"'Ohana' means family -- No one gets left behind, and no one is ever forgotten."
-- Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlas,
"Lilo & Stitch"
Some words don't require translating, no matter what language you speak. One such word is "aloha."
If you ever visit the Islands -- as Hawaii is often called -- it's the first word you'll hear upon arrival and the last farewell as you depart for home. A literal translation of the word "aloha" is "breath of life." "Aloha" has many meanings, most common of which are "hello" and "goodbye." It can also be interpreted as "love" and "affection."
Hawaiians use additional words that are equally endearing but are lesser known outside the Islands. My favorite is "ohana."
"Ohana" means "family" and, like "aloha," has several interpretations. "Ohana" isn't restricted to those individuals related by blood but, according to one source, extends to all who share a common sense of "aloha."
It was during my Army training days that I experienced "ohana" for the first time. Stationed with a bunch of guys from Hawaii, I was immediately singled out as the "kotonk" -- that's the Islander's term for Japanese Americans born outside of Hawaii. I went along with the ribbing and eventually won over the lasting trust of my newfound friends.
One of the Army exercises we performed was units -- or platoons in military parlance -- jumping into a pit to do battle. My platoon included
Platoons engage in a free-for-all by tossing each other out of the pit until only the soldiers of one platoon are left. As my Island buddies and I were among the smallest recruits in our platoon, we immediately planted ourselves in the center of the pit and locked arms once the battle got under way. That didn't seem to faze the other guys who were too busy tossing each other out of the pit to notice.
When the battle wore down with only a handful of opponents left, we sprang into action and worked as a team to eliminate our adversaries one at a time -- like a colony of ants attacking some hapless bug. And, as anticipated, we won out.
Needless to say, it was a show of "ohana" in action, and we became the envy of the entire company.
I also saw "ohana" in a different setting. It happened during a cruise my wife and I took to Hawaii that included a side trip to Fanning Island to satisfy some international law. If you've never heard of Fanning Island, don't feel bad. Neither did I until we dropped anchor there.
It's an atoll of the Republic of Kiribati located 900 miles east of Hawaii. And don't bother to look it up as Fanning Island appears no larger than a blip on the world atlas. What impressed me most was the upbeat attitude of the islands 2,500 inhabitants which include a goodly number of children and elderly.
Spending a lifetime on an atoll lacking most amenities, including electricity and running water -- and their only contact with the outside world being an occasional cruise ship that stops and drops off much of their needed supplies seems like no paradise. But don't tell that to the natives. Now that to me, is what "ohana" and "aloha" is all about!
Being a senior I can boast a tome of experiences -- you know: been there, seen that, and did it all -- and after the commotion has subsided, what I've come to value most is "ohana."
Think of it: if communities, governments and all the world leaders were to adopt that spirit, like Louis Armstrong exclaimed ... "what a wonderful world."
On behalf of the prophetic Hawaiian who coined the worlds "aloha" and "ohana," I extend my deep gratitude and rest my case.
Eizo Kobayashi is a Concord resident and a member of the Concord Senior Citizens Club. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.