Ho‘oulu: Our Time of Becoming. Hawaiian Epistemology and Early Writings*


Ke welina mai nei. I wanted to spend a few moments with you before you dip into the muliwai—where sea water meets fresh; where theory meets practice. There is life there. As with the ideas you are about to read. They serve as a threshold into which I am now entered—a new seeing of the world that is wider than ever imagined.

It began by listening to our people.

I learned of our distinctness. Our Light. Our commonality with the world. Because I am a philosopher by passion, it was named epistemology. It was a word I did not fully understand because there was nothing dimensional about the term. Nothing. But this is no longer the case. It is now fully dimensioned in every single moment of my day.

Epistemology: Philosophy of Knowledge

I mean, really, what does that even mean? I still laugh thinking about my cousin Emmett Aluli mixing it up with the word episiotomy. We had a good laugh over that one. And so it began. What exactly is knowledge? Is it a thing, an event, a practice, a movement toward? What does it mean to be intelligent? What is the nature of knowledge? What is worth passing on?

Think on these things and you will come to the inevitable conclusion that as we lived scores of generations upon this beloved and breathtaking landscape, we had views on this matter because we thrived here. And from that thriving came the highest expression of a people: Art. We lived artistic lives. In our speech, in our countenance, in our health, in our spirit, in our leisure, in our work, in our art. Imagine. Look at where we live. I mean, really see it. Look at how we must have lived. And where living is great art, there is always great philosophy.

This book continues the dialogue we have had with truth and beauty. It’s just organized differently. A “connecting of dots,” so to speak. Hawaiian epistemology is a radical remembering of our future as it highlights and honors all three domains of knowledge production: sensory, mental, and contemplative; body, mind and spirit; gross, subtle, and causal. I have felt at all times in writing this book that I was somehow altered. It was as if I cherished every word and every image because they came from you. Our collective you. Our singular us. Truly. My writing was an “our” writing, and we became like sisters. It was as if our kapuna said to me—said to us: “There, there. There, there. Noho malie. Noho malie.”

The ideas within this book can be summed up with this thought from Luana Buby-Neff: “We don’t learn new tools, we remember them.” So, this book is a collection of remembrances. The ideas contained here have a life of their own. They have come forward to help us get to a familiar new place where we are once again world-centric because we will know what we value and we will live who we are. Because we have always been Connected. Connected to All Things. Moon-centered, ocean-traveled, metaphor-animated, mystically engineered. Connected.

Naming some general specifics of a Hawaiian epistemology allows us to honor the fuller spectrum of what it means to be alive, to be intelligent, to be Hawaiian. It was such an honor to listen to the people who developed these insights. A deep, deep honor. They gave us gems. And so, do you see why the writing was effortless? I was listening to a choir harmonizing and they are singing to us that there is purpose to meaning and our boundaries are self-imposed. Not simply an external situation. We are going inward now, into a Nation Within. I believe it is there that we must heal and dream again, and re-language our potential, ourselves, our lands, our schools.

We must delve inside ourselves. We must help each other heal by learning how to forgive. To forgive ourselves. To forgive them. To forgive. And then get back in the saddle of cause and effect. Yes, we have fallen off the idea that even wrong intention has a consequence, let alone our words and actions. We are instead breathing in the toxic air of self-centered, capitalistically-prioritized, competitive knowing and thus have become colonizers of our own minds. And that is not our cultural epistemology. We are not superior. We are not inferior. We were always capable of leading ourselves. We are representations of what is best about life. Aloha teaches us that. Aloha will help us return to that.

I believe we’re ready. There seems to be no other way because the world needs us now. They need all of us. You see, as kumu hula Olana Ai reminds us: “Aloha is the intelligence with which we meet life.” Aloha is our intelligence and it animates this discussion. Aloha. Compassion—a sacred idea that connects us to all spiritual traditions, all ancient cultures. We are a people of aloha, despite our Education. Despite our Education.

This collection of essays begs us to think deeply of our lives by re-thinking the role of our vast, rich, dynamic, and ancient culture. I believe Hawai’i will be the first in the world to consciously realize that it is no longer about ethnicity, about race, or about blood quantum. As a point of history, let it be known that we never did privilege those ideas, those points of separation. What will be vital in this century is Culture—a way of being unique to place and people.

