To Be "Hanai-ed"


Melanie McKinneyDevotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University–Hawaii

June 28, 2007
Melanie McKinney
EIL Lecturer, ELT & Learning

To “hanai” means—to “feed” or to “nourish” in Hawaiian. It also means “to care for, to foster, and to adopt a child into a family.” “To adopt” in English means “to make use of,” and “to make a child legally your own.” The topic of my address today is “To Be Hanai-ed.” Almost without fail whenever I introduce myself in whatever language I do it in, I typically have to explain that I am adopted to clarify why my English pronunciation is so good, or why my Korean pronunciation is so bad, and why I have an Irish last name when I’m not married. I’m going to tell you about how I have been hanai-ed four different ways in my life.

1. Literally adopted into a family.

As Tutu mentioned, I was born in Seoul, South Korea, and adopted when I was a baby by an American family. My parents are from Utah, as were their parents. My mom and dad had three boys before they decided to adopt two little girls from South Korea.

Throughout my life people have asked me what it is like being adopted. I like answering questions about being adopted because people are curious and sometimes misinformed. I am very grateful that I was adopted by my family because they are great, and my parents are examples of kindness and charity. My family is my family, and I was raised and treated just like family. I was also fortunate to be raised with the Gospel, and had the great blessing of serving a mission in the Korea Taejon Mission. This was a blessing because I was raised completely American and knew nothing about my Korean heritage prior to being a missionary. There I was able to learn Korean culture, and a lot about myself. My mission changed my life in many ways. I am American, but very proud to be Korean. Since my mission it seems I have had many opportunities no matter where I’ve lived to share the gospel with Koreans.

An example of this was when I lived in Japan. After graduating from BYU-Hawaii I did an internship at Tokyo University of Technology. One day another intern and I went to eat at a Korean restaurant and I thought I would see if it was a “real” Korean restaurant. So, when our waitress came out I spoke to her in Korean. To my surprise, she spoke back to me in Korean. I was so happy to meet a Korean in Japan, I asked if we could exchange numbers to do a language exchange. We exchanged numbers and met a few times. Come to find out, she was actually Chinese. She was ethnically Korean, born and raised in China; and was now living and working in Japan. She was also studying Japanese, and could converse very freely in the language. During our conversations she learned that I was a missionary in Korea, and that is how I learned Korean. When she heard this she told me she desired to be Christian. I naturally was very happy to hear that, and invited her to attend Church with me at the Machida Zama Branch, which is an English speaking branch. That was Fall 2000. We got busy as people do, and lost touch before I returned to the U.S. for Christmas. I returned in March the next year to begin teaching at a different school in Tokyo. I contacted Choi Yon again in the summer time. She began coming to Church again, and meeting with the missionaries. The missionaries would teach her in Japanese, and I would share my testimony in Korean. She was truly a golden contact. But, Choi Yon lived in the Tokyo North Mission and was going to Church in the Tokyo South Mission.. She had to begin attending the ward in her boundaries, which meant switching missions and missionaries. I went with her the first time she went to Church in the Tokyo North Mission. Amazingly, one of the sister missionaries was someone I knew at BYU-Hawaii; and the elders at the time were teaching three Chinese nationals the discussions and trying to prepare them for baptism. There was a problem, though, as these three Chinese investigators spoke very little English or Japanese, and none of the missionaries could speak Chinese. That is where Choi Yon came in to help. She translated from Japanese into Chinese for the investigators in order for them to finish being taught the discussions, and to help in their baptismal interviews. Then, all four of them were baptized about a year after I had met Choi Yon. That was an amazing experience, and we met through speaking Korean.

