WAIMEA, Hawaii -- At one of the final lookout points from which to see Waimea Canyon (pictured, in part, above), sometimes called the aloha state's Grand Canyon, a native Hawaiian, wearing a loin cloth and not much else, was speaking to a small group of elementary school students about the name of this state.
"What does Wai mean?" he asked, making sure to pronounce the W in Wai as a V. The answer, previously given to the kids before we got there, apparently, nonetheless was a little slow coming, so he reminded them it meant "fresh water."
And the word "Ha," he said, refers to the privilege of being together in community and sharing the same air and space in peace. It's why you find that syllable in the traditional Hawaiian greeting, aloha, he said.
So a long time ago, he explained, native Hawaiians knew they needed only three things to live a satisfying, happy life -- Ha and Wai being two of them.
Then he asked the children what they thought the last syllable in the state's name stands for. No one spoke.
Finally, he answered this way: "Our creator." So he was telling the kids that all we really need is fresh water, peaceful communal human relations and God.
Well, it was a lovely little story and I decided to believe it even though when I did some online searches (here, for instance, and here) on the meaning of the name Hawaii I couldn't exactly verify that this nice young man knew what he was talking about. But so what?
People in native dress (or, well, undress) often are given the benefit of the doubt, such as when you see someone at a museum or festival dressed up as a pioneer and willing to tell you of the hardships of getting from Providence, R.I., to Laramie, Wyo., by Conestoga wagon, when you know the person doing the speaking drove over that morning in a Lexus.
Besides, what the Hawaiian man said seems to me to be true of all people everywhere, whether out here in the Pacific or crammed into a condo in Brooklyn. We need safely shared space, fresh water and to be loved by our creator. That pretty much covers it.
Well, except that once in awhile, in addition, we also need a little time off and a change of scenery.
A bit more about my trip to Hawaii will show up here over the next few days, maybe even with a few thoughts about what, if anything, it has to do with faith matters. So come back tomorrow and vicariously take the journey my bride and I went on.
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DID RELIGION SHAPE HUMANITY IN THIS WAY?
What made human beings socialized and intelligent creatures? An Oxford psychologist suggests this answer: Religion. It's an interesting theory, but let's also turn it around and ask what human beings, in turn, have made religion. The answer is more mixed -- both wonderful and appalling.