Gratitude and Kuleana (Responsibility)

It’s the season of gratitude. And although it looks different this year thanks to COVID, here in Hawai‘i we have plenty to be thankful for—blue skies and sunshine, beautiful nature all around us, the beckoning ocean. Naturally, with those kinds of blessings comes “kuleana” (responsibility).

Kuleana is a very important word in our Hawai‘i Island communities. Of course wherever you live there are expectations—keep your lawn mowed and your music down; get along with your neighbors; volunteer when you can. Here in Hawai‘i, as you become more familiar with and accepted by the community, kuleana becomes more of a joy than an obligation.

You’ll learn about kuleana for the land, the beach, and the ocean, for plants and animals, and naturally for each other. During pandemic times, you may have seen the social media hashtag #OurKuleana with photos of folks wearing their masks. Across the islands, kuleana is in action as people mobilize to care for elders, children and those in need.

During the holidays, folks everywhere volunteer for community meals. On this island, St. James Episcopal Church has a year-round feeding ministry which welcomes everyone to join in preparing, or just eating and enjoying. During the pandemic, the program has expanded to a drive-by system, serving hundreds of families every week.

Community meal service

There’s another aspect of kuleana. It’s a two-way relationship between giver and receiver. If we take care of the land, for example, it’s the land’s responsibility to help feed us. At least one local pig farmer and food provider is taking his kuleana seriously, trying to help sustain Hawai‘i’s agriculture with a program called “Eat with Impact.

In the hospitality industry, Hawai‘i Tourism Authority has been working with hotels and other partners to create ways to include visitors in their kuleana, through an initiative called Malama Hawai‘i. For example, planting a Koa tree in the Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods forest can be rewarded with a free night’s stay at participating properties.

Koa Seedling – Photo Courtesy Susan Chouinard

Visiting or resident tree-huggers are welcome to visit and join in work days at Ulu La‘au Nature Park in Waimea. This all-volunteer park is a project of the Waimea Outdoor Circle, and contains the world’s largest collection of ʻōhiʻa trees. A very important tree in Hawaiian cultural tradition, the ʻōhiʻa is presently endangered by Rapid ʻōhiʻa Death, a fast-spreading fungus now destroying trees on all the islands.

For the more ocean-minded, the annual Sanctuary Ocean Count is an easy and enjoyable way to support our kuleana for Hawai‘i’s biggest visitors, the Humpback Whales. In normal years, the counts take place monthly from January to March, and everyone is welcome to participate. Subject to change due to pandemic restrictions.

Humpback whale in Hawaiian waters

And, if you think volunteering is for the birds—you’re right! In North Kohala, the Hawai‘i Wildlife Center takes care of native birds (and our one native bat species), with medical care, rehabilitation and release back to the forest or the ocean. They welcome volunteers to work with outreach projects, food prep, and “Wheels for Wildlife” transportation.

The Hawaiian Goose, or nēnē. Photo courtesy Susan Chouinard

There are countless ways to give back, and however you choose to enjoy your kuleana for your island home, you will be appreciated with aloha!