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Tales From the Night Rainbow (Page 3)
By Pali Jae Lee and Koko Willis
The System by Which the Family Ruled
Although we lived in a communal society and much of the family possessions were owned by the whole community, each individual's personal possessions were treated by others with the greatest respect. A person's belongings were seen as part of himself and to trespass on his possessions was to violate the man himself. To steal from someone was to take part of his mana (personal power); therefore anyone who was a thief was expelled from his family. No mistake or crime (crime being a haole concept) was seen as worse than this. A person might suddenly become angry with another because of misunderstanding. He might strike out at someone, and a fight take place. This was understandable. To steal, one first had to plan. and the taking was a deliberate act against another.
The ali'i put thieves to death; we did not. The fear of banishment seemed to work for us, for few were ever guilty of stealing. The few that were, during my lifetime, were frightening for me to see. They were told at a meeting of the entire family that from that time forward they did not exist. They would not he spoken to. They would be ignored and even if they were to walk among us, they would not be there. They were now kauwa. They were dead to us. In fact, they were less than dead, for we honored our family in spirit. The outcasts just ceased to be. Some of these people would throw themselves into the sea to die; others left and were not seen again. We never spoke their names, so we could not ask family, or people of other families, if they had been seen. This was an old rule of the family system and not challenged to my knowledge. This law of ceasing to be, was a very powerful one. We needed no other.
When a child was born, he was presented with a mat and finely beaten kapa by his family. These would always he respected as part of himself. As long as he lived no one would step on his mat without permission or touch his kapa. At times a person was given permission to sit or sleep on another person's mat. A person never crawled beneath another's kapa. Each person lay down covered by his own kapa covering. Whenever a person traveled - when he went to war, to the Makahiki games, on a business journey, or anywhere else - his mat and his kapa always went with him. When he died, they were burned.
For two people to share a mat beneath the same kapa meant they were married. When it was a love affair from a chance encounter a mat might be shared but not the kapa. Sharing a kapa had to he acceptable to both the man and the woman.
As a rule, the calabash or bowl of an individual was not touched by others, but there were exceptions. The elderly in the family were far more strict about their bowls than the younger members of the family. They had learned and seen people become ill from this, and considered it a bad omen. The sharing of the large poi calabash, and container of fish was done by all. It was only the individual small calabash that was kapu.
The elders of the family had several mats and kapa as well as their calabash. These were often cared for by one of the younger members of the family. With the ali'i, each chief had a younger brother or a son of a brother carry his calabash, his spittoon and his hair and fingernail clippings as well as his many mats and kapas. This person could walk in the shadow of the chief and the honor was tremendous.
Our family was not ruled by the a/i'i chiefs except indirectly. We were ruled by our elders or kupunas, for they had lived longer and were wiser. Among these elders were the masters of the family - the kahuna. The elders of our family handled all disputes within the family. They also handled problems family members had with someone from another family, or with the ali'i chiefs.
The family colors were of the utmost importance to family members. This was true of our family and every other family, ali'i or maka'ainana (a person not of ali'i blood - literally the eyes of the land). Our colors were our identity - our pride.
To use the color of another was foolish. It could be the color of an enemy, or a line superior to your own and it would only invite trouble. To use a color that was not your line said you had no family pride. The family color was sacred.
Within the family all first cousins, sisters and brothers and half-sisters and brothers were simply called sisters and brothers. All of the generation of the parents were called makua (parents). All people of older generations were called grandparents. We called them kupuna. Individually they were called Tutu and their given name. We loved them all, for they first loved us. When you did not know the genealogy chants of your family it was extremely difficult to know which pair of these many kupuna were your individual line. To most of us it didn't really matter. A child did not belong to one set of parents but to all the family.
To tell our parentage, or the line of family, we used an "a". If I was speaking of my mother's line I would say Kaili'ohe a Ke-kau-like a Lunahine. If I was speaking of my father's family I would present my grandfather first and then my father - Kaili'ohe a Kai-akea a Pe'elua. If I did not know who the blood parents were I just stated the grandfather's name. Many people on our island had names with a Lae for the great line of Lae, many had a Kea for that line, and many used Mahi for the line of the Mahi chiefs. These were the three main lines left of the old ones, who had lived on Molokai so many hundreds of years before the Tahitians came to our shores.
