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Living Aloha

Aloha. Likely that is the first word heard when deplaning in Hawaii.

Often, new visitors are greeted with a bow, a kiss on each cheek, are given a lei and hear the word, they are charmed. But, to natives, aloha is more than just a friendly greeting. It is a way of life. Hawaiian Maleko Lorenzo explains it this way, “Aloha is love, happiness and being a good person. Sincere and spiritual, giving up for others must come from the heart. Respect and love grow from that.”


On a recent trip to Maui, I explored aloha’s meanings. I discovered that locals express aloha not only through their daily life but with their traditions. Take hula for example. It is more than just undulating gestures and chants. It tells a story. Before Hawaiians had a written language, dances and chants related history, tradition and culture. Author Paul Theroux says hula is aloha in action by portraying love, respect and understanding. Its mele (songs) and oli (chants) also convey stories. 


It hasn’t been easy for Hawaiians to maintain their way of life. When missionaries came around 1820, they did their best to stifle the Hawaiian language. But orally was the only way the natives knew how to communicate their way of life and their history. After Queen Lili`uokalani, the last reigning Hawaiian monarch, was overthrown by the Americans in 1893, the culture went into a deep decline. Three years later, the language was banned in schools. It wasn’t until 1986 that the prohibition was lifted. 


There is a movie, Then There Were None, which chronicles Hawaiian history. It is shown at the Ritz-Carlton every Friday morning, from 9:30 to 11 am. It answers many of the questions you may have about the native peoples. 


Not surprisingly, a lot of the Hawaiian culture derives from the Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese and other Europeans that came as slaves to work the plantations. Even though they were segregated from each other, they managed to share many of their customs. Elders and family are extremely important. Always greet them first with a honi or kiss usually on the top of the forehead to say hello or goodbye.


One day, I spend time with Ka’napali Beach Hotel ( guide, Kongbay Moua. He points out ancient burial grounds as we walk alongside the hotel’s soft sands. Soon our conversation focuses on the tradition of the lei. 


“It is just not a flowered necklace,” he tells me, “but rather more like a ring of light, a sign of affection and a gift of aloha.”


Ka’napali Beach Hotel does provide lei making classes. Orchids and jasmine are strewn over the table. The delightful aroma of jasmine permeates the air around me. I learn leis are created using a long-threaded needle that has a tiny hook at the end. The flowers are hooked on the string and pulled through the needle until enough are threaded to form a lovely flowered circle. 


On another day, I speak with Clifford J. Nae’ole, the Ritz Carlton Hotel’s ( cultural advisor about aloha. He is patient, listens and like most Hawaiians, exudes a warmth. A former paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy), Nae’ole didn’t realize the importance of his Hawaiian roots until he spent some time on the Mainland. Now Nae’ole believes it is more important to practice spirituality than adhering to religious customs. He tells me that now his church is nature instead of a building encased with stained-glass windows. To him, aloha is the Golden Rule. It is about how fulfilled you are. He thinks of himself as a voyageur to aloha.


Native, Ho-Onui Villarmo, tells me, “Aloha means you don’t want to keep the negative. Nobody has time to bring in the negative. Bring your troubles to the ocean and leave them there. When the sun goes down, it takes everything away.” (Oh, if it were that easy for those of us that have not fully embraced aloha.)


“Inner peace is what makes it all good. It is true friendliness,” he adds.


To foster trust, love and appreciation with the earth would only radiate positive energy. What a wonderful philosophy. If more of us thought this way, there would be more harmony in the world. 


So, on your visit to Hawaii, be dazzled with its beautiful beaches but just don’t soak up the rays. Talk to the super-friendly natives and listen. Find out about their way of life. Ask questions. You will likely come away with a better appreciation of these lovely people. It just might encourage you to embrace some of the customs of aloha.

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