We are in Southwestern, Virginia, and for me--who reared young sons in Roanoke from 1986 to 1994--it is a coming home. Nowhere are people more compassionate, less likely to erect barriers to intimacy--or more falsely maligned--than in the heart of the old Confederacy. I was guilty of just such regional accusations and stereotypes--until I lived here. My small family came to depend on the kindness of total strangers in those vulnerable years, and we were never disappointed. I yearned to bring 'Iokepa "home" with me. He (with his long silver hair and his brown aboriginal face) has yet to meet a stranger here. He has encountered a level of civility among the racially diverse, that is (we both believe) lacking in places that are more universally credited for open-minded hospitality: the Hawaiian Islands among them.
We have a Southern friend who sums it up: "You don't have to like me. But that's no reason to be impolite"
And that is the truth of Roanoke. Northerners are quick to point historically self-righteous fingers. But the truth, here, is a society that takes care of its own. In that way, the American South shares values with the indigenous Hawaiians: Their deep sense of community--an assumed responsibility for one another, beyond the narrow confines of, "Family."
And with that, I will digress.
We have had two delightfully successful Return Voyage retreats here, this week. There were no Native Hawaiians present, with the singular exception of 'Iokepa. Instead, the living rooms were crammed with people who simply wanted to know more. Some had vacationed on the Islands, most had not. The questions were deep, probing, and respectful. The rooms were alive with authentic exchange.
I come now full circle. Within the retreats, there were Hawaiian words, 'Iokepa spoke, that touched Virginian hearts. Participants asked us to write them here, to spell them out carefully, to help with the pronunciation, and then, to define them fully.
So, for those Virginians who have given of their hearts and minds in support of the Hawaiian people, their culture, and the Return Voyage--in honor of the best of our shared values, we offer this.
'Ohana (pronounced, "Oh-hahnah"). This word has been shrunk in common usage to mean only, "Family." However, it's aboriginal meaning is: "Everything you can see, that you can wrap your heart around, is your responsibility to take care of."
Kahiau (pronounced, "Kah-hee-ow"). This word has virtually dropped out of modern usage. It means: "Giving, with no expectation of return."
And finally: Aloha (pronounced, ""Alo-HA"). This word has been narrowly defined to mean: "Hello," "Good-bye," or "Love." 'Iokepa says: "It means none of those things. We have words for those three." It means instead: "In the presence of God in every breath." As greeting, it is an acknowledgement of your soul.
So 'Iokepa and I have travelled a long way from Hawai'i, and a day doesn't pass when we do not miss faces, places, and the gentility of the genuine Hawaiian culture. But our message is community; our message is the shared responsibility for every part this earth. And 6,000 miles from Hawai'i, we have been warmly embraced by people who live that still.