So, off we go to the airport. Arriving at the ticket counter, we are required to show a photo of ourselves, either a driver’s license photo or a passport photo. The ticket agent takes the photo, glances down at it, up at us, down at it, and up at us again. Convinced that we are ourselves, they issue our tickets to us. So off we go towards our gate; but wait: First we have to go through airport security! We give them our photo: They glance down, up, down, up, and we are then cleared to proceed to our gate. Thank goodness we have photos or we might not know who we are!
We’ve all had the experience of looking at old photos of ourselves. The baby photos of myself, for me, evoke no sense of recognition that this is myself. Some of the ones in which I am older bring back memories associated with where and when the photo was taken and there is something about knowing what surrounded the taking of that photo which helps me to recognize myself.
I am currently reading Fornander’s “Ancient History of the Hawaiian People”. In this work he speaks of the importance of genealogy for Hawaiians. What suddenly made me understand its importance was when he spoke about what happened when Ali’i departed their own territory and showed up in the territory of another Ali’i. In order to prove who he was the visiting Ali’i was required to chant his genealogy of ancestral relationships. Presumably there would be components to his genealogy that others would recognize or know to be authentic, and this recognition of where he fit into the genealogy would be the proof of who the visiting Ali’i was: His genealogy was his photo!
Our modern culture stresses mobility, change, and the inability to be tied to place. For those raised within such a rootless cultural mindset it can be difficult to recognize the self or to know where one fits in. And yet, all people… past, present and to come… need to know where they fit in. What the Hawaiian genealogies reveal to us is that we come to know ourselves according to our relationships with others. If we are having a hard time getting a sense of ourselves, let us ask: Am I willing to be a friend to anyone? Am I willing to belong to anyone? Am I willing to fit into someone else’s life? Am I willing to let others reveal me to myself?