The formal Hawaiian term for grandfather is kuku kane, but tutu kane is used most commonly. Although there is no "t" in the official Hawaiian language, having been replaced by "k," tutu is still commonly spelled and pronounced with a "t." The shortened term tutu is commonly used for grandparents of both genders.
Another term sometimes used for grandparents is kapuna. This term, which more accurately translates to "elder," reflects the role of grandparents in preserving and teaching traditional culture, a role that is particularly important to Hawaiian grandfathers.
Traditional Hawaiian Culture
Depending upon the definitions used, about one tenth to one quarter of the occupants of Hawaii are identified as native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders. Still that is the culture most strongly associated with the islands. Native Hawaiians have no special status as many of the indigenous people of the other 49 states have been awarded.
In traditional Hawaiian culture, the extended family, known as ohana, is of great importance. This extended family, rather than a single individual or a couple, takes on child care and the teaching of the young. Extended families frequently live together in multigenerational households. About 12% of Native Hawaiian grandparents share housing with grandchildren, as compared to about 7% in Hawaii as a whole and less than 4% in the U.S. as a whole.
Hawaiian Grandparents as Parents
Like grandparents everywhere, Hawaiian grandparents sometimes find themselves in the position of being parents to their grandchildren. Hawaiian grandparents are most often motivated to take on this role by affection for their grandchildren rather than by a sense of obligation.
They mention unconditional love between grandparents and grandchildren as the greatest benefit of taking care of grandchildren.
Hawaiian grandparents may take to the caregiving role more naturally because of the tradition of hanai, in which someone other than the biological parents, often the grandparents, would be given a child to raise. This arrangement allowed the child to learn Hawaiian culture, family history and skills from an elder.
In modern Hawaii, grandparents usually take on child care in less positive circumstances, often due to a parent's substance abuse or incarceration. In these circumstances, grandparents often find themselves in need of help, but they prefer to receive help from family and friends rather than the government or social services. Even more than some grandparents, however, Native Hawaiians could benefit from some outreach programs. Currently they have higher rates of disease and lower life spans than any other group in Hawaii.
Some observers believe that some of these problems are related to the cultural trauma that Native Hawaiians suffered following the arrival of Captain Cook in 1778. The diseases brought by the explorers resulted in the indigenous population being practically wiped out, falling to only 40,000 at one point.
When the United States annexed Hawaii a hundred years later, the population was forbidden to speak their native language, and other aspects of their culture were lost or damaged.
Besides ohana, other concepts have shaped the Hawaiian culture. Here are some of the most important.
- Aloha is much more than a greeting in Hawaii. It encompasses the values of love, caring and compassion. This caring extends to all people and even to the land itself.
- Lokahi is the principle of balance, unity and harmony. The Lokahi triangle is the combination of the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of life. One cannot be healthy without paying attention to all three parts.
- Mahalo is an attitude of respect and appreciation. Reportedly, the first visitors to the island noticed that the indigenous people were very generous, but had no term for "thank you." Thankfulness was an attitude that one had, rather than a thought that needed to be expressed. Today you hear mahalo used as the equivalent for "thank you," although it may be mostly used with tourists.
Like grandfathers everywhere, Hawaiian grandfathers enjoy passing on their wisdom, especially if they can do it in a witty or memorable way. Some Hawaiian proverbs make allusions to the geographical features of Hawaii. The sayings only make sense to those familiar with the areas named.
- "Mount Hihimanu is all clear on top." This is said to tease a bald man. Mont Hihimanu is a mountain on Kauai, somewhat barren on top.
- "The rain of Waimea will wet through." All parties in a quarrel will suffer. Waimea is a watershed area on the Big Island of Hawaii.
- "It takes a skillful sailor to go to Lehua." Don't try to do something that is beyond your abilities. Lehua is a small, crescent-shaped island used in a traditional test of a sailor's navigational skills.
- "Step carefully when traveling through Puna." Always be watchful for treachery. The volcano rock near Puna on the Big Island makes footing difficult.