“I am a child of hanai,” says Auntie Leimamo Lee of Hana. In other words, as an infant she was given away by her birth parents to be raised by another couple. The transfer occurred when she was one month old, over eighty-five years ago.Although "hanai" is no longer legally recognized in Hawaii, it's still an interesting look at adoption in another culture, yes? It makes me think, again, about how birth parents in another country may not understand what is being proposed when aWestern agency or orphanage proposes an adoption placement (I blogged about that problem here).
Given away, but not in the usual Western sense of adoption. The transfer of little Leimamo was done Hawaiian-style—without shame or secrecy, without falsified birth records, in fact, without paperwork of any kind. It was a simple matter of friendly agreement between consenting parties. “My parents never had any children of their own,” Leimamo says. “But they loved children, and they asked for one.” In fact, over the course of their lives, Leimamo’s makua hanai (feeding parents) asked for many such children and eventually raised seven keiki hanai (feeding children) in their plantation-style home on Hana Bay—“feeding,” of course, being metaphorical for all forms of caretaking, including emotional and spiritual nourishment.
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One might wonder how any parents could give up their newborn with such apparent ease. So it’s important to remember a key element to all true hanai agreements: No one loses. Leimamo has had a close, lifelong relationship with her birth family. “My adopted parents made sure that I would always love them,” she says. “Our ties cling together very tight.” She demonstrates this by twining all ten of her 85-year-old fingers together, raising her hands and smiling brightly.
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