Becoming Hawaiian










I had this Hollywood dream of becoming Hawaiian once I moved to Hawaii. Kinda like in Avatar or Dances With Wolves, or countless other movies. There is a romance about going to an exotic place and being welcomed and accepted as one of their own.  This is especially true when the people and place are as beautiful and peaceful as Hawaii.  Here’s what I planned: I would move to Hawaii, learn the language, learn the hula, learn the chant (oli), then the king (which no longer exists) would look at my deeds and my intentions and I would be accepted into the tribe and walk proud among the people as a Hawaiian. Only one problem… I’m a “haole.”  Haole is like gaijin in Japanese.  It means outsider.  I used to think haole specifically meant “white-boy.”  Then I learned it doesn’t just mean white-boy. It also means pretty much anyone non-Hawaiian. It is hardly ever used in a derogatory manner anymore. It is simply a statement of fact.  In arriving here and starting to share my dream of becoming Hawaiian I was told it would never happen, because I was haole. At first I took offense to this, then I soon learned that it was not meant as an insult as much as a separator to differentiate from Hawaiian or those of pure Hawaiian lineage. I also learned the term hapa-haole. This is a joining of 2 Hawaiian words: hapa meaning half; haole meaning non-Hawaiian. When I heard this term it was in reference to a person whose lineage was part Hawaiian and part Micronesian. Suffice to say they were not pure Hawaiian.

I soon learned that haole was a term used, as I said, to differentiate, not separate, the Hawaiians from anyone non-Hawaiian. Now to be called Hawaiian you have to have some Hawaiian blood in your lineage somewhere. This is why I could never become Hawaiian. I have spoke to people who are born and raised here, but have no Hawaiian blood.  They are still referred to as haole. There is another term which sometimes comes up in a conversation of this type. That term is “aina.”  Aina means “of the land.” As a local, many will use the term kama aina.  This basically translates to people or person of the land. Meaning you were born here or you live here. Since I moved here the best title I can hope for is “resident” of Hawaii or kama aina.

It is interesting that there is almost a caste system here. The caste system doesn’t separate people by money, but by social class.  The pure Hawaiians are proud and revered. They definitely have a connection to the land which I have not seen anywhere before. Layers upon layers. Every person I meet is a new experience. I feel the shift within.

I am learning how to grow coffee from my new friend Dave.  I met Dave here in Hawaii, he owns a small organic coffee plantation. He is teaching me all about the trade. I am learning so much from him.  For years I dreamt of buying a coffee plantation in my retirement.  Now, I didn’t say work a coffee plantation, I said own a coffee plantation.  I am not crazy, farmers work hard!  I don’t want to work that hard in my retirement. As I was saying, when I visit with Dave at the farmers markets, I love to see all the people come up to his booth. They ask about the coffee, I see the way they walk, the look on their face, the tone in their voice, even the questions they ask. The type of people we have been meeting from Hawaii has humbled me, almost daily sometimes. People from all over the islands.  The depth of their knowledge and even their wisdom impresses me. I am happy and grateful to be a resident of Hawaii. I have come home.


James Christopher

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