Hawaii families tend to be pretty massive. Not because we have more kids out here than in other parts of the world, though I would say this is an ideal place to start a family. The size of a Hawaii family feels a lot bigger, mostly because of the generous inclusion of extended members, a multilayered practice unique to the islands. Like while I was growing up here on the south shore of Oahu, I used to play with a pair of siblings, Jacob and Missy, who were the kids of my mother’s former best friend from high school. So we considered ourselves cousins, calabash cousins. Which came in particularly handy when I’d get teased at school for liking Jacob – I could always just tell everyone that we were cousins, and they’d leave us alone to have fun, sans mockery!
So if Jacob and Missy were my calabash cousins, that made their mom, Ewalani, my aunty. And I would call her just that – Aunty Ewa. In fact, any adult I met, who happened to be very close to my mother or father, I tended to use “aunty” and “uncle” as a sign of respect. Including my Dad’s crazy biker friends, like Uncle Animal and Uncle J.C.. Sometimes, your calabash relatives fulfill those familial roles with even more love and attention than your blood relatives. We sometimes use the “aunty” and “uncle” titles for any person older than you encountered in public. Like, “Eh Aunty, you like one seat?” If you were to offer a seat to an older lady on a bus.
Another fairly unique family layer in Hawaii is made up of hanai children, those taken in by a close family friend, or, in traditional Hawaiian days, children from a high ranking family creating an alliance with another high ranking family. Queen Liliuokalani (in the featured image), Hawaii’s last ruling monarch, was taken in as a hanai child, and took in a few of her own as well. Hanai are something akin to foster kids if the situation is temporary, or in more extreme cases, godchildren, if their parents were to have passed.
Today, however, I’m grateful for my big (immediate) family, from my parents to my grandparents, from my aunties and uncles, and especially for my cousins! Without them, this move back home would have taken a lot longer, and been a lot more arduous. Mahalo, cuzzies, you da best!