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Hawaiian Communities from the Strength Perspective


Native Hawaiians have survived as a people through disastrous historical traumas, managing to preserve their heritage and steadily rebuilding their culture. Kana‘Iaupuni (2005), claims that statistics concerning poverty, substance abuse, or lower education attainment speak not of their weaknesses, but of the challenges that generations of Native Hawaiians have overcome. Looking at the people from the strength perspective, one can see the potential to overcome struggles, instead of seeing only problems. Native Hawaiians have always been finding their strengths and capabilities in connection to family and community. They draw strengths from the historical communities that support them through historical struggles and losses.

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Hawaiian Communities from the Strength Perspective

Social practitioners have to work with people who have experienced hardship, illness, discrimination, and trauma. According to Saleebey (2009), communities, families, and individuals should be seen from the perspective of their possibilities, talents, competencies, capacities, and values. Saleebey (2009) defines the key words related to the strength perspective as resilience, membership, and empowerment. Saleebey (2009) defines community resilience as the set of the abilities, skills, insight, and knowledge that people gather over time and experience struggling to overcome difficulties and meet challenges.

Native Hawaiians have built communities that comprise strengths found in all aspects of life. People that live in an area are probably its most powerful resource as they are bearers of talents, skills, and knowledge. Perhaps, the most prominent human-related feature of Hawaiian communities is the compassion people feel for each other. Communities also rely on land and natural resources, which give them security for survival and have a special spiritual meaning in the hearts of Native Hawaiians. Culture provides the resources for healing and empowerment, and one of its essential strengths are, according to Saleebey (2009), stories, narratives, and lore. In modern society, such factors as economy, institutions, and associations within the communities play no lesser role in supporting membership, resilience, and empowerment.

The Concept of Ahupua‘a

Indigenous Hawaiians did not have the idea of private property until the Western invasion. Still, they have developed a complex system of land division to ensure effective management and strong communities. Ahupua’a was the smallest self-sustained part in the land division of the country. The borders of ahupua’a were defined by the shape of valleys where they were located and determined by the volcanic landscape of the islands. Gonschor and Beamer (2014) describe them as pie-cut extended areas descending from the mountains to the ocean coast. Thus each ahupua’a contains different ecosystems that provide necessary resources such as fisheries, lands for agriculture, or forests on the slopes of the mountains.

Ahupua‘a highly depended on geographical features of the land, such as the quantity of resources and size of watershed. They served as basic administrative units for a community organization that strived at achieving the harmonious coexistence of all citizens and the utilization of all human resources of the areas. According to Gonschor and Beamer (2014), the ahupua‘a system was designed by the “rulers who unified or centralized governance of their respective islands” (p. 55). The integrity of each ahupua‘a relates to Hawaiian spirituality and traditional perception of the world, as it contains all connections between beings and elements of nature. According to Kaneshiro et al. (2005), human health is closely connected to the ahupua‘a ecosystem as local Hawaiians’ immunity systems have adapted to living in humid valleys with frequent rains.

The Strengths of Mānoa Community

Mānoa is probably one of the most recognized communities of Hawaii due to its cultural and historical significance. Mānoa Valley is a part of the greater Waikiki ahupua’a and a residential neighborhood near Honolulu. The name of the location means “broad,” and it corresponds to the shape of this vast valley. Today, the Mānoa community is home to slightly more than 20,000 people. From the first view on the neighborhood, one can see that people live here mostly in private houses built in the middle of the 20th century. To its residents, the community seems comfortable, safe, and supportive due to several strengths that enhance its resilience.

From my experience of living in Mānoa, I find people to be the most powerful resource of the community. Despite all the cultural diversity, people live in close connection and express strong compassion and support to each other. I have always known that in case of trouble, I can find a helping hand among my neighbors. For example, Mānoa Stream that gathers rainwater from the mountains has caused floods of different scale in the valley several times. Although such natural disasters lead to significant damage, they are the context when one can observe the compassion and cooperation of the community members.

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Demographics, Economy, and Education

Although Mānoa is a vast neighborhood, it is not densely populated, with the majority of its citizens living in private houses. The population of the community is multicultural and multiracial, with a significant presence of people of Asian, Hispanic, white American, and Native Hawaiian origin.

The community is home to a substantial number of senior age people, but the majority of the population are college-age individuals due to the location of the University of Hawaii at Mānoa. Most of the working-age citizens are occupied in the education area as the University staff members and school teachers. The University contributes to community development, improving infrastructure, and promoting education. Mānoa is not an industrial district, so people are mostly employed in administration management, sales, business, or personal care.

