Lehua, Ka’ao a ka Wahine: A Hawaiian Noble Woman Comes of Age - Coming of Age, “Kuleana”, In the Times of Change in Hawaiian Culture

"Danse des femmes des les iles Sandwich after Louis Choris", Hula dancers depicted in drawing from 1822, Bishop Archives, Public Domain.

Many societies have coming-of-age ceremonies when young people make the transition from a child to an adult. In Hawaii, that crossing was more obvious for a kane [boy] than for a wahine [girl].  Like many young people today, Lehua was not aware of the moment when she became responsible for her life's task.

In her Hawaiian culture, such responsibility is called kuleana, which means each person's capability and duty to self, family, community, and the land.  Initially, when every Kanaka [native] ohana [family] lived three generations to a kauhale [cluster of houses], the term kuleana meant the portion of the valley that was traditionally theirs to tend for a livelihood, which is the section of flooded loi where their kalo was raised. The irrigation system was a community project and responsibility. Therefore, each family was responsible for the whole system given the integral importance of each small family portion.

In a larger context, the term was applied to members of the ohana when the ho'o opono pono method of resolving family and community problems was applied.  Each family member knew his or her responsibility to relatives and to the community.

No ali'i [nobles] worked in a loi and their behavior was usually curbed by a sacred kahuna instead of a family council. For them, kuleana meant their responsibility to lead the society.

Most of us learn our kuleana when we look about, recognize injustice, witness need and are struck by humanity's struggle for dignity. Our kuleana becomes apparent when we come to know families, communities, organizations and our society around us.

For many Kanaka children, their kuleana became official at about the age of ten or twelve. At that age, a grandparent would bestow an adult name and might send the child to live hanai [foster child] with a family to learn the particular skills of that ohana. Kane might learn the stars of celestial navigation, wahine, the mysteries of medicinal plants.

Lehua realized her kuleana when outside forces tore her family apart and forced her to understand and straddle both sides of a searing argument: Her queen suspended the native religion, forcing all Kanaka [natives] into Christianity.

The reader comes to understand Lehua’s obligation as she confronts the successive risks of outside dangers and internal influences.  We see her grow into that kuleana while she studies to be a great hula dancer, fends off unacceptable suitors and matures as a leader.  Lehua also finds herself in a forbidden love affair and mysteriously becomes the one chosen by her amakaua [ancestor spirit] to bear the future Keeper of the Secrets. This sorcerer child will be a criminal when it is born. 

As others of the ali'i (nobility) flee to the safe new royal position, Lehua sees the need to guide the ignorant common people through this difficult transition.  Ironically, she begins the process by falling in love with a mixed-race Hawaiian paniolo [cowboy], a living example of the series of external invasions that will lead to America's first colonial experiment in the Pacific 70 years later.

Lehua watches as outsiders undermine the values of her culture and replace them with terribly repressive ones in the name of Christianity. These pressures called Manifest Destiny, were not unique to Hawai'i; they were part of the attack by Westerners on native peoples worldwide in the name of The White Man's Burden (4).  


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Author: Parola, Gene 8stories and lessons created

Original Release: Feb 13, 2015

Updated Last Revision: Jun 02, 2016

To cite this story (For MLA citation guidance see easybib or OWL ):

"Coming of Age, “Kuleana”, In the Times of Change in Hawaiian Culture" AwesomeStories.com. Feb 13, 2015. Jul 22, 2019.
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