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Posted May 14, 2013
Pono is a complex Hawaiian word with connotations of righteousness, balance, and propriety. It’s one of the themes I try to develop in the Niuhi Shark Saga as characters make choices that place them in or out of being pono.
Ho‘o means to do or make; so ho‘o pono describes a way of being, of living one’s life in harmony with correct principles. As a student at The Kamehameha Schools, our Hawaiian culture teacher once told us that if there was only one thing we could remember from our time with her, she wanted it to be the concept of ho‘o pono. While I can’t remember all the place names we memorized, which fish were kapu during which seasons, or the number of voyages to Tahiti and back, I do remember her words about ho‘o pono.
So it was with great interest that I picked up Pali Jae Lee’s book Ho‘o pono: The Hawaiian Way to Put Things Back into Balance. Part oral history, part memoir, the book shares some of the family traditions and stories handed down from Ka‘ili‘ohe and Makaweliweli descendants from Molokai.
One of the central stories is really a parable about ho‘o pono. All children are born with an upright bowl of Light that grows with them and allows them to know and understand all things. But when a child is resentful or envious, he drops a stone into his bowl and a little of the Light goes out. If enough stones fill his bowl, the child becomes like stone, unable to move or grow. By turning his bowl over, the stones fall away and Light comes back.
It’s a simple, beautiful, and elegant metaphor for all the baggage we carry—no matter the era. These and other parables help give a voice to the past in ways that resonate with the future.
There was a time in Hawaiian families when nothing sacred or significant was shared with outsiders because only family would understand and respect the deeper truths. Looking at Hollywood’s version of Hawaiian culture, it’s not a big stretch to say what is often portrayed as Hawaiian has been misinterpreted, twisted, or fabricated out of whole cloth. But times are changing, and as more families are coming forward with their histories that challenge common perceptions, a clearer, truer picture of Hawaiian culture is emerging.
May all your bowls be filled with Light.