When Kaui-ke-a o-uli (Kamehameha III) declared the Great Mahele and the land began to be divided among the chiefs, Gerritt Judd suggested to the king that all Hawaiian people be made to take family names. Many of the people did not understand however, and mix-ups were many.
Many people did not know who their actual father was and many questions arose around family circles and, in our family, a lot of giggling. It seemed so silly.
The Hawaiians believed that land could not be owned by an individual. They shrugged their shoulders when the ha'ole came to the Mission Station to explain what was being done. "More foreign nonsense" was the general opinion. When someone offered to give a few yards of cloth or a jug of wine for the title paper to the land many said "Why not?" The exchange was made. It was not that we were stupid. It was not that we were illiterate, for most of us could read and write. It was a total lack of understanding between two cultures. In our family, we collectively owned many things. Very few things were individually owned. The land. the sky, the sea, were for all men. How can you divide that?
With all these changes the old family system of rule was thrown aside and new ways introduced. The new ways were foreign ways and useless to the Hawaiian heart. It left the Hawaiian without identity. He lost his family, his way of ruling himself, his history and his dignity in a few short years, all for the lack of understanding.
At the same time, the Hawaiian children were being taught a history in the government schools that had nothing to do with the memories of the kupuna (elders; grandparents) of the families. Government schools at that time were taught by the missionaries and their point of view prevailed. It was the view of the teachers from where they stood on the mountain. They did not see the Hawaiian point of view. In fact, in many cases, they did not see the Hawaiian at all.
The children of the islands were being taught that their ancestors were cannibals. This was not the case - not with the ali'i and certainly not with the pre-ali'i. The ali'i did have human sacrifices during the time of Pa'ao, and there were many during Umi's terrible reign. There were also many ali'i chiefs who put no one to death. Children were taught, however, that their ancestors were cannibals. lazy, and played all the time in the water and in bed. Teachers used the word indolent, a word never explained to me, but it had a very nasty sound.
I wish we had more hours to play in the water. I wish we had more time for rest and love-making. All of my life, my people worked very, very hard. We did not ask another to do for us what we could do for ourselves. We shared all we caught, grew and made. We wasted nothing. To waste or take what was not needed was great error and the person would he called upon at some future time to right the wrong.
It was my belief that the 'Ohana system was the originator of what was later called the Aloha Spirit, for all life was founded on love. There was love of family, love of land, love of sea, and love and respect for yourself and all around you! All were one!
It was difficult for people to understand the family ways of yesterday. For instance, few can understand the fact that one household had so many wives. The Hawaiians have been talked about as if they had harems.
The concept of wife, and of family were very different from what they are today. It has always been the custom for Hawaiians to care for one another. When a man died what was to happen to his household? Who would care for the wives and children left behind? They were taken into the household of another (brother, son, cousin) as wives with all the rights and privileges they had in their own home. If they caught the eye of another, and wanted to leave, they had the right to go. As a rule, no woman was kept against her will. I know of a case or two where a man wanted very much to share the kapa of a certain wife newly acquired from the death of another. The woman would not accept him, and in one case when she wanted to leave to marry another, he was consumed with jealousy and refused to let her go. This was not usually the case, however.
Some of these women were old enough to be grandparents of the men who took them into their households as wives. Then, as now, men want romance with a pretty face and a young. shapely body. Most romances were with beautiful cousins of equal rank, a comely commoner, or to carry on the blood line, a sister to produce an heir of the highest blood line.
There were occasions when a brother and sister truly loved each other. Usually it had nothing to do with love. The sister would be kept isolated a month or so before the coupling took place with the brother. After that (sometimes before as well) she was allowed her own husband and her own household. That she was having children by two men at the same time seems strange to people now, but it was done in an orderly fashion. It was not a running from bed to bed kind of business.
When a man wanted to take a wife, but it left a sister alone, or an elderly mother, this person would be taken into the household also. Some of these women lived out their lives without sleeping with that man. Sometimes their stay would be a few months or years until they saw someone they wanted and who wanted them, then they moved on. While they were in the confines of his home they were called "wives". Women, ali'i and commoner alike, always had the right to refuse to bed with a man. This pertained even to sisters who were to carry the blood line. Sex was not seen as something a man could demand and the woman had to submit. They were equal in the meeting and sharing of the responsibility.