Culture. Ancient, timeless, appropriate. Indigenous culture will save this planet. Our evolving Hawaiian culture will save and nurture our homeland.

We need to voyage again so we can arrive at the original place of non-judgment. This time we go inland—into mind and the outer coastline of spirit. Each of us. Our own open-minded voyage of re-discovery is vital because when you can answer, clearly, what it means to feel connected to place and people then you will work always to heal yourself with others as both, always, must thrive. Place and People. Place and People.

Hawai’i has changed and the people in it have changed, but the idea remains. How do we best live together? How does compassion guide us? The ideas presented here are basically simple: relationships matter, words represent a life force, utility is vital with regard to knowing something, our capacity for knowledge is multi-sensory (gross, subtle, causal) and multi-dimensional, and life is a rich experience of continuity and connection. These ideas came from all mentors. We discovered, together, how clearly the mind connects with body and how both connect with spirit. We inferred by the passion of our priorities that a nation that does not honor multi-sensory experiences with regard to knowing something is truly a Nation At Risk. It’s no longer daring to articulate the nuance of how we differ, it has become imperative as we define what “post-colonial” means to us.

As if inside and outside, and mind and body were the same word. We have that in ideas like ‘ike, and na‘auao. We found out that insight and seeing is a false duality. They are one, separated only by training and fear. That idea has changed me the most. It allows me to be educated by beauty, to have a rapport with the qualities of rain, to see my own intentions become tangible through ritual. Sensing the no-boundaries of life helps me see that I am responsible for all my actions and that I must weather their consequences. Of course, it shaves down my speech, shores up my faith and honors our high tolerance for ambiguity. Think of how this would change your view of the world. Think how it has made us unique among nations! We are a place where “reading the world” is as valued as literacy.

To be excellent surfers. And lovers. And cooks. And parents. And leaders. And story-tellers. And scientists. And teachers. And writers. And healers. And athletes. And artisans. And farmers. And mystics. And human beings.

So, this is an honoring. It brings the language of power into mainstream consciousness to shed light on the hypocrisy of one test score summarizing the life force of a child, or adult for that matter. Hawaiian epistemology is then a portal. We go together to push the boundaries of well-meaning limitations. It’s a place where we develop new schools, new journals, new ideas, new arts, new universities, new ways to deconstruct prisons, new collaborations, new faith.

We must have faith that who we are is good enough. I mean, good enough. We’re ready to heal now. And in that healing we will re-vegetate our knowledge wasteland. And the beautiful part is, when we heal ourselves, we heal the world. Guarantee.

* Manulani Aluli Meyer, Ho‘oulu: Our Time of Becoming. Hawaiian Epistemology and Early Writings (‘Ai Pohaku Press, Native Books Honolulu Hawai’i, 2016)

About the Author

Manulani Aluli Meyer is the fifth daughter of Emma Aluli and Harry Meyer who grew up on the sands of Mokapu and Kailua beach on the island of O’ahu and along the rainy shoreline of Hilo Palikũ. She works in the field of indigenous epistemology and its role in world-wide awakening. She obtained her doctorate in Philosophy of Education from Harvard (Ed.D. 1998) and is a world-wide keynote speaker, writer, and international evaluator of Indigenous PhDs. Her book: Ho’oulu: Our Time of Becoming—Hawaiian Epistemology and Early Writings is in its third printing. Her background is in wilderness education, coaching, and experiential learning, and she has been an Instructor for Outward Bound, Hawaii Bound, a coach for Special Olympics in three states, and a passionate advocate for the Hawaiian Charter School movement. Manu has been an Associate Professor of Education at UH Hilo and spent five years in New Zealand as the lead designer/teacher for He Waka Hiringa, an innovative and accredited Masters of Applied Indigenous Knowledge at Te Wãnanga o Aotearoa, the largest Mãori university with 30,000+ students. She is currently working at UH West O’ahu as the Konohiki of Kũlana o Kapolei, a movement developed by Hawaii Papa O Ke Ao (University of Hawaii System’s initiative) to “Indigenize the University.” Manu is a wahine kalai pohaku (stone carver) along with a lei ano and lei hala maker. She is dedicated to Indigenous Food Sovereignty and works to bring the coconut back into daily use. She is also a thirty-year practitioner of ho’oponopono who appreciates and learns from the purpose and function of conflict.

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