I once heard of a woman who named her newborn daughter “Placenta.” When asked by an interviewer why she did this she replied, “I just liked the sound of the name.” Sad to say, this now does not seem to be an isolated instance of parents plucking a strange name out of the air, or out of their emotional needs, or out of a current trend, and saddling their child with it. Having come untethered from tradition and from family connectedness, some people now seem to find a sense of uniqueness in the strange names that they give their kids, a sense missing from within themselves. How different this is from the Hawaiian custom of giving names. In Hawaiian culture your name carries within it your genealogy and your place within that family; to a non-Hawaiian ear the name may seem excessively long… and unpronounceable!… but to a Hawaiian that name speaks of belonging within a family, an ʻOhana.
An important virtue within Hawaiian culture is that of respect, particularly the giving of it to others. To the non-Hawaiian mind expressing respect may seem to be as if one is acknowledging that the other is superior to the self… a heretical thought to the Western mind… but for the Hawaiian the giving of respect is a recognition of the Divine in the other; for the Hawaiian, “respectfulness” is the Divine quality that denotes our being a human being! This issue of respect is at the heart of the bestowing of a lei on someone as well as the recognition that one never goes to a meal at another’s home empty-handed. As a monk of around 40 years I long ago had to wrestle with my place in the grand scheme of things and this has resulted in a sense of gratitude within me, as well as a desire to treat others with respect. I once answered the telephone only to discover that the Empress Farah Pahlavi was on the other end desiring to discuss a letter that I had sent to her. Even though she had no way of knowing this, out of respect I immediately stood and stayed standing for the entire 10 minutes of that call. It just seemed right to me.
The Hawaiian sense of respect even extends into the nature around us, again a recognition of the Divine within it. Sam Ohu Gon III, a Hawaiian friend on Facebook who I very much respect, once wrote: “I remember being dismayed when people came back from a hike into native forest with things they had chopped down ‘just because we might need it someday’, and it was clear they had looked on their presence in the sacred uplands as some kind of shopping spree. It is a symptom of a colonized mind-set, this viewing of the world as made up of commodities.” For the Hawaiian, going into the forest to gather is not simply a matter of taking things: One asks permission of the land to gather, one gathers only what one needs, and one brings back to give back to the land. I suspect that many non-Hawaiians would view this as a waste of time; just go in and get what you want and get out. After all, what has respect got to do with it?!!!