|In ancient Hawaii, marriage between
a man and a woman, called ho'ao pa'a, was a lasting relationship. A man
did not leave his wife nor the wife her husband. This form of marriage
in which each took a single mate originated as a command from the god to
Hulihonua and his wife Keakauhulilani and lasted for 27 generations. The
parents of the boy and the parents of the girl discussed the idea of
marriage and then asked the couple if that suited them. If so, the
couple began a period of preparation for marriage, learning skills and
the value of work to prepare them for living together. When that was
completed, the parents of the boy and girl commanded them to take care
of each other, they embraced (honi), and they became husband and wife.
Sometimes marriages were arranged for a boy and a girl who lived in
different places. Gifts of feathers, ivory, pearls or other valuable
gifts were sent to the girl and her parents by the boy's parents.
Likewise the girl's parents sent similar gifts to the boy and his
parents. These gifts were called lou (hooks) or lou 'ulu (breadfruit
hooks), which symbolized a binding marriage.
Wakea introduced the "sin" (hewa) of mating with many women when he took
three wives, and his wife Papa in revenge took eight husbands. After
this time unions took two forms, one in which men and women took many
mates and one in which they had only one mate. It was primarily the
chiefs and wealthy people who took many mates.
In old Hawaii, life revolved around the extended family and the clan; it
was an 'ohana' (family) society (a group of both closely and distantly
related people who share nearly everything: land, food, children,
status, and the spirit of aloha.) Hawaiians viewed family as relatives
as well as people who they loved or people who joined them in
cooperative actions. They had a great deal of respect for their elders.
There was no such thing as an unwanted child within this system. In old
Hawaii children were told that they were bowls of light, put here to
shine spirit greatness. A kupuna (grandparent) carved a bowl for each
keiki (child). Children were expected to put a rock (pohaku) in that
bowl whenever their behavior would dim the light of that bowl. This was
self-directed and done on an honor-basis. Pohaku represented an
experience that could be used as a lesson for living. Regularly keike
brought their bowls to meet with the kupuna to review their conduct.
Hawaiians loved their children, but had a different view from whites in
raising them. Hawaiians believed children were given for enjoyment, and
they allowed them all the freedom of action which the adults wanted for
Children were raised by, not only their parents, but by grandparents and
other relatives. Hanai was the kanaka maoli custom whereby a family
adopts a child given by someone else and raises that child as a family
member. No written records were necessary. (In old Hawaii there was no
writing.) No stigma was attached to being "hanai." The practice of hanai
was used to ensure that the Hawaiian culture was passed on to the
younger generation. The claim of the grandparents upon their
grandchildren took precedence over the claim of the parents who bore
them. The parents could not keep the child without the grandparents'
permission. A male child was offered to the parents of the father, and a
female child was offered to the mother's parents. Parents would offer
their children out of respect, as a gift of the greatest possible value.
If the child were not offered, the grandparents would ask for the hanai
privilege; they could not be refused. This practice extended into the
community so that if the biological parents were unable to adequately
provide for the needs of the child, someone else would be chosen to be
the hanai parents. Children were also passed on to relatives or friends
who had no children.
Hanai was practiced by the alii too. Liliuokalani was the hanai child of
chiefs of higher rank than her parents. In her biography she reports
that hanai "is not easy to explain... to those alien to our national
life, but it seems perfectly natural to us. As intelligible a reason as
can be given is that this alliance by adoption cemented the ties of
friendship between the chiefs."
Later on, when other nationalities took up residence on the islands,
there was ready acceptance of non-blood "kin." John Young, an English
boatswain of a small American fur trading vessel, and Isaac Davis, a
member of the crew, were hanai into Kamehameha's family.
The custom of hanai was strongly condemned by the missionaries. They
couldn't understand the looseness of natural family ties. They were
influenced by their concept of the "immediate family."
Hanai exists today, but not always for the purpose of maintaining the
Hawaiian culture. Kailua-Kona "Mother of the Year 2002" had five
children, three adopted children, six hanai children, twelve
grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. I have heard of a person who
was brought into a Hawaiian family at the age of 50, a definite
expression of aloha. The term "hanai" is still common today; you may
hear people referring to their "hanai Mom" or their "hanai sister."
Listen. Would you want to become a hanai child
of a warm Hawaiian family?