Monday, April 23, 2007

The Meaning Of Aloha And Kokua...

Kokua is a Hawaiian word, that translates as "extending loving, sacrificial help to others for their benefit, not for personal gain..." Hawaii indeed has something to teach the world, other than the Hula. If you remember, Hawaiians embraced visitors from the outside world with a smile, flower leis, and their word for 'welcome' and 'love,' "Aloha."
And what did Americans do when they were thusly invited as a guest into their beautiful islands?
American businessmen, with the help of a garrison of US Marines overthrew Hawaii's queen by arresting and imprisoning her and claimed Hawaii for America... Hawaiians will never forget that.
Yet, they smile, drape a flower lei over your shoulders, and say softly, "Aloha."

The world is a global economy and America has long dominated it with little regard for the wellbeing of people abroad, often supporting dictatorial regimes that brought harm to its own citizens, including those of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, of Marcos in the Philippines, Pinochet in Chile, Batista in Cuba, and many more. In Hawaii, it set up a new government and abandoned the Hawaiian monarchie, not to liberate the Hawaiian people, but to control the strategically situated island group and carve up its resources so that greedy businessmen could build legacies that to this day bear their names (and shame as plunderers of 'paradise'). The Office of Hawaiian Affairs has a long and tainted past, with few Hawaiians having benefitted from its programs. A once proud nation reduced to entertainers and workers at Waikiki hotels...
You may not agree with my sketch of American-Hawaiian history, but it does illustrate a policy of greed, military might, and mingling in the affairs of independent nations. Any parallels with the present are, of course, purely coincidental, but one may deduct that "freedom," when administered by US Marines, may be harmful to your wellbeing.

As responsible global citizens we ought to extend 'kokua' to the global community and people in less industrialized communities or countries striving to establish a valid economic existence—often engaged in agriculture and the production of handmade products. The politics of the past have not quite resulted in creating 'friends for life' overseas, and American corporations have further eroded goodwill with predatory practices. Still, as American businesses we should be encouraged to design and manufacture either locally or abroad, without bringing harm to the American worker—a current theme of 'Buy America' protectionists that are nationalistic in sentiment.
If anything, small businesses are able to bring products to market at a fair price that otherwise never would have been produced in the United States, including Hawaii. So, that 'Hawaiian' puka shell necklace you bought in Haleiwa on Oahu's North Shore may have been manufactured in the Philippines. Does it really matter?

Let's not become myopic at a time when the internet is empowering communities around the world and enabling people to trade with one another products and ideas in a peaceful manner. That the large multinational corporations (who themselves are exporting and outsourcing tens of thousands of American jobs) may not like our new trade model is just too bad. Have you been laid off or fired by one of them already? Ebay may be your next source of income. Perhaps if large corporations had behaved as responsible world citizens (think of Dow subsidiary Union Carbide and the environmental disaster in Bhopal, India, that has yet to be cleaned up) people abroad would view American corporations differently. It may be up to us, as consumers, employees, and entrepeneurs to engage in responsible trade that brings pride and approval to all involved, and makes the end-user feel good about their choice. A little Kokua goes a long way. Then, when we are respected as friends we can share our values and perhaps—and never at the point of a gun—spread our personal interpretation of 'Aloha.'

Sure, there will always be large companies trying to dominate one another in the global marketplace, and powerful businessmen will keep finding ways to secure themselves of profit with the aid of politicians and at the cost of shattered lives at home and abroad. It's up to each of us to counterbalance that and engage with one another by spreading Aloha and Kokua. Let every decision be one of vision. A long-lasting vision for long-lasting peace. This we understand better when someone smiles, drapes a flower lei over your shoulders, and says, "Aloha."

©2004 Rudolf Helder

3 comments:

Husby said...

Your commentary is not too far off. Shameful history.

Justin Fujimura said...

I definitely believe in your message of love and acceptance, and the missionaries from all nations were not kind to the Hawaiians. The systematic destruction of Hawaiian culture, along with nearly all other native cultures conqured by white Americans on their march west, is nothing short of shameful.

However, Hawaii's deep water ports and strategic location meant it was goind to be conqured, if not by America, then one of the other industrialized nations of the Pacific. At least now America, secure in her power, is trying to make amends for past mistakes, and is getting better at acknowledging and respecting other cultures. I'm not sure the same could be said for the other powers who could have potentially become the rulers of the Hawaiian islands.

Hawaii Boy said...

What if the shell necklace from the Philippines was made with child labor? Or, what if it came from China and was made with prison labor. Or, from Bangladesh made in a hellish sweatshop? And let's not forget that the native Hawaiians practiced a caste system where the lower caste were treated as slaves. I think you would prefer that only if you could be in the ruling caste.