The best way to dig into a culture is to spend time with the locals – exploring, asking questions, and listening. In Hawaii, the answers usually come in the form of a story or legend, delving deep into the history and culture of the islands. These stories are the glue that connects the traveler to the islands.
Most of us have heard of aloha as the common use for a greeting or farewell, but the meaning goes much deeper than a simple hello or goodbye. Aloha is a strong emotional feeling of love, peace, compassion, and mercy. Aloha embodies a lifestyle of deep sincerity for treating those around you with love and compassion. My strong sentiments for these islands are a direct result of the aloha spirit – a feeling of love and belonging.
Once I understood the deeper meanings of aloha, I then began to understand the roots of ohana, the Hawaiian word for family. Again, the meaning here goes far beyond what one word conveys and is more of an idea and a way of life. Ohana is derived from Oha, the root of the taro plant and symbolizes how all Hawaiian people come from the same root. Ohana is sacred in Hawaii. It is how all families are made and how they remain connected because the idea of the word translates to what it feels like to belong. It is through ohana that the true meaning of aloha is found – the love of one member for another.
There are so many ways aloha and ohana greet you as a traveler in Hawaii. The tradition of the Hawaiian lei is one of the most well known concepts of Hawaii, conjuring up the oft-used image of the traveler stepping off the plane and being presented with a floral necklace. As a traveler to these islands, you must look beyond merely checking that item off the to-do list and recognize that the tradition is sacred. When you are presented a lei, you are welcomed with the warmest sentiments of aloha and ohana. With the lei around your neck, you belong.
My most treasured experience in Hawaii came from a simple question about my fresh plumeria lei. While visiting Kalaupapa Lookout on the island of Moloka’i, I noticed my lei, going on three days, had wilted. It was time to retire the lei, but how should I dispose of something that embodies aloha and ohana? Throwing such a beautiful creation away seemed like a tragedy, especially with the history and tradition behind the Hawaiian lei.
My question was answered when I learned that the proper way to dispose of a flower lei is to give it back to the earth. On top of the scenic lookout point, I took off my lei and cut through the string to let the flowers slide off and fall to the grass. The flowers fell in a beautiful arrangement and the whole process felt mystical and ceremonial. I felt connected to the earth and again felt an overwhelmingly powerful sense of place.
In your own travels to Hawaii, keep in mind that there are many traditional ways to dispose of a flower lei. You can rest the flowers in the grass, take them out to sea, or feel free to get creative. But if you do not have time to dispose of your lei, leave it on the table in your hotel room and housekeeping will deal with it in the traditional way.
Nothing can enhance a trip more than speaking with the people who inhabit the place and know its secrets. Traveling to Hawaii can open your eyes to a more mindful way of life by the people you meet and the truths you learn from them. Simply put, the trip stays with you. There is so much to be thankful for every day and living with a little more aloha among your own respective ohana can make all the difference.
[Written by Meredith Donaldson, owner of World Citizen (an independent contracted company affiliated with Casto Vacations)]