My husband and I came to Maui in 1992 from the East Coast. My family was farming in New Jersey in 1619, so this was a radical move. Only transplants know the deep urge that brings us to Hawai'i. It cannot be explained, makes no financial sense, takes us away from our own family--but we feel like we belong here. After two decades, perhaps I have the answer. It rests in one simple word--"kakou." In Hawaiian, it means "we/us," including all listeners. No one is left out.
The first people we befriended were Hawaiian, Filipino and Japanese Nisei. I was fascinated by their stories of plantation days, family orientation, backyard lu'au and simple lives. They didn't seem to mind that we are haole. Since I am a niele (inquisitive) person, I kept wondering what made these people so different from Mainland folk. Free adult classes at Punana Leo allowed me to learn 'olelo Hawai'i and I began studying Hawaiian history. Our friendship with these local families changed us. We came here alone, but immediately we were in a canoe with plenty guys.
Harry and I were retired. I was only 45, so I found work at Sports Pro Hawai'i in Lahaina. For 18 years, I worked in sales and marketing for Johnson & Johnson, and this small company was very different.
Katherine Kama‘ema‘e Smith
When Sports Pro moved to Honolulu and was bought by a national firm, I began writing a book about the Hawaiians who lived at Honokahua before Honolua Ranch. "The Love Remains" ended up as a history of West Maui. Researching, writing and publishing was a group effort and the acknowledgements page was very long. Selling a "Hawaiiana" book took me all over Maui, Molokai, Hawai'i Island and O'ahu, and into discussions with Hawaiian tutu, leaders, businesspeople and activists. Some questioned my work because I am haole, but I had the love and support of my adopted family, teachers, tutu, friends and descendants of my protagonist. It was not my book--it was our book.
Perhaps this break from Mainland culture is exactly the lure of Hawai'i. Here, we all paddle the canoe--success and failure are both shared. We are "all in" at every fluctuation of our fragile economy; all at risk when storms or summer wildfires threaten. Our lives depend on one another. There is no hiding.
When Boyd Mossman first invited me to the Maui Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce Business Fest conference in 2009, I was very impressed by high quality presentations and panel discussions from business leaders from all sectors. Believe it or not, writing is a business--and as a businessperson, I wanted to join MNHCoC. When I asked Mercer "Chubby" Vicens if I could join, he told me, "We are not exclusive, if you want to practice Hawaiian values in your business and have aloha in your heart, you may join this organization."
Now, as communications chairperson, I get to work and network with businesspeople who share my heart for Hawai'i--and practice it's culture. Whether you are Hawaiian, Filipino, Japanese, Latino or Jersey Girl, practicing Hawaiian culture brings us together: aloha - kindess, 'ohana - family, po'okela - excellence, ho'okipa - hospitality, alu like - cooperation, kokua - assistance, ho'olako - provision, kuleana - responsibility, mahalo - gratitude, 'imi 'ike - seeking knowledge, ho'ohana - work, hau'oli - lightheartedness, ha'aha'a - humility, hoihi - reverence, pono - righteousness, ho'ohanohano - honorable conduct and kakou - inclusion.
I believe kakou gives us hope for the future.