As a young boy, my grandfather (kupuna kāne: KOO-poonah KAH-nay) taught me important and practical knowledge that was unique to island-living: fishing, taro farming, herb collecting for traditional Hawaiian medicines, and underground cooking with lava rocks and banana leaves. He also taught me, as generations before him had done, those ethical principles that guide Hawaiian culture. Some of these include: the importance of song (mele: may-lay) and storytelling (mo'olelo: moh-oh-lay-loh) in handing down our culture, the necessity of caring for the land (Mālama 'Āina: MAH-lah-mah AE-nah), and the indispensability of reconciliation, healing, and restoration (ho'oponopono: hoh-oh-poh-noh-poh-noh).
Growing up before the age of Twitter and Facebook, I assumed that children all over the world learned these values. I did not realize that I was receiving an ancient and rare wisdom unique to the Hawaiian Islands.
During my formative years at Franciscan University, the ancient wisdom of my Hawaiian heritage co-mingled with the universal truths and beauty of the Catholic faith that enlivened my understanding of and love for both. The more I learned about our rich Catholic faith, the more I realized that many of the lessons my grandfather taught me were the perfect primer for me to engage, understand, and internalize many eternal truths of the faith. It is as if God had inspired essential aspects of the Hawaiian pre-Christian culture I learned from my grandfather with values, significant expressions, and a living tradition that easily transitioned to original expressions of the Christian life, celebration, and thought.
Searching the Depths of a Culture
This reality is encompassed in the Catholic concept of “inculturation,” which, in short, is the process of examining the roots of a culture through the lens of the Gospel and to "bring the power of the Gospel into the very heart of culture and cultures.” The term “inculturation” is taken from various documents of the Magisterium.
The concept of inculturation, though championed and elegantly explained in recent times by Pope St. John Paul II, is not new. The root of inculturation is the example of Christ himself. The Second Person of the Trinity was incarnated and inserted into the particular culture of a particular time. He engaged the apostles within their own culture and gave them the fullness of Truth. Within a century, they, in turn, spread the Gospel across Eurasia. Marks of their inculturation to the different peoples they evangelized can still be seen today in the glorious array of differing liturgical expressions throughout the 24 sui iuris churches that make up our Catholic Church in Hawaii.