Finding a New Unity – Part 2: Kapu Aloha: Reflections on the Aloha `Aina Unity Movement in Hawai`i

Part 2 – Kapu Aloha: Reflections on the Aloha ‘Āina Unity Movement in Hawai’i


There is another problem that lives in the realm of education and stands in the way of new social unities. It comes from the complex residue of thousands of years of ethnic, racial and gender oppression, embedded in dominant conventional cultures. These are historical wounds that affect whole social classes, races and cultural groups. While modern bigotry and oppression is often of a less dramatic nature than its historical precursors, it is no less effective at dividing common people who otherwise have essentially the same sets of interests when it comes to the environment and social and economic justice. To borrow from the previous blog, “we are all on a global industrial train heading for the same ecological cliff”. But globally our nations, religious sects and independence movements are fighting and bombing one another instead of working together to redirect the damn train.

To make matters more complicated, there are always overlapping legacies of oppression and conflict. For example, in the Middle East, Suni Muslims face historical conflict between Suni sects. Extreme factions practice hatred against Shia Muslims. Depending upon majorities and minorities and which sect controls the government of a particular region, there are class struggles woven into the religious sectarian histories. There are cultural and language differences that make communication challenging, as well as gender oppression issues. Laid over all of that is the global hegemony of the “developed” nations over the “developing” nations. Other examples are: How corporate globalization asserts control over the resources that fuel the global economy; The historical conflicts between Jews, Christians and Muslims and how genocide and land theft of indigenous people is woven through all three cultural and religious histories; The persecution of non-heterosexual persons by patriarchal cultures. Each of these examples are tangled messes, fraught with violence, betrayal and mistrust that dates back generations and hundreds, sometimes thousands of years.

Every place on earth has its particular version of this story. Today, this is all cooking under pressure as the climate shifts and resources become scarce. To sort this out and make peace in such a situation is…not probable. Possible, but not probable. Where do we turn for historical examples that can help us? What kind of time-frames are reasonable? How do transition strategies apply in this situation? What is the current role of the “developed” (industrial) nations and global corporate interests in keeping these conflicts “hot”? How can we cool them? How do we apply our understanding of Natural Law, that everything is connected and that all life requires reciprocity, to apply water to these intense global fires? How can we infuse culture with the human principle that puts kindness, compassion and caretaking at the top of our social priority list?

These are the poignant questions of the global environmental justice movement as well as the growing indigenous rights movement. One thread is coming from the more modern cultural bias of social and environmental activism, with some leaders and spokespeople and many allies from educated middle and upper class backgrounds. The other thread is emerging as indigenous leaders are finding ways to make their voices heard and building connections with one-another, across cultures, in their struggle to protect or reclaim their land and sovereignty. These two movements are coming together to create powerful alliances. But even with shared goals, the histories of betrayal and oppression make these new alliances fragile and tentative, understandably so.

The efforts to build unity in the environmental justice movement, the indigenous rights movement and the global climate justice movement offer us great hope in the global political arena. This mounting global movement holds great promise for effective solutions to both the micro-local and the macro-global conflicts and industrial scale destruction of nature.

However, deeply entrenched historical conflicts have much social encumbrance. They are devouring the human and natural resources that we desperately need for addressing economic justice, ecological decline and climate change. Peacemaking at a scale never before imagined is demanded of us. The shrinking fossil resource base, global finances and human capital being wasted on war must be redirected to ecological restoration and the retooling of our failing carbon energy and agricultural infrastructure. Even to reach a state of transition toward a hopeful future would require a level of social and political will on the scale of a World War. There is much educating and organizing to do.

As hope hangs in such  a precarious balance I tell my  15 year old daughter, whoʻs deep sensitivity to the suffering in this world breaks my heart every day, “Honestly, success is not probable. You are not crazy when you feel hopeless. But success is possible. Where there is possibility, there is always hope. We must always be searching for the best possibilities and give ourselves to them. This is how hope is cultivated. Positive change has always felt hopeless from the point of view of probability. There is nothing new in that. But social transformation is not a mathematical equation. It always has something of the miraculous in it. Just like a seed, hope is the small thing from which great things grow when it is given the conditions that it needs to thrive.”