Some women would flaunt affairs they had with high chiefs. A child born of such affairs was sometimes taken into the household of the child's father, and at times the mother too (not as a wife of any station, but the comforts were there just the same). High chiefs also used their high rank to claim the favors of young girls. Keawe-kekahi-ali'i-o-na-moku (a high chief of Hawaii) was noted for spreading his seed throughout the islands. It is often said that no man walks in Hawaii nei that does not carry the blood of Keawe-kekahi-ali'i-o-na-moku in his veins. With him, I think ali'i and commoner alike were afraid to say no when he requested favors. He was a fierce warrior and not one who bothered with the feelings of others, regardless of their station in life.
There were many kind ali'i. One of the best was Kamehameha-nui, ruler of Maui. When he died he passed the rule to his younger brother (not to sons) Kahekili, and technically, all his wives, and wives still in the household that had come from the household of their father Ke-kau-like, went to Kahekili also. Some of Ke-kau-like's wives had died and others had new husbands but some remained. Namahana who was the sacred wife of Kamehameha-nui refused to go. She had her own lands, kept her own council and kept the wives of Kamehameha-nui and Ke-kau-like with her. The reason she gave was that Kahekili who was now 59 years old lived too quiet a life for her. Namahana was full of fun and gaiety. She loved to party and gamble. Her household was full of guests and drinking all of the time. If she were to go into Kahekili's household all that would end. He lived a quiet life. He had two wives, spent his time swimming and surfing and did not even drink liquor. Kahekili was angry with her, for her lands by right were now his, for they had been his brother's. He had a few choice things to say about her, but he let her go her own way. Kahekili took no other wives when he became high chief. He once stated that had he known in his younger days that some day he would rule, he might have wooed a few pretty young girls. He was an excellent sportsman but a reclusive man. He never drank of the 'awa root, and he spent hours walking beside the ocean, swimming or diving with only one or two male companions.
Family, to us on Moloka'i was seen as a solid unit. A whole, of which we were each a part. In actuality, the family was a community or group of people living together, growing together, working out their problems the best way they could together, all connected, all learning and growing and assisting each other in their growth. We were all related in some way. Many generations - many fingers of the same hand; parts of one body.
Each 'Ohana was governed by a group of kupuna (elders) - Age alone did not make one a part of this group. There were many old people who were not. To become part of the ruling body of the family you had to be accepted by all of the elders. Everything was decided on consensus of opinion. The ruling body varied in size, and always consisted of kahuna (experts) of many kinds.
When a person proved himself through years of hard work and wise thinking, if they were known for being loving and unselfish in all things, and had mastered many of the family secrets, sooner or later their name would come up and the kupuna would discuss making this person a part of their group. No vote was taken. If everyone was in agreement, then at the family 'aha (meeting) they were requested to join the other kupuna who ruled on the upper part of the circle. It may sound simple. It was not.
One of the kupuna was our chief or ruling elder. He did not rule alone like the ali'i. All our ruling elders ruled together. This one person met with other family heads when there was need of it, and brought us news of what was going on in other families.
The ali'i had ruling elders, too, but they were not of the family line. They were the political supporters of the chief who had appointed them. These ruling bodies were called councils, and later after the foreigners came they called them the Privy Council. Most of the members of these bodies were men (for they fought the wars), but on occasion there were women appointed to serve. Ka'ahumanu was given the seat her father had held in the council when he died - Many ali'i women had served before in other councils, and the women who were regents after her death had important places in the council.
In our family line it was possible to serve in more than one family council. Maka weliweli served in her father's council before his death; she was a member of our kupuna (elders); and served in family councils for two of her brothers. Maka weliweli was a teacher and a mystic so was not always around when a family council was held. When she was with us she did not always choose to sit with the elders. If family members wondered why this was they kept it in their own hearts and did not ask questions.
Family members did not question the family council. The decisions they made were considered law and the family abided by them. They had the greatest mana and knowledge. For this reason they were our leaders. We did not argue with them, even if we disagreed in our hearts.
