the Church, need to find ways to benefit the world around them to honor Heavenly Father and His purposes in creating this land for His people.

“I think bringing awareness and fighting for justice is part of our doctrine and our gospel. I would hope that within our school that has such an international reach, we would promote different ways of thinking and promote lifestyles and activities that will be sustainable,” Howden shared.

Love for people from people

Expanding on the need to understand the land, Howden said it is a necessity to learn about individuals and what shaped them into the person they are today.

“When we take the time to understand people, their backgrounds, what makes them happy and how they function ... we can more effectively spread light.”

McCarrey said she felt this primarily since she was raised in Laie and was exposed to the unique love for each other around the community.

“Growing up here in Laie, I’ve always been around lots of people from different cultures. I feel like I kind of grew up here at BYU–Hawaii because my parents work here.

“Just being able to have interacted with lots of different people and see ... how they’re different, but all got along, was really amazing. I’ve always loved history and languages, so that’s why I’ve really liked anthropology.”

Howden also said knowing where people’s life stories have come from can make a world of difference when coming together to both love each other and resolve problems in the world.

“I think a lot of issues within companies, families, businesses and countries could be a little more easily resolved if we had a reminder and understanding of our value as people.”

Through all of this, Howden said people need to be educated about their surroundings, meaning both land and people, and know where they fit into the grand scheme of things. In this, she added everyone could contribute to a greater feeling of continuity and plain old love.

“When we go home to our respective countries or go off to different places, we realize that we don’t know everything, and we always have room to learn. Things are relative, and we can still spread the gospel, but in different ways. I like to have shared goodness,” she said.