In Hawaiian culture, the word kuleana is often spoken. Yet, perhaps it is better understood as a feeling, as a state of mind, as a deeply held value of society and one’s own soul.
It is difficult to translate into English, as is is a multifaceted word of many definitions, depending on context. Kuleana can be a synonym of all of the following: right, privilege, concern, responsibility, title, business, property, estate, portion, jurisdiction, authority, liability, interest, claim, ownership, tenure, affair, province; reason, cause, function, justification.
Kuleana flows towards another person, to community, and back to the individual from others, and from the community. It is a sense of belonging, and a sense of duty, a sense of trusteeship.
It flows to and from the land, the sea, the air, the water, one’s neighbors, one’s homeland, one’s community, one’s family.
In kuleana there is self respect, and respect of others, respect of the Earth, and respect for the welfare of the community.
In Hawaiian culture, this concept is natural, comfortable. Villages were small, and each person and the health of the environment were critical to not only community welfare, but survival. Whether the village survived depended upon the sense of duty and trusteeship flowing to and from every single person, and throughout the entire community.
As devoted students of the Earth, Hawaiians were in tune with the movement of the ocean, the bounty of the land, the rainfall, the fertility of the soil, the abundance of the ocean, the ability of the community to prosper while meeting the needs of each person. Within all of that, there was kuleana.
Today, I sense kuleana within my soul, within my work, within my interactions with others, within my place in community, in family.
And, I continue to be astonished when I learn from the wisdom of the ancients, and the wisdom of other cultures, and realize the need of my own culture to welcome the thoughts and values of other cultures, other peoples. In that learning, there is wisdom and there is strength. And, there is kuleana.
Neal Lemery 2/2011