He looked out into the jagged lava field that now covers the sacred LekeLeke burial grounds and the place where his ancestors had fought and died in the battle of Kumo’o. His focused eyes gave off a sense of purpose as he began his prayer to the Hawaiian spirits. The words flowed majestically, demanding my attention. Upon finishing, he paused for a brief moment. In that moment, I stared at his profile and saw his head high, face stoic and chest ever so slightly pushed out. In that image, I saw a man’s entire heritage unfolding upon me like a snow fall blanketing a mountain. On that day, he allowed me to peak into the windows of the most cherished and revered ancient Hawaiian traditions as he revealed stories about where he had come from and who he was destined to become.
My journey to the Big Island with my friend John was not about sight seeing or trying to understand everything around me. It wasn’t about me at all. It was about John reconnecting his family to the island where he had grown up as he conducted family ceremonies that would one day be passed down to his children. To John and many Hawaiians who believe in the old ways, Ohana (family) is more than a common name, it is a way of a life. He and many of the traditional Hawaiians trace their genealogy back to several generations. It is in that lineage that they find the strength and wisdom in their daily lives. These ancestors are more than mere historical figures though, they are in fact the lifeline and driving force behind what one chooses to do or not to do.
I couldn’t help but attempt to draw comparisons between John’s family roots and my own. Each place we visited was a reminder that his family history was larger and more sacred than mine. It took several hours for me to accept that but eventually, I conceded that he had a stronger bond with his ancestors than I did with mine.
My friend John traces his genealogy back to King Kamehameha I. It’s a deep concept even for me to comprehend. And as much as I’d like to find records of my own, I know that they are in a distant land, attached to people that I do not know nor will ever relate to. And although cultural heritage is important to many families and in particular John’s, in my case it does not define who I am. I am not of the people whose genes or physical features I share. There are few lessons that they can teach me. The person that I am is the son of my parents; two people who make up the nucleus of my ancestry.
I have never been too close to any of my family members. I grew up as the youngest of four children which meant that my siblings were all grown up and out of the house shortly after I came along. Essentially, I grew up and perhaps was treated like an only child. To add to the family isolation, I have never been particularly close with any relative, save my oldest sister and grandfather. All things considered, I was raised solely by my parents. They were the guardian keepers who were responsible for my day to day interactions and they were the individuals who gave me opportunity. Between the two of them is where my loyalties rest and whom my life I owe.
My Mom and Dad never shared secret family recipes that had been passed down from generation to generation. Nor did they recite family prayers, mantras or epic stories. Instead, they showed me with their actions what being a responsible and compassionate person was all about. In that sense, they gave me a social heritage.
My social heritage started with my parents and has now been passed on to me. I have made no secret of my ambitions of returning back to my hometown in order to carry on their legacy of giving. It is a legacy that I am both comfortable with and proud of. I may not have ancient rituals, but I have the images of my parents sacrificing what they had for causes bigger than themselves. To me, my family name means more than what some individual who I had never met had done thousands of years before me. My family name is evident in the man that I see every time that I look into the mirror.
I do not have to consult a history book to draw lessons from my family's past, for I learned it all first hand from the people that matter most in my life. Whatever I do, I know it will have an impact on my life and whoever follows my footsteps. I must be the caretaker of this legacy so that everything that my parents worked for will not be forgotten. I am ready and prepared to step out and embrace what has been given to me. Since I have chosen to not re-connect with my past, I have instead decided on connecting with my family through the future. In those actions, I hope to make current and future generations proud of the path that I have chosen. Then when all is said and done, I intent to relax and of course “talk stories.”