7 Principles To Transform Housing In Hawaii - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Manulani Aluli Meyer

Manulani Aluli Meyer is the fifth daughter of Emma Aluli and Harry Meyer from Mokapu and Hilo. She is dedicated to Indigenous knowledge and its role in worldwide awakening.

Ma keia aina pulama mai i loko o kuu naau. 

The land that has nurtured me in its depths fills my heart.

Aloha aina, or the love and care of land, is the center of Hawaiian intelligence and continuity. Loving land, ocean and waterways is a real thing. It is the iini or anima mundi of my life and the life of my ohana. We are neither sentimental nor nostalgic about its central role in our thinking, singing, creating or actions.

Aloha aina is also the practice of serving people because people and place are synonyms for each other. Here is the Hawaii that fills my heart!

Here is why we turned our older way to describe land — kuu aina aloha, beloved lands that have always loved us — into the now-famous mantra “Aloha aina!” that inspired the Protect Kahoolawe Ohana, Maunakea and all other sites of clashing cosmologies.

We re-learned the essence of our indigenous selves: that love of land is the operating principle of our science, culture, arts and heritage.

How then does aloha aina/aina aloha play out in our modern lives?

A more specific question has been posed: How can aloha aina inspire and instruct the housing conundrum we now find ourselves in?

The real question is: What does housing look like with aloha aina at the center?

Native knowledge holds the potential to transform policy deserts into aina momona, into ideas that flourish with the beauty that gives meaning to life.

Placing Hawaiian cultural values at the center of our thinking draws those values into existence, makes them live. When actions spring from principles, those actions have the force and goodness of those principles. This is not soft science or an impossible pipe dream, it is a rigorous and definitive component of continuity.

And so, here are seven principles that, if honored, promise to completely transform the modern story of housing in Hawaii.

Hoopono: Truth-Telling Practices

Truth-telling includes active and empathic listening, responding and self-understanding. It is the creating of goodness through actions, thoughts and words. It is the kumupaa (foundation) of hooponopono – when families seek healing from difficulties and strained relationships through ritualized and deep truth-telling.  Aina and beloved kupuna have always taught and nourished us to behave in this way: Goodness. Pono. Truth.

When love of land is at the center of knowing, hoopono is basic, and when people meet with this shared capacity, obstacles become talking points for collaboration and impossibilities dissolve with collective intention. I have seen it. You have seen it. Why then do we not ritualize this in our housing discussions?

Ocean waters rimmed with limu kala here symbolize the principle of hoopono, honesty. When our energy moves with the force of truth and forgiveness, it is clean and nourishing. Then, says the author, “obstacles become talking points for collaboration, and impossibilities dissolve with collective intention.” Manulani Aluli Meyer

Nohona Hawaii: Living A Hawaiian Way

Living a Hawaiian way still exists because we do. When aloha aina is at the center, and housing is the issue, we respect our vibrant and vital sharing economy. We honor the differences between Waimanalo and Waianae, and give thanks when Kauai and Maui are in the room because we know their knowledge is ono and shaped by different winds and dispositions.

We begin meetings by acknowledging hidden wisdom, and bring forth the aina within our names. Living a Hawaiian way helps us maintain aloha, speak pono, bring food and enjoy the company of others. We seek harmony with the world and know that when we can share in this way, we strengthen our own commitment to the issues at hand.

Living a Hawaiian way is the essence of our uniqueness as island people and it can creatively address a wide range of housing issues if we allow it to flourish.

Lehua buds preparing to blossom symbolize the principle of nohona Hawaii, living in a Hawaiian way: “It still exists,” writes Meyer, “because we do.” Manulani Aluli Meyer

Kokua Mai, Kokua Aku: Help And Be Helped

Help and be helped does not mean: “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” It is a Hawaiian way that knows the gift is in the giving. When this knowing is shared, relationships grow and friendships deepen. We depend on each other, and this understanding brings joy and awareness into obligation.

When we gave help, we did not barter, we shared. Therein lies the difference between our Hawaiian sense of gifting and the accumulative and competitive nature of capitalism. In housing, it means we can be more creative about who can plan, build and plant around our homes. The skills of our lahui (nation) are immense, deep and wide, and the sharing economy lives. Conflict of interest will then turn into a statement of relationship so community no longer withers behind a false sense of integrity. If I don’t know you, there’s a reason for that. We are island people, and pono is recognized.

Mountain apples, symbols of the principle of kokua aku, kokua mai, illustrate the abundance that comes when generosity guides our actions, when we share rather than barter. Manulani Aluli Meyer

Auamo Kuleana: Collective Transformation Through Individual Excellence

Collective transformation through individual excellence is the noa huna (esoteric) interpretation of “carry your responsibility.” It is kin to the Buddhist idea of Paticca Samuppada or dependent co-arising. Your excellence becomes my own. We mutually evolve, or don’t, simultaneously.

I love this idea. It is summed up by my friend Dr. Ku Kahakalau who calls it the Luau Model. One doesn’t tell uncle how to heat the stones for his imu or tell aunty how to make squid luau. They know what they’re doing. Watch and learn from their excellence.

I have learned that when you allow people to activate their own excellence, things get done and miracles happen. It’s a form of energy that links into expansive channels of procreative potential. It is an old way to recognize the pono in each person and to ask: What can you do? How can you kokua this project? Objectives are transactional. Auamo kuleana is tranformational.

The ocean symbolizes the principle of auamo kuleana, the mystical amplification of life. Just as a myriad of drops form the expanse and power of an ocean, our lives are amplified when we share our individual excellence with each other. From this space, “things get done and miracles happen.” Manulani Aluli Meyer

Ike Aina: Cultural Agroforestry And Food Security

Cultural agroforestry and food security are key components to our housing movement when aloha aina is at the center.

