Manaʻolana: The Hawaiian Word of The Week
On being buoyant
Hope is tricky. On one hand, it is this beautiful thing that propels us forward. It can be a lifeline when times are hard and can give rise to brilliant creativity. We could even say it is essential for our survival, or a defining feature of our humanness.
ʻEkolu mea nui ma ka honua. ʻO ka manaʻoʻiʻo, ka manaʻolana, a me ke aloha… – There are three important things in the world. Faith, hope, and love… (Robert J.K. Nawahine)
On the other hand, being realistic is important. Writers like Paul Hudson say we should hope for things that aren’t entirely out of our control: “It’s knowing when you can affect the outcome that is most important…If your actions have a chance of tipping the scales in your favor, then hope hard and hope often.” But humans that we are, we hope for all kinds of things we can’t control:
Ua lana ka manao o ka makuahine o kekahi kanaka ui e lilo ia i kahunapule, aka mahope loa hooholo iho la ia i kona manao e lilo i loio. – The mother of a certain young man hoped he would become a priest, but much later he decided to become a lawyer. (Ke Alaula, 1 June 1866)
When it comes to other humans it is easy to get tripped up. We might hope things will change with people in our lives, but it isn’t entirely up to us. Too many dashed hopes in that area can lead to despair. Interestingly, the opposite of manaʻolana is manaʻo pohō, at least according to the Parker Dictionary:
Manaolana v. 1. To be buoyed up, as the mind; not to sink, in opposition to manao poho [pohō], to sink; to despond…
Also interesting is the fact that the word manaʻolana and its good buddy manaʻoʻiʻo were created to describe the concepts of hope and faith as they were written in the bible. Sheldon Dibble noted: “…manao means thought, and io means true or real; —so the combination, manaoio, is used for faith. Again, manao means thought, and lana means buoyant,—so the combination, manaolana, is made by us to express hope.”
Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all. – Emily Dickinson
We forget that these words, though commonplace now, were created expressly for the purpose of communicating Christian concepts. Hawaiians used them in a biblical context and adapted them to other contexts they saw fit from a Hawaiian point of view. In a discussion on faith and the effectiveness of lāʻau kāhea, Mary Kawena Pukui says:
Kekahi kahuna pule haole i kākau ai he puke a ʻōlelo ʻo ia He mana i loko o ka manaʻoʻiʻo. Power in the positive thinking. Auē. A he mea hou ia iā lākou. Iā kākou, mea kahiko. – A white minister who wrote a book, he says [There’s] power in the positive thinking. Oh goodness. It’s a new thing to them. To us, it’s an old concept. (HAW 168.6.1)
Where faith seems sure and solid and hope much more malleable, both require “positive thinking” in the English sense. Both are oriented toward seeing the good, which is what we want to focus on in life. He mau mea nui nō ia – They are indeed important things.
I guess getting older has made me turn these concepts over in my mind in a different way than I did as a young person. Life’s experiences can be jading if we are not careful. Being reminded to focus on the positive is essential sometimes, as there is plenty of negative that can drag us down if we let it. In the end, I think the man with a dream said it best:
“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
Here’s to hopeful pursuit of all things important to us, especially ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi:
Lana ka manaʻo e paʻa maikaʻi ka ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi i kaʻu mau keiki. – I hope that my children will have a good grasp of the Hawaiian language.
ʻO ka mau aku o ka ʻōlelo nani a nā kūpuna, ʻo ia ka manaʻolana. – The continuance of the beautiful language of our ancestors, that is the hope.
E ola ka ʻōlelo o ka ʻāina!