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The Māpuna Lab

Centering and Celebrating Cultures in Health

In this blog post, some of our lab members share on the cultural practices that help them to maintain their health and their identities.

Traditions from Pohnpei

Carol Ann Carl
By Carol Ann Carl

As simple as it may seem, the cultural practice I try my best to incorporate in my daily life to sustain my overall health and well-being is greeting people. In Pohnpeian culture, greeting people is an important and emphasized practice. Kaselehlie, shortened from the longer Rahn Kaselehlie, the main greeting in its most respectful form, when used to greet others is an acknowledgement of their existence and the beauty that existence adds to the world as we know it. Kaselehlie can be roughly translated as “of the utmost beauty”. Rahn means “day”. Rahn Kaselehlie or simply Kaselehlie. What a beautiful day it is, made even more beautiful now that you are a part of it.

I would really love to bring back traditional chants and dancing into my healthy lifestyle. There is one traditional dance I’ve learned called dokia and the chant that goes with that.

 Breadfruit when it’s available and sakau en pohnpei when I have time. In my time spent in Pohnpei and Hawaiʻi, these two foods brought families together. Traditionally, during breadfruit season in Pohnpei, the clan gathers to pound breadfruit into lihli which is pounded when the breadfruit is straight out of the uhmw or stone oven, then laid flat on banana leaves. Coconut milk is added on top by squeezing freshly grated coconut through coconut husk strainer. My late grandfather often told me that this was “Pohnpeian pizza” because it was laid out flat and look almost like a deep dish pizza. It’s been my favorite pizza ever since. Sakau en Pohnpei, much like ‘awa but with added hibiscus (keleu or hau in hawaiian) fiber sap which increases its potency significantly, has always been used to gather people in ceremony. The space sakau holds is meant for people to sit together, drink, and have deep meaningful conversations about the day.

Visiting the ocean and drinking sakau during community gatherings. My family members and friends frequent family and community gatherings, many of which are at the beach where we can be with the ocean that connects us home. Spending time with people, sharing about your day, and winding down the day with the people in your corner is so important for mental and physical health.

Traditions from China

Vianna Lee
By Vianna Lee
Honolulu, Hawai'i

In Chinese culture, it is very common to have a bowl of soup during dinner time but before eating the actual meal. Growing up, a common question I always hear is “What kind of soup would you like to drink? or What type of soup should we make?” There are a lot of different types of soup to make depending on the weather, season, and one’s body condition. It is believed that drinking soup helps to clean any heat, strengthen the organs and  immune system and even prevent any potential disease. My favorite soup to drink is watercress, papaya, and pork feet soup! It is also fairly easy to make, my family uses pork (mostly meat rather than any pork fat) to make a base soup and to also make the soup have a deeper and richer flavor but this does not make it heavy. After adding the meat, we throw in all the ingredients such as the watercress, papaya, pork feet, and once in a while depending on the season we add a few herbs inside. And then we let it boil for a couple of hours and it’s done.

My mother works in an acupuncture clinic, therefore growing up, I have been exposed to acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine. Whenever we have symptoms of the cold, flu, or even any type of pain, we would always get acupuncture to help relieve any of the symptoms and to also strengthen our immune system in the process. Whenever I feel sick, I would get acupuncture and always have a dose of Chinese herbal medicine, which of course is extremely bitter but in Chinese culture we have a saying “苦口良藥.” This translates to “bitter medicine means it’s a good remedy,” or in simpler terms, the more bitter the medicine, the more effective it is. This applies in certain situations, but mainly the medicine is bitter because of certain herbs used in the tonic.

Traditions from Hawaiʻi

Kea Poʻoloa
Kealiʻi Poʻoloa
Kuliʻouʻou, Oʻahu and Hilo, Hawaiʻi

Every day I practice my oli… chants that Iʻve been taught. I oli to greet the day, I oli to my children, especially my baby, every day.  Oli I like to practice are Nā ʻAumakua, E Hiʻilei, Kau Mai Ka Lā, Pule Ola Lōʻihi and a new one I just recently learned is Lei o Hilo. I look up the words if I don’t know the meaning of the oli to enrich my ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi. Practicing oli daily requires me to center myself, take deep breaths, drink a lot of water and stretch.

ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi is a value in our household, it’s spoken daily and I’m not fluent or great at conversation level yet, so I work to practice it as much as I can.

We eat poi and lūʻau as much as we are able to source it.  Always make sure we get our poi on Thursdays from the uncle at the Kai store on Kilauea and Pūʻāinakō. For a while we were getting CSA boxes from O.K. Farms, and it’s so so ono, when the food is fresh from the ʻāina.  KTA has good produce too, so as long as weʻre eating close to the source of our food, the better.  One great way to eat ʻai pono is to substitute kalo paʻa ( fully cooked, cubed cuts of taro) or ulu paʻa (fully cooked cubed cuts of breadfruit) for any potatoes in any recipe. Our favorite is kalo and ulu “potato/mac” salad. We make sure we have poi all the time, and try to eat more poi than rice.

Paddling canoe, ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi, oli, ʻaipono, and mālama ʻāina

Traditions from Okinawa, Japan, and Laos

Kayla Oshiro
Kāneʻohe, Oʻahu
  1. As a fifth generation Japanese person (gosei) living in Hawai‘i, I feel quite distant from my family’s origins in Japan and Okinawa. Although I am still in the process of understanding my genealogy both here and elsewhere, culture has been central to my wellbeing. The Uchinaaguchi (Okinawan language) word nankuru means “by itself, naturally.” The saying ‘makutu sookee nankuru naisa’ then translates to “if you act with sincerity, everything will be alright.” This conditional promise grounds me at times when I feel dispirited. It is a reminder to slow down, act with heart, be fully present, and keep going. 
  2. The Japanese saying ‘okage sama de’ translates to “I am what I am because of you.” This saying can be interpreted in different ways, but for me it highlights the importance of relation to wellbeing. It situates identity in connection to one’s web of relationships both past and present. Also, it serves as a reminder to look to those before for guidance and strength.