The kupuna ruled at all 'aha (family meetings) and 'aha'aina (meeting where food was served). They handled all disputes within the family and problems family members had with outsiders. When an 'aha was called, no one questioned going. The rule was - if you were alive, not dying. or laid up with two broken legs, you got up and attended. It was not questioned - it was done.
At the 'aha, matters of importance to the entire family were discussed, and once a year plans for the Makahiki were made. Family members were reminded of teachings, when it was felt that one or a few needed to he reminded. One teaching that people needed to he reminded of most frequently was: To say that one forgives and then not forget, is not to forgive at all. Forgiving and forgetting are part of the same whole. To say you have forgiven and continue to bring up the problem is a great error and is to carry a large rock in your "bowl of light". For the reason of forgiving and forgetting, many elders did not wish to discuss the past with the children. Starting to tell stories of long ago could often bring back old hurts, old feelings of resentment and anger. Stones long gone would arise again. Some who had moved on into the spirit world might be dishonored. So they felt it was best forgotten, and our history was buried with the kupuna and it was no more.
The 'aha consisted of the flesh, or living family, and the spirit family. That a person had passed from flesh did not make them less family. They were spoken of and to, remembered in mele and chant. At meals they were remembered before the family ate the food. For this reason foreigners said we had hundreds of gods that we prayed to. Gods indeed, they were our family - our loved ones - our parents.
The 'aumakua was also a part of our family circle, and explaining this is difficult. Perhaps you could understand it as a guardian angel. Christians believe that - well, we had our 'aumakua. That is as near as I can explain it. The 'aumakua was our identity and an important part of the family. It did not need to be in the body of anything, however, for the 'aumakua was a spirit. They were like a messenger between the two worlds - the spirit and the flesh. They had access to both worlds (or places). Our family 'aumakua was a Mo'o (lizard or dragon) my mother's family line had as their 'aumakua the thunder.
If we were one with all things and all matter, we were one with them and they were one with us. Why should that seem so strange? Our family 'aumakua were sometimes printed in kapa design on our family banner for the Makahiki games. It was to bring forth all the mana of the spirit family. Nobody was afraid. It was all part of the fun.
Our rules or laws were few in the family but we all knew them by heart. All were free to come and go. and do as they wished, as long as they did no harm to another.
All that was worked upon was shared with the family. divided into four portions; the first going to the elderly who could no longer work for themselves. Who the elderly were, was not decided by any but the person himself. Some worked hard every day and were far older than some who had laid the day's work aside. Each knew his own heart and body. They knew when they could no longer share in the work load.
We shared with other members of the family and took the last portion for our own household.
Our family did not consider ourselves to be ali'i. We considered ourselves to he above ali'i. We were a sacred line, here from the beginning of time.
Once a year. at Makahiki season, we had presentation of family. Every family member who was alive attended this meeting. Family members that had moved away from our community returned. It was a time of great rejoicing, remembering and romancing - for we met family we had not known before, and the young ones fell in love, some stayed behind when the family left, while others left with cousins when the time came to leave.
At the presentation of family, each family line was presented and the genealogy recited of that line. With our family, all the children of my grandfather Kaiakea, their wives and children, grandchildren and great grandchildren would all be in attendance. This was the only time we saw each other all year, as we all had families of our own and the rest of the year we were busy with working the land and caring for the things that filled our days and nights. At these great celebrations all the old chants were told; of our history, our heritage, of Moloka'i o Hina. There would be many tears and much laughter. All who had passed into spirit during the year would be remembered, and chants and mele in their honor recited.
During this time, we did no work except for the preparation of food and other essentials. The days were full of games and contests. When the best of each game or contest was decided, these were the participants who represented our family against other families in the islands. This was mainly in sports, but included games of skill and martial arts. When the time came for our family to participate in the games against other families, we stood as one body behind our players. We cheered and yelled. and on occasion, when we felt a member of the other side did not play honorably we called him names and reviled his ancestors (for which we all had to be penitent later). Then as now, people were people. We had good times and bad times; fun times and hard times. The difference comes when it comes to family. Then we were part of the whole. We had our 'Ohana.
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