The arts in ancient Hawai‘i were deeply connected with the rituals of daily life, says Hawai‘i ecologist Kekuhi Keali‘ikanaka‘oleohaililani, and whatever the art, there was a constant recognition that it was the ‘āina that had provided the resource to create it, whether that was a tree for a canoe or flowers for a lei or bark for kapa. Aloha ‘āina infused the constant exchange between artists and the natural world and artists honored their kuleana of reciprocity.
“Aloha ‘āina is not just to feel love for the resource, it’s a relationship of equanimity. It’s a relationship, period. In a relationship there’s always some source of exchange and sacrifice. And I think at one time we forgot to be reciprocal—humanity in general, I mean.”
But in pre-contact times, no such forgetting was possible.
“In the daily life practices of the folks before us it’s a necessary consciousness, that idea of aloha ‘āina. If I create a ritual object, in order to give that ritual object the most amount of spirit then my act of aloha or reciprocity is just as meaningful as the resource that I’m using."