Language is so important in maintaining culture. My mom and her family immigrated from Laos to Hawai‘i much more recently than my dad’s side. For this reason, her side is fluent in their native tongue while my dad’s side is not. I would love to learn Laotian so that I can connect with my grandparents without restriction, and pass the language down.

Traditions from Japan

Marion Ano
Marion Ano
Nuʻuanu, Oʻahu

I don’t think I ever appreciated the deep meaning behind tradition until becoming a mother. I grew up in a multicultural and bilingual household. My mother, who was born and raised in Japan, made a point to practice her traditions and pass them down to her children. As the head chef of our family, I grew up eating the nourishing and soul filled Japanese dishes cooked by my mom. Her 料理 (ryōri or cooked food) infused with love has brought me comfort and healing energy throughout my life.

On New Year’s Eve, she prepares a special dish called, 年越しそば (toshikoshi soba), which acknowledges and marks the transition from the current year to the new year. Created using three simple ingredients that include soba noodles made from buckwheat and dashi soup topped with green onions, I always look forward to this time to reflect together and welcome the arrival of a new year. This time of communal reflection allows for healing conversations to restore health and well-being while ceremoniously leaving things behind that no longer serve a purpose in the new year.

Traditions from France & Greece

By Katherine Burke
Kahalu'u, O'ahu
  1. Greek coffee made with a briki (small, tapered pot) with thick kaimaki (foam) is a morning ritual I cherish. Having a small amount of strong coffee is good for the heart and for strong endothelial function according to a study featured in Diane Kochilasʻ book, Ikaria: Lessons on Food, Life, and Longevity from the Greek Island Where People Forget to Die. The book was inspired by the famous Blue Zones studies on pockets of high populations of centenarians in particular places. What I love about this ritual is that it calls me out of the morning hustle to work, shifting me out of my usual experience of time. Our perception of time is an important aspect of health and well-being. In Ikaria, it is said that watches are not necessary, meaning it is normalized to follow oneʻs own intrinsic sense of time and this is associated with longevity. Greek coffee cannot be made by “setting and forgetting,” the benefit of a coffee maker, instant coffee or French press. Boiling coffee to create a nice kaimaki requires a careful eye on the briki, with a split second between beautiful coffee and a burnt coffee mess. Often I find a podcast (lately, Great Greeks is a favorite, featuring interviews with the Greek diaspora) and take care of morning dishes with one eye on the stove top next to me so I can catch it frothing to the top and pour it into my favorite cup, decorated with mati (evil eye). This slowing down amidst the morning rush makes space for spiritual practice and clarity before diving into the workday. Switching to Greek coffee also alleviated heartburn and indigestion symptoms that had developed due to stress. Greek coffee centers me and I no longer feel the need for multiple cups of coffee throughout the day to be productive at work.

Greek language was not passed down in my family from my grandfatherʻs generation. DuoLingo has been a great way to start reacquainting my ears and tongue with Hellenic sounds. 

  1. Chickpeas with a good Greek olive oil! My grandad said, “Feed a hungry child chickpeas.” He taught me to eat garlic regularly, use fascomilo (sage) tincture before bed and eat Greek yogurt to manage my asthma. He also believed feta creates the feminine form. Every day on the stove he had boiled horta (forgaged greens) primarily dandelion greens which he ate with dinner but he also drank the water they were boiled in for his kidneys. 
  2. A recipe I can share is for horta. In Hawaiʻi in springtime, dandelion is easy to find in the garden as well as pōpolo (Solanum americanum). In Greece there is a pōpolo plant cousin, styfno (Solanum nigrum) that is foraged for horta. The most important part of making horta is good plant identification skills and thorough washing. Although horta is a boiled green salad, because of the risk of rat lungworm I use a three wash method when foraging greens: rinse well then (1) 20 minutes water bath, (2) 20 minutes water bath with a pinch of salt and capful of white vinegar and (3) 20 minutes water bath. Always gather from a place you have enough of a relationship with to know it is free of pesticides and far from regular exposure to cars and concrete run off. Although my Grandad would pull dandelion out of the sidewalk in Washington DC where he lived and pop it directly into his mouth.

Growing up in Connecticut, cultural practices in my family came from my French side, especially eating salad at the end of a meal with all of the goodness of previous courses still on the plate. French food is another approach to the Mediterranean diet that is very healthy and from that foundation I have enjoyed learning about the Greek diet and reclaiming some of my grandadʻs favorite recipes such as avgolemono soup, which he preferred with tripe. I also enjoy keeping a sourdough starter to make fresh pita bread and making hummus, melitzanosalata and tzatziki.


(c. 1540-1634)

Kākuhihewa is the 15th aliʻi ‘aimoku (ruling chief) of O‘ahu famously named in the mele “Kaulana Nā Pua.” Kākuhihewa was a kind and friendly chief who was born in Kūkaniloko and raised in the ‘Ewa moku. His primary endeavor was farming, and it is said that his abundant harvests on O‘ahu could be smelled from Kaua‘i.

Today, there is a state office building named after him in Kapolei.