Ancient Advice: Pay Attention, Like Our Ancestors Did

Cultural Practitioner and SEARCH Hawai‘i Co-Star Kainoa Horcajo contemplates the Kaulana Mahina – the traditional Hawaiian calendar – as he enters fatherhood.

On Father’s Day of last year, my partner Summer gave birth to a baby girl. For the 9 months prior, the questions replaying over and over in my head were about the perils and opportunities of raising a child in the world today. Throughout the pregnancy, I thought about what I would want to teach our daughter, what values we would instill in her and how we would deliver these lessons to her as she grows.

12063527_10153207412951705_4569849697719631851_n (2)Parenting, much like life itself, is something that can only be learned by doing. But as we seek the correct course of action we fall back on what we know, what we are familiar with. And luckily for us here in Hawai‘i, the kūpuna and ka po‘e kahiko (the elders and the people of old) have given us today much wisdom to look to. This wisdom has guided me and it will guide how I raise my child in this modern world.

Last year, in the early stages of pregnancy, Summer and I attended a conference on O‘ahu dedicated to better understanding the traditional Hawaiian calendar system, sometimes called the Kaulana Mahina or the ‘Aimalama (which was also the name of this conference). Being there, learning about the patterns of the moon, sun, and stars and how they affected every aspect of our life was a gentle nudge of the way in which we were determined to raise our child. As this little sprout of life blossomed inside of Summer, we listened to farmers, fishermen, and cultural practitioners from all islands describe the different times that life blossomed in their homes.

Everyone had something to add. The best of them had already spent years learning from their kūpuna and training in the traditional calendars. They understood when the fish were spawning, when the flash floods would come, when the best time to plant certain crops were. They could connect these events with the flowering of certain flowers, the ripening of certain fruit and the rising and setting of the moon.

We learned about the monthly drift of Box Jellyfish and Portuguese man-of-war into our waters at the same time every month, about 8 days following the full moon. We learned about those little but numerous dots of clouds that look like little pigs or dogs running across the sky. They mean that rain will come in a few days’ time.

This traditional calendar system observed the movement of the stars, sun, moon, and all natural phenomena to create a holistic place-based resource and behavior management system. It not only outlined what could be gathered or harvested at what times in what ways, but it oriented the individual within a framework of patterns found in the natural phenomena that was a part of, and integral to, the life of that individual within the particular land area, family group, and larger community.

This is the genius behind the Kaulana Mahina. It recognizes that different things happen at different times in different places. It recognizes that principles will always win over techniques. Most importantly, it recognizes that one of the most useful skills a person can have, both at home and on the road, is the ability to “Pay Attention.” Perhaps this too is part of the essence of the Wake and Wander philosophy. It is not just a technique of going into new environments but a principle of opening oneself to truly experiencing everything one encounters, a commitment to being unapologetically curious about anyone one meets.

Yes, I want my child to be strong, to be beautiful, to be smart, to be kind, to be compassionate, to be cautious, to be courageous, to be adaptable. But most importantly, I want her to understand on a deep level the hidden lesson of the calendar system. That in order to be each of these things at their appropriate time, she will need to cultivate a heightened and unwavering continuity of attention to all things.

Children learn fast, and I too will need to pay attention. Let’s just hope I can keep up.