Again, from the slogan of the New School for Union Organizers that I attended some 25 years ago; “Agitate, Educate, Organize!” How might we apply the insights of the three principles of the New Old Way: 1) Interconnection, 2) Reciprocity and 3) Kindness to this concept of organizing? Where can we look for examples of successful peacemaking across cultures with conflicts that are generations old? Where do we see successful cross cultural alliances being made? Some emergent answers to these questions are sparking from indigenous land guardianship movements, from the deepening exploration of nonviolence, from the practice-based work of liberation educators in Latin America and from the global climate justice movement. The Peacemaker Story of the Iroquois Confederacy is a little known history  that offers our movement great instruction and hope. I think an intelligent weaving of these threads of history, experimentation and improvisation has the possibility to inform a New Old Way forward from this place in history.


A good place to start this exploration is Hawai’i. The principle of kindness would suggest that when we agitate, we must agitate from a place of exemplary kindness, connection and humility. This is something that has been brought forward by the Aloha `Āina Unity Movement. This movement has called for an upright tone and standard of conduct in their actions with a concept and practice rooted in Hawaiian cultural understanding: “Kapu Aloha”.

“A Kapu Aloha is a multidimensional concept and practice inspired by our kupuna. It has been used within a Hawai’ian cultural context for many years, but this may be the first time it has been brought out into a public sphere. It places a discipline of compassion on all to express aloha for those involved, especially those who are perceived to be polar to our cause. A Kapu Aloha helps us intentionalize our thoughts, words and deeds without harm to others. It honors the energy and life found in aloha — compassion — and helps us focus on its ultimate purpose and meaning. It is a synonym for ahimsa, non-violence, and peaceful consciousness.” Manulani Aluli Meyer, Indigenous Scholar-Practioner, Ed.D Harvard

From Wikipedia: “A Kapu Aloha is an order of restraint placed by Hawai’ian cultural practitioners, to act with only kindness, love and empathy. During the ceremonial period (enactment proceedings), alcohol, drugs and tobacco are prohibited. This separates the secular from the sacred and begins the ritual process collectively. Total purity is not attained but enacts a separation of ordinary life to mark the activities as sacred.”

The Aloha `Āina Unity movement has given careful attention to the language that it uses to describe itself and its actions. It refuses the label of a “protest” movement. In the words of Manulani Aluli Meyer, summarizing a story shared by Luana Busby-Neff from Molokai, “It is not what it (a movement) stands against that is important, but what it stands for and with.” In the case of Mauna Kea, it stands for and with the mountain and its sacredness. In general, as its name implies, the movement stands with love and respect for the land, “aloha `āina”. The “`āina warriors” are protectors of the land, who identify and align themselves with the greater sacred forces of nature from which we all derive and sustain our existence. They are following the culturally prescribed protocols, conventions and beliefs that have developed over generations of a carefully cultivated relationship with the Hawai’ian lands and waters. This movement is calling upon a “nonviolence” that reaches into the depth of its cultural connection with nature in a way that may be unique in history.

Traditionally, social movements have focused on issues of human justice and liberation. The land and nature have taken a second position (if they are mentioned at all.) Or, environmental movements have focused on issues of ecological degradation without addressing issues of social injustice as integral to their causes. This is shifting dramatically in the environmental justice movement. The Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, big international environmental organizations with educated middle and upper class leadership, are all making the connection between social injustice and the destruction of the earth. In the Aloha `Āina Unity movement the sacredness of the land and our human obligation to care for it comes first. Issues of human justice and sovereignty flow as natural consequences from our core connection to the health and sacredness of the land, mother earth. How we treat the earth, our mother, and how we treat one another are intimately related. We are all children of the same mother and the call to care with kindness and compassion is all encompassing in this regard. As Manulani Aluli Meyer points out, “Kapu Aloha is not a new stance or practice, it is simply being brought forward into the public sphere as a force around which to build political power and social will for the first time.”


This is a hugely significant development with global implications. The leadership of this movement, many of whom are women, is rooted in traditional Hawai’ian cultural practices and family lineages dating back hundreds or thousands of years. The call to unity is encompassed within the concepts of Aloha `Āina and Kapu Aloha. These are values and practices that anyone can embrace regardless of cultural background, but which inherently recognize and honor the first people of the land of Hawai’i. This creates appropriately tiered layers of support beneath the banner of the Aloha`Āina Unity Movement. People of more recent ancestral or personal connection to Hawai’i are welcomed as supporters and even co-strategists, as long as we show humility and authentic respect toward the cultural leadership and protocols and the traditional ecological knowledge and wisdom of Hawai’ian land stewardship.


