Peter Apo: Aloha Is Hawaii Law, a Global Brand and Positive Behavior System
In 1986, the Hawaii Legislature made the interesting decision to pay special attention to the word “aloha” and incorporate it into the Revised Statutes of Hawaii. This section of the statutes is titled “Law of the Aloha Spirit”.
The language of the law included a popular definition of Aloha already created by Aunt Pilahi Paki, who was a renowned educator, philosopher, linguist and poet.
Aunt Pilahi defines aloha as follows:
Akahai, which means benevolence to be expressed with tenderness;
THEokahi, meaning unity, to be expressed with kindness;
Oluolu, meaning pleasant, to be expressed with kindness;
Ha’aha’a, which means humility, to be expressed with modesty;
Ahonui, meaning patience, to be expressed with perseverance.
The legislature had good intentions when it codified into law a Hawaiian word that characterizes a system of behavior celebrated by all Hawaiians. The challenge is that the word aloha is subject to so many manifestations that it is impossible to restrict its meaning to a single definition. Aloha has no English equivalent.
The word aloha is actually the fusion of two words. Alo, meaning to be in his immediate presence – and – Ha, meaning breath, as in the breath of life.
Aloha, was usually played between two people with what is known as a honi – two people greeting each other by squeezing their noses and exhaling at the same time, acting aloha in an exchange of breaths – the breath of life.
Over time, the honi has been replaced by a simple hug, although one can still witness a honi between two Hawaiians from time to time. Of course, in the age of the pandemic, the hug is avoided. It doesn’t matter – honi or hug – the meaning remains the same. In its main manifestation, aloha is an unconditional extension of love, trust, friendship, and the acceptance of responsibility for the well-being of everyone.
Aloha goes global
This greeting of unconditional friendship called aloha was widely extended to thousands of soldiers and sailors entering and leaving Hawaii, traveling to and from the Pacific Theater during World War II. After the war, thousands of tourists experienced the same aloha, then returned home and told their friends about it. It was a marketer’s and an advertiser’s dream to have such a scalable brand to work with.
Today, aloha is a powerful global brand. The dynamics of tourists’ appreciation for their experience in Hawaii can best be explained by the words of poet Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. “I can’t think of a better way to describe the essence of the early Hawaii tourist experience than this. In the end, it took visitors beyond the sunny beaches, palm trees and nights stars, and sent them home with a little aloha in their hearts for Hawaii and its people.
Of course, the globalization of the word aloha has given it great marketing and advertising value. The word aloha has become a sought-after trademark for companies doing business here or abroad. Today, literally hundreds of companies – not just in Hawaii – have incorporated aloha into their names.
With the increase in global recognition of the word aloha, a few out-of-state companies have attempted to register the word as a trademark. So far, these efforts have been successfully blocked. The word aloha, by itself, cannot be a registered trademark. But, it was deemed OK if combined with another word, as in the case of a major Chicago restaurant chain bearing the words “Aloha Poke”.
Despite backlash from legal scholars believing that the two words, aloha and poke, are culturally important Hawaiian words that should be protected from cultural appropriation, Aloha Poke has been recognized as a legal mark.
Aloha – The Reflective Prism
Aloha has become a Hawaiian cultural concept that functions as a dynamic prism through which all other positive behavioral values are refracted. And it is important to understand that aloha is not limited to human-to-human exchange. Aloha talks about humanity’s relationship to all things – humans, animals, plants, and whatever makes the world go round.
Thus, the substructure of the word aloha is a framework of Hawaiian values that address the challenges of quality of life. A coding system for the word aloha presented in a training program developed by the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association included 32 Hawaiian values. Thus, Aunt Pilahi Paki’s definition of aloha is expanded by leaps and bounds into a comprehensive, values-based guide to living life.
I would be remiss if I did not note an important aloha aspect that is seldom recognized. It’s supposed to be a two-way street. The Hawaiian phrase for the concept is – Aloha aku, Aloha mai – extended aloha, aloha has returned.
The general concept of Aloha aku, Aloha Mai is actually a primary focus of the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s Destination Management Action Plans. The goal is to educate tourists to make aloha reciprocal by educating them to engage in an activity that respects Hawaii and its people and leaves it a better place than they found it.
The universality of Aloha
Aloha is fundamental to the Hawaiian community psyche, embraced by all Hawaiians, and routinely acts in thousands of acts of kindness, tolerance, understanding, and benevolence. Aloha is innate to the Hawaiian condition and seems to define us as a society. President John F. Kennedy, while visiting Hawaii, was so impressed with the behavior of the people of Hawaii that he said, “Hawaii is what the rest of the world wants to be.
Aloha, in its deepest manifestation, is a whole lifestyle system. It is a system of personal behavior that transcends religion, race, color, creed, political party, gender, and other conditions of life. Given the state of a shrinking world, with all of its growing political, cultural and racial clashes, the world has never needed a heavy dose of aloha so much.
It would be a transformation if the concept of aloha were to be broadly defined as the language of ‘we’ and promoted as a system of international behavior under a global banner whose global citizenship becomes bound by a common set of values. That the word aloha represents a global commitment to peace, human dignity and love for one another.
Maybe we can start with simple, random acts of aloha. If each of us maintained throughout the day a sense of awareness of the small opportunities to express aloha. A simple and sincere smile to a stranger. Pick up waste. Hold a door open for someone. Courtesy at the wheel. A small donation to a good cause at a supermarket cash register. Make a list. I leave you with this simple thought – if you are not living with aloha, you are underachieving. Aloha.