Minamina: The Hawaiian Word of The Week
Value in multiple meanings
I’m not sure about about you, but I am used to hearing uses of minamina that draw on the first meaning listed in the dictionary (to regret or feel sorrow; “too bad,” “what a shame”). It is easy to forget one of the other meanings: to value or prize greatly.
He mea minamina ʻia ke keiki – A child is to be prized (Hawaiian Dictionary)
He minamina ko’u i na keiki opio e ulu nei, ke kumu o ko’u pane ana ma keia mea (Ka Nupepa Kuokoa, 14 June 1862) – I place great value on our growing youth, the reason I am responding on this subject
That first example is my favorite, because I am crazy about my kids. I’m not saying they don’t drive me up the wall sometimes, but “up the wall” is about my issues, not them or their behavior. The other day I was at the beach and a mother was speaking venomously to her kid while she yanked him around in the shower. It seriously crushed my heart because the go-slap-his-head school of parenting seems so opposite to the kind of aloha that our kūpuna had for their children and each other.
He wahi kanaka minamina nui ia oia ma keia apana mai o a o…no kona kupaa mau mamuli o ka oiaio, a me ka pololei (Ka Nupepa Kuokoa, 24 January 1863) – He was a person deeply valued everywhere in this district…for his standing firm behind the truth and what is correct
He kamaaina oia no keia kulanakauhale, a ua minamina nui ia hoi no kona piha oluolu a heahea (Ka Leo o ka Lahui, 7 January 1891) – He was a native of this town and was indeed greatly prized for being fully gracious and hospitable
Humans are walking contradictions, though. We love and cherish some people then go and make war on others, or turn a blind eye to their suffering. I wanted to tell that mom in the shower at the beach to stop abusing her kid, but I wasn’t sure if I should cross that line. Instead I thought about what a shame it was and how precious my own kids are to me (without even realizing that both these sentiments are contained in minamina).
ʻO Kaʻaialiʻi, he keiki ʻōpiopio kanaka uʻi ʻo ia a he pūkaua i minamina nui ʻia e Kamehameha. (Kāʻala, Paradise of The Pacific, 1904) – Kaʻaialiʻi, he was a handsome young man and a war leader deeply prized by Kamehameha
Like makeʻe, minamina has meanings that might seem disparate at first glance, but they make a lot of sense if you think about them. We feel deep sorrow and regret when we lose something we highly value, so we cling to things we love to keep that from happening – even at the risk of being called covetous or miserly. All these things are rolled into this one word. Our ancestors really understood the complex and often contradictory nature of humans!
ʻO ka makeʻe a me ka minamina aliʻi, a ʻo nā rula ia o ke ʻano o ka noho ʻana o nā aliʻi o ka wā kahiko. (Kamakau, Ke Aupuni Mōʻī) – To covet and prize chiefs, these were the rules of the way chiefs lived in ancient times.
Ina minamina oe i kou ola kino, me kou ola uhane, mai hele oe i na hale kuai lama (Ka Nupepa Kuokoa, 25 April 1885) – If you value the health of your body, and the health of your spirit, don’t go to liquor-selling establishments
Why pay attention to words with meanings that seem both “positive” and “negative”? If we shy away from words that have both (in favor of ones we think are only “positive”), we run the risk of alienating certain parts of our language. I have a theory (needs testing) that there are plenty Hawaiian words like this and that it is part of the sophisticated worldview of our kūpuna. If we want to maintain some link to that worldview, we must make an effort to understand it and, at the same time, examine the biases that being native English speakers brings (like binary concepts of positive and negative). All that aside, it just feels good to make room for many meanings – like a party with a diverse set of guest; always spicier and more fun.
Speaking of fun, here are this week’s modern examples:
Minamina nō hoʻi au i kuʻu wahi keiki – My little child is just precious to me
He minamina nui ʻia ka ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi e lākou – The Hawaiian language is deeply valued by them
E ola ka ʻōlelo o ka ʻāina!