For some people of European descent, taking what appears to be the “back seat” creates confusion and even frustration. From my perspective this is a perfect challenge to the hidden assumptions of literate, institutionally “educated” and historically arrogant European cultural influences. We relative newcomers must pay our dues and earn respect from the leaders of our host cultures, however long that takes and however uncomfortable it might make us in the meantime. I will go into how this earning of trust can look in future blogs.

All contemporary people must take responsibility for our ancestral legacies. In the case of persons, like myself, a white skinned person in a male body of almost entirely European ancestry and European-American cultural heritage, the path of responsibility looks very different than for a woman of primarily Polynesian ancestry and Hawai’ian cultural heritage. My next blog will specifically address challenges that persons with ancestry and cultural heritage on the privileged and powerful side of history must face if we are to move toward true cross cultural unity. Obviously, I can only speak as an observer of the challenges of those on the oppression side of this equation, but this is what I see: We are all equally subjects of natural law, whether we choose to abide by this fact or not. We all depend upon the health of this planet to ensure a liveable and abundant future for our coming generations. This fact is the force that compels us to seek unity.

If we put the health of nature and the understanding of the natural laws that, 1) everything is connected and that 2) all life requires reciprocity, at the center of our conscious value system, then we are compelled to seek unity with our fellow humans. If we are compelled to seek unity, then we are compelled to seek peace. Peace only comes from reconciliation. Violence, even in its most subtle forms, never brings peace. At best, coercion sometimes brings a “truce”, a temporary cessation of hostilities, but never peace in the true sense of the word.

In order to achieve our goals for a beautiful, naturally regenerative planet governed by healthy, thriving cultures and societies that embody economic justice, democracy and cultural respect for all, we must all become peacemakers. The communist revolutions of the last century showed us clearly that the means do not justify the ends. A despot is a despot, whether he dresses up as a capitalist or a socialist, as a billionaire CEO or as a Party Commandant. And every person can become a peacemaker no matter what social class, gender or ethnicity.

The path to peacemaking is different for every individual. It is also different for every group of people who already share many points of cultural and political unity. The path to peacemaking is a path, not a destination. It is a process that one commits to, a Practice. And like all practices, the path to mastery is arduous. It asks much of us. And one of the arduous things that peacemaking asks is for each of us to take full responsibility for our ancestral and cultural legacy. There is no one else that can do it. Our forbears don’t have bodies to do it themselves. To the extent that we refuse to take up this responsibility and heal the wounds of history, we pass that responsibility on to the next generation. This has been going on long enough now. As the slogan of Maui County Council Candidate Alika Atay puts it, “Nuff Already!” Passing the buck looks like exactly what it is, global suicide.

Each one of us today carries a mixture of ancestral, cultural, social and personal legacies, some that we were born into and some that we have adopted or that have adopted us. Some of our strengths and wounds are personal and some are based upon class, gender, ethnicity and so forth. So there is no “one size fits all” recipe for responsibility, healing and reconciliation. What is important is that we commit to the path of peace and unity and that we support everyone else to commit to the peacemaking path as well. We can fight for our passionate issues, for economic justice, for cultural autonomy, for sovereignty and respect, to protect and restore nature, to end war, whatever it might be. But our current global condition demands that we must also make peace and build unity across cultures and across the historic divisions of gender, race, class and ethnicity. This is no small task. The further exploration of what this implies is an important intention of this blog.

One thought on “Finding a New Unity – Part 2: Kapu Aloha: Reflections on the Aloha `Aina Unity Movement in Hawai`i

  1. this a wonderful discourse showing the root of disconnected behaviors of today in the cumulation of historical traumatic experiences and in the institutions of oppression that emerged from them .my first comment is that there is a need for an other article to inspire people to own the responsibility to choose peace making and a commitment to compassionate and kind conduct , an article that respond to the deep longing for connections by proposing pathways of connection. the intention of peace and unity is not enough . there is deep internal blocks to it. there is need for the core routines of nature connection to bring forth the trust in the guidance that the land provide to reclaim us and the empathy for “others”. there is need for deep listening in the context of a circle , there is even need for specific healing ceremonies to shift the internalised patterns of oppression…. All of this ask for more than “we must also make peace and build unity across cultures and across the historic divisions of gender, race, class and ethnicity” . i will say making peace with the world and built unity require an embodied journey in connection, it is an outcome of the core routines of deep nature connection and mentoring , it is an outcome of being listened to, supported and facilitated by culture in finding one own’s gift.. IF we are clear that we are dealing with a disease of disconnection , the healing will comes from connective practices, simple , practical and ongoing… That is my take.

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