What is the Hawaiian mindset of ‘Mālama’ and what we can all learn from it

Hawaii is famed for its beaches, volcanoes, and sunny weather… But you can get so much more than just gorgeous photos and fun holiday memories from a trip to Hawaii. Hawaiian culture is full of ancestral wisdom and deep values of respecting the land and people – like the concept of mālama. So what exactly is the Hawaiian mindset of mālama and what can we learn from it? 

What is mālama?

Mālama essentially means to care for, protect and preserve. The phrase “Mālama ka ‘aina” means to take care of the land and “Mālama Honua” means to take care of the earth, while “Mālama pono” means “be careful”. So the idea of mālama is about taking care of the earth and community. It’s about honouring our connection with nature, culture and people, from protecting wildlife and caring for the land, to nurturing the community around you.

The notion of mālama understands that all living things are part of an interdependent system. You’ve probably heard the saying “you get what you give” and mālama is much the same. When we care for the earth, the planet provides the resources we need. And if you take without giving, you upset the balance. 

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Hawaiians have a deeply rooted relationship with the islands and are dedicated to protecting them for future generations to enjoy.  While you’ve probably heard the concept of leaving a place better than you found it, mālama runs deeper than that. When you mālama (care for and give back to nature and community), you better yourself as part of a cycle that enriches everything. As your relationship between people and nature grows stronger every time you mālama, it’s something we should weave into our everyday life to better care for ourselves and our earth.  

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How do people live by the Hawaiian mindset of ‘mālama’?

One of the best examples of mālama in Hawaii is the idea of regeneration. It can be applied from tourism to agriculture, but it’s all about repairing and reversing damage already done to the environment and restoring and enriching nature and communities. 

There are many regenerative experts in Hawaii, who help restore the land through the ancestral wisdom of Hawaii, while other conservationists help to rebuild the native ecosystems of the Hawaiian islands using Hawaiian traditions. Many locals act as stewards for the natural habitats of Hawaii, by replanting native plants, restoring indigenous wildlife habitats, and protecting marine life and the ocean.

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In Kula, you can get to know more about mālama at O’o Farm. It’s a local farm that’s committed to sustainable agricultural practices and the farm-to-table movement. Here you’ll learn all about biodynamic farming in Hawaii and see how the farm grows quality produce for local restaurants. You’ll learn how they support the local market in Lahaina using the ‘100-Mile Market’ concept, meaning they only use products from within a 100-mile radius.

You’ll also get a taste of the farm-to-table experience here when you help gather fresh produce with the local farmers, and sit down to a lunch of local specialties. These regenerative practices are all part of mālama – taking care and giving back to both nature and community as part of the interdependent cycle of life.

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How can you live by the Hawaiian mindset of mālama

Take care of yourself

Mālama isn’t just about taking care of nature and community – it’s about taking care of yourself too. If you don’t care for yourself, you cannot nurture others. So it’s important to seek out self-care activities that fill up your cup and honour yourself through self-improvement and growth.

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Take care of others

When you mālama, you consider the needs of others and understand that everyone needs love and nurturing. It can take time to develop and practice these skills, but you can take time out of every day to do something caring for someone else. It can be as small as a smile to a stranger, a phone call to a friend, or spending extra quality time with your family. When you learn to mālama, you’ll notice your life is filled with far more love and peace. 

When you’re visiting Hawaii, you can show caring and respect for everyone by learning some important phrases like “aloha” (meaning “hello”, “goodbye” or “love”) and “mahalo” (meaning “thank you”). It’s also important to respect local traditions and customs such as Hula and lei etiquette.

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Take care of the land and ocean

Malama ka ‘aina i ke kai (take care of the land and ocean) is a deeply important Hawaiian tradition. Hawaiians protect the land as a source of knowledge, nourishment and inspiration. Because when we care for the land, it cares for us in return.

There are many ways you can take care of the land and ocean as part of the cycle of regeneration. When you visit Hawaii, respect the wildlife by watching from a distance and stick to the marked trails. Always ask permission before entering land or visiting sacred sites. Volunteer with local organisations. Plant trees and clean up beaches. Support sustainable restaurants, markets and farms.

You’ll leave a positive impact on the Hawaiian islands, and in turn, the islands will leave you a better person, with plenty of inspiring stories to share with your loved ones. That’s what mālama is all about.

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How do you live by the Hawaiian mindset of mālama? Let us know in the comments below… 

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