I Not Your Aunty! Or Am I?
Your first response may be, “I not your Aunty!” And realistically, you probably are not. However, while you may not be biologically related to the person, here in Hawai’i, is not uncommon for you to be addressed as Aunty or Uncle by someone “usually” younger then you. It’s not meant to insult you in anyway. It’s actually a form of respect.
Hanai is the Hawaiian word meaning adopt. Today it is not uncommon to hear that you have been “hanai’d” by a person or family. Note, modern culture has taken to adding the –ed or –d to Hawaiian words to turn them into verbs. The strong sense of Ohana (family) in Hawai’i is very prevalent in everyday life and is implanted into children from the moment they are born. Ohana extends beyond the traditional bloodline. To show respect to an elder aunty or elder uncle is a form of respect, as well as implying a family bond.
Think of it the same way as one hears the common use of the words sistah (sister), braddah or brah (brother), or cuz (cousin). The use of one these terms communicates a sense of family bond or being bonded as extended family.
The saying “It takes a village to raise a child” is well observed here in Hawaiian culture, both past and present. The use of aunty or uncle helps to provide the feeling of inclusion to all, as likened to being a part of the family’s bigger community. As a newcomer to the islands, one may be taken aback and not understand why they are being referred to as aunty or uncle by the children or even adults. Yet, once the concept is understood, it usually is quickly accepted. It is often heard that a newcomer to the island knew they were accepted here once they began being addressed by the terms aunty or uncle.
A word of caution one should keep in mind, usually the only time you may get into trouble by calling someone aunty or uncle is if they are younger then you. When in doubt, one might be safer using the term “sistah,” “braddah,” “brah,” or “cuz”.
So, the next time someone you know is not related to you calls out “Aunty!” or “Uncle!,” know that you are being shown respect and they are not trying to insult you.
This article is part of a weekly BigIslandNow.com series by KAPA Hawaiian FM personality Darde Gamayo.