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Hānai is a term used in the Hawaiian culture that refers to the informal adoption of one person by another.[1] It can be used as an adjective, such as "hānai child," or as a verb, to hānai someone into the family. Traditionally, hānai (which translates roughly as "feeding") took place shortly after birth, when a baby's biological parents gave the infant to another couple to raise. In pre-contact Hawaii, paternal grandparents had a claim on the first-born boy, and maternal grandparents on the first-born girl. The practice could serve to expand and strengthen family ties, and was an efficient way for a society to pass knowledge and culture down the generations.[2] However, the adopting couple might be more distant relatives, or not related at all. Hānai also was used for political alliances to link royal families, and continued among royalty even after Western contact. Lili‘uokalani, Hawai‘i’s last monarch, was the hānai child of chiefs higher ranking than her biological parents. In her autobiography, Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen, she wrote that hānai “seems perfectly natural to us. . . . this alliance by adoption cemented the ties of friendship between the chiefs. It spread to the common people, and it has doubtless fostered a community of interest and harmony.”[3]

Hawaiians also traditionally practiced ho'okama, which was the adoption of older children and adults.[4]

In the Hawaiian culture, hānai has historically been a practice of one family hānai-ing their child into another family. It has made tracing genealogical roots somewhat more complicated.[5]

When Hawaiian culture expert Winona Beamer spoke about the issue of hānai and its relevance to admission at Kamehameha Schools, she had first-hand knowledge of the practice in her immediate family. The linguist Kaliko Beamer-Trapp was born in England, but emigrated to the United States with his biological mother and later moved to Hawaii. When Beamer decided to hānai Kaliko into her family, it was with a special hānai ceremony.[6]

Other Polynesian cultures, such as the Tahitians and Māori (in which culture the phenomenon is known as whāngai), have similar practices of adoptions. There is also a centuries-old Japanese tradition of adopting adult males to continue the patrilineal line.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Staton, Ron (August 24, 2003). "Native blood and custom clash". Honolulu Star-Bulletin.
  2. ^ Regelman, Kazz (November–December 2016). "All in the Family". Maui Magazine. Retrieved 15 September 2023.
  3. ^ Regelman, Kazz (November–December 2016). "All in the Family". Maui Magazine. Retrieved 15 September 2023.
  4. ^ Regelman, Kazz (November–December 2016). "All in the Family". Maui Magazine. Retrieved 15 September 2023.
  5. ^ "Hawaiian Dictionaries". wehewehe.org. Retrieved December 23, 2017.
  6. ^ "The Life of the People". Ke Ola Magazine. November 1, 2011.

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