Fresh Breath In Kaua’i
by Janet Miller
Traditions, rituals, ancient Hawaiian customs. Understanding them is so very important if you want to be respected in the islands.
One very spiritual custom is called sharing “ha”. The “ha” is the Hawaiian word for one’s breath. It is believed that one’s spirit, one’s very essence of life is in the breath. To “share ha” with someone is a beautiful and uniting thing to be part of, or even to witness.
The ritual of sharing “ha” is not done as commonly as it was in generations past, so when two island people partake of the ceremony, it is quite meaningful.
To share “ha,” two people, most often men, come together, face to face. They bow their heads and press their foreheads together. The basic effort is to press the bridge of their noses together as they breathe, and intermingle their breaths, i.e. their spirits.
It is a life-affirming gesture, as there is no life where there is no breath.
When an ali’i or chief of a tribe would be on his deathbed, he would “ha” with his successor to pass on his wisdom, spirituality, and life.
I am a haole. That is a name that is given to anyone who is not from the Polynesian islands. It has a wide range of variation depending on who you ask. It could simply mean a Caucasian, or a westerner. Or, if you are a caucasian and you have done something offensive, it could be a derogatory label.
If a Hawaiian desires to share “ha” with a haole, it is an honor, privilege and blessing which is to be cherished by that white person.
The term haole comes from the Hawaiian word “ha,” meaning breath, and the Hawaiian word “a’ole,” which means “no”. When the white man first came to the islands, the Hawaiians, being the loving, sharing, spiritual people that they are, wanted to share “ha” with these visitors.
Well… these malahini — newcomers — valued their personal space and were not receptive to this ritual. So the Hawaiian said, “Hrmmmph! The white man has no spirit — no breath.” So the two Hawaiian words were joined as haole.
The first time I witnessed this beautiful, mini ceremony of two men sharing “ha”, was at my church.
There is a segment of every church service where the congregants are invited to greet each other in love. I have come to understand and even cherish this time of hugging and cheek kissing. Everyone moves about the sanctuary making sure to give greetings to all. As I circulated, not wanting to miss any of my brothers or sisters in the church family, I noticed a father and son facing each other, sharing “ha.”
For them, it lasted about 10 seconds. The memory of that scene will last for the rest of my life.
Janet Miller has a desire to eventually touch every life on Kaua’i in a positive way. Read her columns online at forkauaionline.com on the seventh day of every month.