Moanalua Gardens Foundation
Cultural and Environmental Education in Hawaii
1352 Pineapple Place, Honolulu, Hawaii 96819-1754
Phone: (808) 839-5334; Fax (808) 839-3658
mgf-hawaii@hawaii.rr.com

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What is Hana Kupono (Hawaiian Protocol)?

by Samuel M. Ohukaniohia Gon III, Ph.D.
Senior Scientist and Cultural Advisor, The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii
and consultant to MGF

It is the right behavior,
conducted at the appropriate time,
by the proper people,
presented to the correct recipients,
toward a positive and significant end.

Protocol almost always involves words, presented usually in the form of oli, or chant. Chant takes the power of words, themselves recognized as highly significant in Hawaiian and in many other cultures, and extends that power of words to a higher level that fulfills several functions:

  • It focuses the attention of all participants to the task at hand.
  • It evokes respect in the form of silence and attention on the part of the recipients.
  • It prepares the participants to engage seriously in what will follow.
  • It initiates a set of responses from those who know the protocol, and therefore sets into action a social process that unifies not only those who conduct the protocol but also all who are involved.
  • It transforms the mood from the mundane and ordinary into something deeper and more important.
  • It links all participants together and consolidates them into a unit.
  • It links the participants to their surroundings via an enhanced sense of place.
  • It expresses and confirms a living and vital Hawaiian culture, making each person a bit more appreciative of and more connected to these islands that we call home.

Protocol suggests that training and practice is involved, and indeed this is so. The practice is a traditional and oral one, with teachers passing the proper and expected behaviors to their students. Students and teachers in turn practice protocol with each other and develop comfort at conducting themselves in very specific ways that often demand exactly the right words and actions in a prescribed sequence. Proper behavior and words are highly dependent on the situation. For example, the protocol for greeting a person of significance is different from the protocol of entry to a significant site, and different from the protocol for presentation of an offering or gift.

Whatever the situation, protocol is based on a foundation of values that are important to everyone, regardless of their ancestry or upbringing. These are fundamentals such as respect for others and for the land, an attitude of sharing and responsibility for maintaining a balance between self and society and between human beings and the rest of the universe.

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revised 25 June 2007
Hawaiian diacriticals have been intentionally omitted.