The meaning of Hanai

Hanai (v.) – to adopt, to be close; to nourish, to sustain.

There isn’t a singular definition for the word hanai.  I’d heard this word infrequently growing up, usually when my mom told me stories of one of her brothers who was hanai’d out of the family; I came to know that he was adopted and that’s how I defined hanai in my head as a child growing up.

While doing research one night, my mom asked me to find one of her aunts who was adopted by her grandmother.  I began asking her questions as I couldn’t track down any adoption records. This is how I first learned that  hanai does mean adopted….in perhaps the loosest sense of the definition.

I wanted to learn more, and ended up on this site and this site that explains the practice of hanai…more of a meaning rather than a definition.

It was common practice for the Hawaiian people in the olden days to give their first born child to their parents to raise (depending on the gender of the child). It was the highest form of love and respect that one could bestow upon their parents.  As time went on the practice extended to the community; families raising children who no longer had parents, etc.  Even the beautiful last queen of Hawai’i was a hanai child.  Apparently this was still being practiced into the 1950’s since my uncle was hanai’d to a childless family.

Even though I grew up in Los Angeles – far removed from “island life”, I can still attest to the fact that Hawaiian families are some of the most loving and warm families I’ve ever encountered. It is not uncommon to be welcomed into a strangers home, be it for an hour or maybe even for a day. I can only imagine how welcomed and loved a hanai’d child would feel in such an environment.  Now, that’s not to say that the times haven’t changed, I’m absolutely certain they have changed with each generation. But with regard to the culture as a whole, Hawaiians are still very “aloha“.

I’m sure in the simplest form we can say that hanai is basically a paperless, not legally binding adoption. But it’s so much more than that. It’s a tradition, it’s part of our history, and perhaps the greatest example of how highly the Hawaiian people regard their families and children.

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~ by Leilani on June 14, 2009.

16 Responses to “The meaning of Hanai”

  1. I just found your blog, and I enjoyed this post. I have some ancestors who removed to Hawaii in the 1800’s from New England, and I never understood “hanai” very well.

  2. I have no biological children but that’s okay because I have six hanai grandchildren and three hanai daughters and two-stepsons. I couldn’t love them more if I’d had them myself. They, along with my husband, have been and are the greatest gift God could have ever given me.

  3. I used to have a dog named Hanai. I too grew up in California but my family is from Hawaii. So I was looking up the name when I found this. It’s really interesting. Still not sure why they named our dog Hanai though. 🙂

  4. […] is U’i, my hanai second cousin. She’s a beauty I tell you and has the personality to match. It was taken last […]

  5. im looking for a quote that might deal with the meaning of hanai. have you ever hear of one.. maybe one from Mary Pukui

  6. […] two hanai nephews next door went to a carnival and came back looking like this. They were thrilled with the […]

  7. I used to be much more common to “take in” other children, due to need in the family. My father’s family home burned when he was a child. The neighbors all pitched in to take care of the six children. Many aunts, uncles, grandparents and neighbors took in children during the depression.

    My daughter became pregnant out of wedlock. There was a lot of pressure for her to adopt out the baby. Although this may be the right decision for many young women, for my daughter, surrounded by a loving, resource-able family, keeping the baby was the right choice. That was almost 12 years ago. My daughter now is married with her fifth child on the way.

  8. […] and even though it’s quite beat up, it still does the job. The last photo of course is my hanai mom. I couldn’t resist this. Talk about weathered and worn…YAHOO!!!! I hope you […]

  9. […] contest or my blog since the beginning of December. I’m giving it as much time as I can. My hanai mom fell and fractured her right leg the day after Thanksgiving. On that Friday we took her too […]

  10. […] hanai mom always says she turns off all the lights and her TV before going to sleep. Well I wanted to […]

  11. I have been accepted as “hanai” to the Hawaiian Island Fencing Association as a foil fencer. I am happy to fence for them and also my own club Salle Santa Cruz in California.

  12. […] Davis or Malcolm X is his real father. He was probably hanai anyway and nobody wants to go there. Here’s a random post about hanai so you can get the flavor of what it means. I’m sure in the simplest form we can say that hanai is basically a paperless, not legally binding […]

  13. I came across the term “hanai” quite by accident tonight, by Googling something else entirely, and found this blog. What a fascinating tradition this is! Thank you for posting this. You just got me as a new blog follower!

  14. […] us that there are more ways to make “family” than just by procreation. Through their custom of hānai they take others into their ʻOhana, their family and officially make them real members of that […]

  15. […] we did have some fun. In between packing and organizing, we saw lots of our friends. Amelia, our hanai daughter from Switzerland, spent 10 days with us in Hilo. We made visits to California, Maui and Kauai, and […]

  16. […] and her family. We claim her three beautiful daughters — Amelia, Isabel and Hallie — as our hanai (“adopted”) daughters but deserve no credit for the incredible young women they are. But claim […]

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