Associations and Institutions

As every residential neighborhood in economically thriving cities, Mānoa is represented by facilities that promote care for children and older adults. Several for-profit and non-profit organizations such as Ronald McDonald House Charities, Caring Mānoa, or Mānoa Cottage Care Home improve the support and safety of different social groups. Such associations and institutions, as Mānoa Heritage Center, aim at preserving indigenous community culture.

The community would benefit more from healthcare institutions as now people need to leave the neighborhood to go to the hospital. However, native Hawaiians’ healing practices and a close connection to nature are the sources of energy that boost strength and health. Despite the humid climate that is believed to be the reason of higher risk of spreading infections, Native Hawaiians have strong immune systems as such conditions are the most suitable for them.

Land and Nature

The most salient feature of the Mānoa community location is that it is framed by the mountainous ridges from two sides. The valley has fertile soil suitable for agriculture and washed almost daily by rains. The easy access to water that runs from the mountains and collects into the Mānoa stream was the primary reason for its being inhabited. Its location is not beneficial for several aspects of infrastructure, as easy access to the community is granted only from the side of Waikiki. Today, Mānoa is a popular tourist site as it is the place of several attractions, including Mānoa Falls, trails, and hikes.

The nature of Mānoa takes a special place in my heart, as the community is located in the most picturesque place I have ever been to. I feel honored to live among the mountains and forests of Mānoa and see the slopes gilded by the sun when I come back home from studying. I live in the Woodlawn area of Mānoa among old but well-tended and beautiful houses on the north-eastern slope of the valley. I am closely connected to the place as it is cozy and home-like. In the evenings, the setting sun shines on this side of the community giving it extra warmth and adding more to its beauty.

Culture and History

The lasting legacy of the culture of Mānoa and its history has special significance in the heart of Hawaiians as it has always been one the wealthiest and most beautiful communities. Although today Hawaiians do not occupy the wealthiest areas, they can still find strengths in the land that is unattainable for the representatives of other cultures. Mānoa has always been a fertile agricultural valley fed by regular rainfalls where the farmers grew cattle and planted taro.

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Today, the culture of Mānoa is exceptionally diverse due to the multicultural population of the community. Various temples and religious associations are located here, including Saint Pius X Church, Mānoa Valley Church, Honolulu Japanese SDA Church, Hawaii Hindu Temple, Hawaii Central Presbyterian Church, and Muslim Association of Hawaii. The only Native Hawaiian temple – Kūka‘ō‘ō Heiau was restored in 1993 from the stones found in the area. It is a tribute to indigenous culture and a step to promoting traditional spirituality and beliefs.

Mānoa Heritage Center plays a crucial role in promoting the cultural heritage of the community. The institution organizes native art and craft workshops and tours to historical places to empower people to be thoughtful and caring towards their heritage. Mānoa Public Library is a newly opened facility that serves as a place for events that concern all members of the community and gives the stage to local musicians, dancers, and performers.


Despite surviving a devastating historical trauma, Native Hawaiians continue to strive to find their identity and promote the cultural values of the people. They draw energy and power to live and flourish from their land and their community. Resilient communities provide resources that promote health, safety, inclusion, and cultural identity. Such neighborhoods account for the needs of each individual, as well as utilize their talents and capabilities to the maximum.

On the example of the Mānoa community, one can observe the initiatives to restore and promote indigenous Hawaiian values. As a member of the Mānoa community, I had experienced deep compassion from my neighbors when I needed help, and I know that I can rely on the community’s support. The nature of Mānoa is empowering and health-giving, but people are still the greatest strength of the community.

The Strengths of Mānoa Community


Gonschor, L., & Beamer, K.. (2014). Toward an inventory of ahupua‘a in the Hawaiian Kingdom: A survey of nineteenth and early twentieth-century cartographic and archival records of the Island of Hawai‘i. The Hawaiian Journal of History, 48, 53–87.

Kana‘Iaupuni, S. M. (2005). Ka‘akālai Kū Kanaka: A call for strengths-based approaches from a Native Hawaiian perspective. Educational Researcher, 34(5), 32–38. Web.

Kaneshiro, K. Y., Chinn, P., Duin, K. N., Hood, A. P., Maly, K., & Wilcox, B. A. (2005). Hawai‘i’s Mountain-to-Sea Ecosystems: Social–Ecological Microcosms for Sustainability Science and Practice. EcoHealth, 2(4), 349–360.

Saleebey, D. (2009). The strengths perspective in social work practice. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

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