Three BYUH Native Hawaiians share their love and appreciation for their home, land, spirit and ancestry
From Waianae, Oahu, Hope Iokia said the awareness of the land, culture and traditions are what makes Hawaii unique.
The junior studying elementary education said, “The land is our people. The land is a living thing. It ties us back to our ancestry, our kupuna [or grandparent, ancestor or elder relative], and everything they’ve lived for and they’ve established for us to continue to do so.”
Meaning of aloha
Tenille Nagareda-Ruben explained true aloha is sharing the pure love of Christ, which implies loving people for who they are. “When coming to Hawaii, it is important for you to remember that if you are expecting the spirit of aloha, you need to come ready to share it. You create aloha,” said the senior majoring in elementary education from Honomu, Hawaii Island, Moku o Keawe. “Hawaii’s sense of ohana [or] family is huge. ... Family is everything to us. It’s also developing and keeping relationships and giving aloha - giving that love in the way it deserves.”
Hawaii is a place of love and pride, a place where the land, the love and pride carried here are what sets Hawaii apart - the awareness of the land, culture and traditions,” said Iokia.
“The community [locals] are brought up here already have an understanding that there’s a purpose as to why they’re here. There is a duty that [they] need to carry on - sustaining the life here not only for [ourselves], but for family, community and people.”
Iokia expressed her joy and pride in Hawaii and said, “I love everything about growing up here. I was privileged to be in the Kamehameha School Immersion Program.
“I was able to learn my culture firsthand, to be able to bring back our mother tongue, in our culture, which I think was a big part of who my siblings and I are today. Growing up here definitely brought that sense of belonging.”
Nadia Yoshizumi explained anyone can give love to Hawaii, a land that gives so much. The way to give back is to contribute, share and be a part of the community, said Yoshizumi, a senior majoring in exercise and sports science from Waimea, Hawaii Island, natively referred to as Moku o Keawe.
She shared, “What you give out is what you will receive. ... What makes Hawaii special and home to me is ‘āina [that which feeds] and the people’s connection to the land.”
Yoshizumi said she came to learn of her culture, the land around her and developed a connection to her birthplace through her schooling. She explained her family wasn’t very native-culturally oriented.
It wasn’t until Yoshizumi said she went to Kanu O Ka ʻĀina, Hawaiian Charter School, that she learned more about her Hawaiian heritage and culture.
She said going to Kanu O Ka ʻĀina showed her her community’s strengths and weaknesses, what it lacked and how she can play a role in being a part of the solution to make it better. “Being educated in the Hawaiian community helped me know my role, and how I can contribute,” said Yoshizumi.
With passion, she said her relationship with her heritage has grown, as she learned the Mo’olelo, or stories, of the land around her that created a familial connection between the land and her.
“When you know the names of [plants, landmarks, flowers, areas], you see the specific details in [each place]. It completes the picture. It makes it very special. You learn the meaning of the place, you learn the history and you learn what each place gives,” she said.
There was a time when there was shame in being Hawaiian, Nagareda-Ruben explained. Around the time her mother was growing up, she said the culture was not accepting of Hawaiians. “But now we are proud to be Hawaiian because we know who we are. We know our history. We know our language. We know what is important to us. Growing up here I am so grateful that I am able to understand my culture more,” she said.
Hawaii’s rejuvenating spirit
Hawaii’s uniqueness is found in ua mau ke ‘ea ‘o ka ‘āina i ka pono, meaning the life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness, said Nagareda-Ruben. She explained, “When you take care of the land, the land will take care of you. The land is a part of us. You can tell that Hawaiians love the land, and feel that the land loves [us] back. I think people feel it when coming here.”
She said wahi pana (a sacred space that has mana or spiritual power) is a place where you feel you belong and connect to. Nagareda-Ruben said that space for her is her birthplace. There she said she feels revived and connected to her ancestry because her ancestors’ mana dwells in her wahi pana, giving her power.
Iokia explained the spirit of aloha ‘āina, or “love of the land,” can be felt when coming to Hawaii.
She said, “There is this sense of freedom you feel when coming here. How this space of openness gives you a really great time for you to ponder and reflect because you’re giving yourself that time to be relaxed and where you can experience peacefulness and serenity of openness within yourself.”
Yoshizumi said she believes people experience a profound awe for and in Hawaii because of the freedom the land provides. “I honestly believe that people feel homesick when they are not in nature,” she said. “If you’re from a city, you might feel enclosed,” Yoshizumi said, “but coming to Hawaii - all the area, the land and the ocean - allows space and freedom that you may not have at home.”