In Hawaiian, ohana is family. It includes your blood relatives and your adoptive or “intentional” family (those you get to choose, like good friends). In the island culture, ohana is very important. Many homes are built with the ohana in mind including “mother-in-law’s quarters” or separate housing structures on the property. The Hawaiians, like most freshly-Westernized tribal cultures, understand community (family, ohana) is important because close societies are built-in support systems.
They understand the addage “it takes a village to raise a child”. That quote is not only attributed to Hillary Clinton (and the title of one of her books) but is told to have its origins in African tribal society. In the single-family culture we’ve created in places like the U.S, we have been attempting to raise our children without the the help of our family and neighbors for the past several decades. How do you that’s working out for us?
Community child-rearing is important, not only to teach the child – and others – social responsibility, but ohana also gives the parents (and in many cases these days, the singular parent) a break. Child-rearing is energy-draining (if you’re doing it right). While some will argue the point, most mothers I know (myself included) know what I’m talking about. When the energy of a child can be spread across a community, like aunties, grandparents, cousins, good friends, etc – the parent needn’t become depleted or overwhelmed (and child learns not to suck the life out of individuals).
Ohana not only raises the children but it’s there for the elderly. Our elders hold the power wisdom within their hearts and minds if only we would keep them close and listen. Again, the community should care for their aging within a family environment. Children can learn from their tutu and tutu kane by having them close. They can also learn that aging isn’t scary, and death is a natural part of living.
Look at our society’s thoughts on aging. Tucking our elderly away in nursing homes and elderly communities can make the prospect of growing old a very scary thing to behold. Instead of working with nature, we try our damnedest to work against it. Watch any daytime TV and learn how “you can look years younger!”
Most tribal communities celebrating the ohana don’t fear the young or the old; they simply live, caring for each other so the stress of caring for the young, old and sick needn’t be born by a single person or couple.
We could learn so much from the cultures we are decimating “for their own good”. While I’m a U.S. citizen, I can’t agree that the “Western way” is the right way; especially when it comes to the division of communities.