30th August 2013

The word lokahi is a Hawaiian word; it means a harmony or balance...

But it is a complex balance; not simply the mirroring of yin and yang, say. ‘Lokahi’ arises out of many diverse, and even conflicting, elements. Many people or things might come together in ‘lokahi’. They might actually conflict. But they don’t need to become the same in order to form this harmony; just as in music, 'harmony' can only be created from notes that are different and remain themselves.

A typical Hawaiian example is an ecosystem. Verses in Hawaiian chant speak of the lava gnawing its way across the land, “making it beautiful.” This may seem strange, because most people see volcanoes as destructive. But after the overflowing of lava from the burning heart of the earth – the lava cools. The flames fade. Wind and water break down the lava rock. The cinders become grains; the grains soil. Birds overfly, hover, and stay. Seeds drop. Ferns cautiously stretch forth their fronds in a new landscape. New ground has been created; pushing the earth further into the sea. And over time the barren lava flow is transformed into a lush rainforest.

‘harmony’ can only be created from notes that are different and remain themselves.

What this Hawaiian concept of lokahi expresses is that we do not need to eliminate diversity and difference to forge a creative harmony. People with different beliefs and backgrounds do not need to be thrown into a melting-pot to find a new national or cultural identity which wipes out their many divergent characteristics. Instead we can work together to create something new —new territory, for example, in the case of lava. And this they do even when they are hostile, or mutually destructive. That does not prevent the creative process going forward when they are taken up into a larger lokahi. Some larger context – some urgent need – some natural system – or some greater, unifying love draws them into convergence. Pulled through opposition, even hostility, each one plays its part in creating something new.

It is a dynamic, creative process. It can unite people in times of need. ‘Everyone comes together – that’s lokahi,’ says an old-timer. For a harvest, a fishing expedition, to solve a family problem. We humans too work best, most creatively, when harmony is sought, through a kaleidoscope of differences.

The unity or harmony in ‘lokahi’ does not mean sameness. It recognises that we will always walk different paths, desire different ends, and contend for them. More courageously, it says we can come together nevertheless, to work for the good, the beautiful, the needful.

For as humans of culture, religion, desire – there is no one thing that unites us. For we are not any one thing. Neither are our religions or cultures. We are emotions, ideas, beliefs, things we eat or cannot eat, needs, ways we dress or cannot, holidays and festivals, systems of thought, practices of prayer, ways of loving.

we can come together nevertheless, to work for the good, the beautiful, the needful.

A true understanding of lokahi sees the variety of what each of us is, the spectrum of what we all are. Then it calls forth the responses we can make, the notes we can resonate on all these registers. To converge for creativity, joy, even survival – and leave us free to diverge on our own paths when love of freedom or truth call us apart.

Professor Gwen Griffith Dickson


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