He inoa no ka hulihia

My son was born this week fifteen years ago. He was a little late, but it wasn’t his fault. He emerged into the ao in our one-bedroom apartment on Waialae Avenue in Kaimuki, in the presence of his parents, his maternal grandmother, and our midwife, Laulani Teale.

It’s hard to imagine now, but the baby who has grown into a waterpolo star could once fit in my arms. I remember cradling him a few days into our new life as a family and thinking about the world that he and his generation would be growing up in. We knew about climate change when I was child. I read a news article in sixth grade in 1990 about global warming, and how it would have disastrous effects. The article said that world governments were going to implement a cap-and-trade regime in which polluters would buy the right to emit greenhouse gases from low-emitting states. It was a market-based system, admittedly, but that’s what the adults were doing, and I, an 11-year old, trusted them.

But here I was, sixteen years later, holding my own son in an unnaturally-hot September day, realizing that the adults had actually done nothing. And now I was an adult. Worrying about my own child.

I knew that he would be growing up in a world in crisis. A world of raging wildfires and melting glaciers. Of drought leading to famine, leading to war. Of irresponsible selfish actors, and performative ecological piety masking the deep changes that were really necessary. I didn’t know in 2006 that plastic straws would be the frontline of ecological thinking. I also didn’t realize that the rich wouldn’t just retire to yachts, but would actually build spaceships to leave the planet. And I didn’t foresee Covid. But I was unfortunately correct about the other things. I was right to stand there in a little apartment on Waialae Avenue, holding my son and crying about this bruised and burning world that was now his.

But I also had hope that one day things would get better. Humans designed this immiserating system. With the right thinking, nudging and organizing, we’d figure out how to build cities for humans and not cars. We’d figure out that it made more sense to rebuild lokoi’a than to import fish. We’d figure out how to develop economies around equanimity and collaboration, not exclusion and exploitation. It might take decades, but we’d get there. We’d need to persist through the difficult times, these dark ages, until a better world comes into focus.

So I did what Hawaiians do — I gave my son a name. There’s a proverb about how if one fishes with a short fishing line, an aho poko, they will catch a small fish. But if you have the patience and perseverance to go into the deep blue ocean and use an aho nui, you will be rewarded with a more satisfying catch. Aho is both the fishing line and patience, which is exactly what would need in order to survive through these dark ages. We paired ‘aholoa’ with two old family names. Kekaula is the name of my grandfather and my late uncle. The kaula is a string or rope, or the umbilical cord connecting generations. And at the advice of our family friend Kumu John Lake, we also invoked the name of another ancestor, Kaulahea, a 15-century Maui chief. Hea means ‘to call,’ and Kumu suggested that my son should be able to call upon his kupuna if need be.

It’s far too much to put on a child. Neither he, nor his siblings, nor any child from his generation, should be responsible for the burdens placed on them by all of us who created this ecological trauma. But his name, Kekaulaheaokeaholoa, is an inoa about this hulihia that we are living through. And the name – and the person with it – are a daily reminder for me about why I do what I do, whether in kūʻē or kūkulu. It’s very clear to me that I’m fighting for my children. I’m fighting for our future.