He Aliʻi Ka ʻĀina, He Kauwā Ke Kanaka
The land is a chief; man is its servant
HE ALIʻI KA ʻĀINA; HE KAUWĀ KE KANAKA. #531*
The land is a chief; man is its servant.
Land has no need for man, but man needs the land and works it for a livelihood.
He aliʻi ka ʻāina, the land is a chief, he kauwā ke kanaka, the human is a servant. This ʻōlelo noʻeau is a reminder of the kuleana (responsibility, privilege) we have as people to serve ʻāina, as well as the reassurance that in return ʻāina will care for, feed, and provide for our needs.
Good aliʻi (chiefs) were intent to care for the needs of their people. There was an understanding that the authority they yielded and inherited was both a responsibility as well as a privilege. Thus, they were called to lead in a way that was not just beneficial for them personally but that brought health and prosperity to those under their care. At times this meant giving sacrificially of themselves for the benefit of the lāhui (the nation). We see this in the social services provided for the Hawaiian community today, as many of our aliʻi nui (high chiefs) and mōʻī (kings and queens) set up trusts sometimes giving their entire estates to care for the health, well-being, education, and prosperity of their people. In this same way, ʻāina, when cultivated and allowed to thrive, gives of itself to feed and nourish kānaka. As ʻāina thrives, so do we.
This ʻōlelo noʻeau is a humble reminder of our dependence on ʻāina for sustenance. We as kānaka, or people, have a kuleana to serve and to care well for the ʻāina we are given to steward. It is both a responsibility and a privilege. In order to mālama (care for) anyone well, a relationship must be cultivated. This takes both time and action as we learn how best to care for one another. This applies to ʻāina as well. Through kilo, or observations, and by spending time caring for and cultivating ʻāina, we learn better what it needs. While this takes time, ʻāina in turn will begin to thrive and be able to support and provide for us as kānaka. This is lōkahi (unity, balance, harmony), and it is from this place that health, healing, and vibrancy begin to flow.
- What is your relationship with ʻāina like? Would you say it is healthy? Why or why not?
- How do you mālama (care for) ʻāina?
- What are practical ways you can practice the ʻōlelo noʻeau, “he aliʻi ka ʻāina, he kauwā ke kanaka”? What might be the outcome of doing this?
- How might caring for ʻāina bring a healthier balance and well-being for you? How about for your family or community?
- Lōkahi: unity, agreement, harmony
- Aliʻi: Royalty, chief
- ʻĀina: Land, that which feeds
- Kauwā: Servant
- Kanaka: Person
- Mōʻī: King or queen
- Lāhui: Nation
- Kilo: To observe, watch closely
- Kuleana: Responsibility, privilege, authority
- Mālama: To care for
- What does this moʻolelo teach us about the connection between ʻāina and kanaka?
- Based on the moʻolelo, how are kalo and kānaka meant to care for one another? How does ʻāina care for kanaka? What kuleana do kānaka have to care for ʻāina?
- What lessons can we learn from the moʻolelo of Hāloa? How might this connect with our ʻōlelo noʻeau?
- What is the author urging readers to do? What is the underlying fear?
- Where was this taking place? What was that area like at the time this article was written?
- What is this area like today? Are there hundreds of acres of loʻi kalo there today? Currently, do we see many people working this ʻāina? Is it producing food?
- Why and how do you think this transition took place?
- How do you think this author would react to seeing this ʻāina today? What might they do about it?
- What can we do to steward this ʻāina differently?
- How might we apply this ʻōlelo noʻeau to the information presented in this article?
Possible Extension Activities
Reflect on the lōkahi triangle and your relationship with ke Akua, with ʻāina/kai, and with other kanaka. What are the areas where these connections are strong? Where can they be strengthened? Set some short term and long term goals. What can you do to strengthen each of these connections? Come with a plan and hold yourself accountable to these things, checking back and reflecting each week.
- What plants and animals are growing? What do they sound, smell, and feel like (as appropriate)? Do they change at different times of the day or year?
- When does it rain? What does the rain look, sound, smell, feel, and taste like? Are there different types of rains that I notice? What are their characteristics? Where and when do the clouds gather? Are there different types of clouds that come around at different times of the day or at different times of the year?
- What do our streams, rivers, and springs look like? Do they change over time? What does the rain look, sound, smell, and feel like?
- What is happening in the ocean? What do you see, smell, hear, feel (and taste if appropriate)? Does the activity (waves, animals, limu, etc.) change at different times of the day or year? Are there different types of fish, limu, or other animals present at different types of the year?
- Math: Measure the area needed to plant. Create a sketch of the area with a key that includes your measurement scale. Be sure to map out where each of your plants will go. Each kalo should be around one haʻilima (from elbow to fingertip) apart.
- Science: Prepare the soil mixing it with natural organic fertilizers and/or compost before planting. Do daily observations of your kalo and other things in the ʻāina. You can record this data along with measurements on a data table or use our Kilo Journal.
- English: Write poems, reflections, or short stories about your māla and the food you are growing. Write an argumentative essay or constructed response about the importance of food sovereignty and growing our own food.
- Social Studies: Research the konohiki, ahupuaʻa, and moku systems in Hawaiʻi and the self-sufficiency of traditional Hawaiian land management.
- What have you learned about what your plants need to stay healthy? How do they respond to different things you have or have not done?
- How are tasks like watering and pulling weeds essential to the healthy growth of your plants? What happens when you do or don’t do these things?
- How might caring for those plants also help you, your family, and your community to thrive?
- Do you notice a shift in your own demeanor when you see your plants thriving?
- What do you think would happen if you were not there to care for your māla? How would its health be affected? How would you be affected as well?
- Sterling & Summers. 1978. Sites of Oahu
- Pukui, Elbert & Mookini. 1974. Place Names of Hawaiʻi
- Akana & Gonzales. 2015. Hānau Ka Ua
- Hawaiian Dictionary
- Hawaiian Language Newspapers
- Hawaiʻinuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge Resources
- Pictures & Other Documents
- Bishop Museum Archives
- Hawaiʻi State Archives:
- Photograph Collection: https://ags.hawaii.gov/archives/about-us/photograph-collection/
- Ulukau Hawaiian Electronic Library: http://ulukau.org/
- For information relating to KAILUA, click here.
- How do those activities strengthen your connection with wai?
- How do these connections strengthen your overall health and the health of ʻāina?
*Pukui, M. K., & Varez, D. (1983). ʻŌlelo Noʻeau: Hawaiian Proverbs & poetical sayings. Honolulu, Hawai’i: Bishop Museum Press.