We plant tropical island foods that have flourished here for thousands of years. We kanu niu, ulu, maia, uala, kalo – coconut, breadfruit, banana, sweet potato, kalo. We plant hala, ti, puakenikeni, plumeria, mango, avocado, uhaloa and mamaki. We plant foods and teas we love and plants that we can fashion leis, mats and life with. We grow our relationality with the plants we surround ourselves with.

My friend Bobby Camara calls this cultural landscaping. Have you ever been in lands with rejuvenated soil and running water? If you have, there is no longer any doubt why waiwai – water/water – became our word for wealth. We could produce food and then we shared.

Our future can be this. Why are we not actively looking at cultural ways to conserve water? Why canʻt we bring ways to capture water from our roofs during winter months? Ike aina is a kanaka way to learn from land, moons, seasons, winds, rains and from our responses to it all. Why not awaken to the wisdom of aina?

Niu — coconuts — speak to the principle of ike aina, of honoring the wisdom of aina and nourishing ourselves by growing foods that have flourished in these islands for thousands of years. “Our future can be this.” Manulani Aluli Meyer

Ike Kupuna: Enduring Knowledge Practices

Enduring knowledge is a gift our elders give us, over and over and over.  We are simply links in a long chain of life, and just because many of us do not see this does not make it any less real. This kind of knowing inevitably links to land and water and all the things that come with an awareness that goes beyond self-interest and the commodification of land and time.

Knowledge from those more experienced about how to care for land and people will be part of this housing movement because that is the strength of culture and the purpose of intergenerational transfer. When we do this well, everyone heals. Bring in wisdom and let us practice hoolono (listening deeply).

Kalo represents ike kupuna, enduring knowledge. The first kalo plant, Haloa-naka-lau-kapa-lili, was the iewe (infant), the first born, who had to die for us to live. Manulani Aluli Meyer

Kauhale: Housing With Shared Purpose

Housing with shared purpose is not a new idea, itʻs old. To gravitate to those interested in living in different configurations will most likely be unusual to almost everyone.

A kauhale is a small village, a community, a visionary group living in ways that harness skill, creativity and principles. Aloha aina can be a powerful source in which to gather those interested in a different way, a hoopono process, a cultural medium in which to actualize ohana and heal ourselves.  When purpose is shared, there is a larger sense of production and capacity.

Living collectively is an idea whose time has returned. Allow us to create meaning with others and watch what will happen.

The beauty and symmetry of the fruit of the pandanus, or hala, symbolizes kauhale, housing with shared purpose. It reminds us that “when purpose is shared, there is a larger sense of production and capacity.” Manulani Aluli Meyer

Haina mai ka puana. Thus ends my song of the beauty of kuu aina aloha and her role in housing.

Land loves. She is our mother and divine spark drawing us into qualities we honor and affirm. Now comes the specifics, the policies, the collaborations.

Trusting and consciousness that creates meaning with others is one game plan. There are many, many others. What is clear from this exercise is the potential we all have when we pay attention to how aina instructs.

Be clear, be moist, grow. But first, let us rejuvenate the soil of our own understanding of aloha aina/aina aloha and respect its role in worldwide awakening. We begin here. We return there. We heal here. Mau ke aloha no Hawaii.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

Read this next:

Denby Fawcett: Show More Aloha, Biki — Bike Program Should Share The Wealth

Local reporting when you need it most

Support timely, accurate, independent journalism.

Honolulu Civil Beat is a nonprofit organization, and your donation helps us produce local reporting that serves all of Hawaii.


About the Author

Manulani Aluli Meyer

Manulani Aluli Meyer is the fifth daughter of Emma Aluli and Harry Meyer from Mokapu and Hilo. She is dedicated to Indigenous knowledge and its role in worldwide awakening.

Latest Comments (0)

All these Hawaiian principles are possible when resting on a firm Hawaiian foundation. The current public opinion of the legal status of the Hawaiian Islands is that we have been occupied by the US military for 127 years. That being said, being forced to believe Hawaii is integrated into the US is illegal and a war crime. Being forced to live under a foreign law is illegal and a war crime. If we truly believe we can make positive changes under these illegal conditions and 127 years of denationalization, then common sense tells us that we will continue in the sins of the past. Common sense! Just sayin…

maltbiek · 2 years ago

Maybe part of the problem is impractical requirements that make housing artificially expensive. Did the ancient Hawaiians have building codes requiring insulated double-wall construction?

rfc · 2 years ago

These are wonderful thoughts and plans. If can do then we would all be so healthy. I must add also Samuel Mānaiakalani Kamakau's suggestion-" 'Awa was one of the choice foods of the planter."Good time to plant more 'awa in our "Cultural agroforestry and food security."

Kahua · 2 years ago

Join the conversation


IDEAS is the place you'll find essays, analysis and opinion on every aspect of life and public affairs in Hawaii. We want to showcase smart ideas about the future of Hawaii, from the state's sharpest thinkers, to stretch our collective thinking about a problem or an issue. Email news@civilbeat.org to submit an idea.


You're officially signed up for our daily newsletter, the Morning Beat. A confirmation email will arrive shortly.

In the meantime, we have other newsletters that you might enjoy. Check the boxes for emails you'd like to receive.

  • What's this? Be the first to hear about important news stories with these occasional emails.
  • What's this? You'll hear from us whenever Civil Beat publishes a major project or investigation.
  • What's this? Get our latest environmental news on a monthly basis, including updates on Nathan Eagle's 'Hawaii 2040' series.
  • What's this? Get occasional emails highlighting essays, analysis and opinion from IDEAS, Civil Beat's commentary section.

Inbox overcrowded? Don't worry, you can unsubscribe
or update your preferences at any time.