2. Tutu’s hanai mo’opuna

“Children were raised by, not only their parents, but by grandparents and other
relatives. Hanai was the kanaka maoli [Hawaiian native] custom whereby a family adopts a child given by someone else and raises that child as a family member. No written records were necessary. [In old Hawaii there was no writing.] No stigma was attached to being "hanai." The practice of hanai was used to ensure that the Hawaiian culture was passed on to the younger generation. The claim of the grandparents upon their grandchildren took precedence over the claim of the parents who bore them. The parents could not keep the child without the grandparents' permission. A male child was offered to the parents of the father, and a female child was offered to the mother's parents. Parents would offer their children out of respect, as a gift of the greatest possible value. If the child were not offered, the grandparents would ask for the hanai privilege; they could not be refused. This practice extended into the community so that if the biological parents were unable to adequately provide for the needs of the child, someone else would be chosen to be the hanai parents. Children were also passed on to relatives or friends who had no children.”

“Hanai was practiced by the alii too. Liliuokalani [Hawaii’s last sovereign queen] was the hanai child of chiefs of higher rank than her parents. In her biography she reports that hanai ‘is not easy to explain... to those alien to our national life, but it seems perfectly natural to us. As intelligible a reason as can be given is that this alliance by adoption cemented the ties of friendship between the chiefs.’”

“Hanai exists today, but not always for the purpose of maintaining the Hawaiian culture.”1

When I was a student here at BYU-Hawaii, one of my Hawaiian classmates and
friends invited us into town to see her tutu. “Tutu” means “grandma” in Hawaiian. That is how I first came to know Tutu Lock. After graduating and moving abroad we lost touch for many years. Then, when I returned to Hawaii last year I stayed with her for about three months in Honolulu before I began working here. That is when we started to get reacquainted. We would go shopping together, eat together, go to Church together, and watch movies together. As I have no living grandmothers, she became a real grandma to me. Loving me and treating me just like her own granddaughter. I remember the first time she introduced me to someone as her hanai mo’opuna (“Mo’opuna” means grandchild in Hawaiian). I was surprised because that is a pretty strong statement, and also touched because it is an honor to be considered her hanai mo’opuna.

We have what we call a “Lolo Club” made up of three members. (“Lolo” means “crazy” or “dumb” in Hawaiian.) Tutu is senior lolo, Nita is the president, and I am junior lolo, being trained in the lolo ways. We are all at very different stages in our lives, but all have been a support to each other. Nita has actually hanai-ed her four nephews, and in doing so has become a single mom, sacrificing many things to raise them together. I have learned so much about love and charity from watching these women love and serve others.

One of the greatest blessings of me being back in Hawaii is the time I have had to spend with Tutu. She has taught me much through telling stories of her life and her experiences. She is my family here. I tell my mom all the time that my best friend here is 83-years old. Even though I’m not learning the arts or crafts of Hawaii, what Tutu has taught me is truly the heart of Hawaiian culture.

3. Adoption into the House of Israel

A third way I am adopted is into the House of Israel, just as many of you have been. What does this mean? Let me tell you. God has always made promises, or covenants, with his faithful children from the beginning of time with Adam. In the bible we learn that God made a covenant with Abraham and his posterity, known as the Abrahamic Covenant. God promised Abraham that his seed would receive the blessings of the gospel, have the right to the priesthood and eternal life. “In return for the blessings God promised, Abraham’s posterity is under covenant to take the gospel to all the nations and families of the world so they can also enjoy the blessings of the priesthood.”2

Through Abraham and his son Jacob, and his son Isaac, these covenants were passed on from generation to generation. Jacob’s name was changed to Israel when he accepted these covenants. Jacob, then known as “Israel”, had twelve sons from four wives, and these sons are known as the Tribes of Israel, or the House of Israel. “Being a child of the covenant means you are a descendant of ancient patriarchs who made covenants with God and whose posterity God promised to bless. Abraham, Isaac, and Israel received great blessings in this life and in eternity. These same blessings are yours [and mine]—if [we], too, make and keep covenants with God.”2

Even if someone is not a literal blood descendant of the House of Israel, if they are baptized and accept the gospel they become the seed of Abraham, and are entitled to all of the blessings promised to his posterity. It is faithfulness to covenants, not just bloodline, that entitles one to the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant.

Elder Russell M. Nelson states, “We are … children of the covenant. We have received, as did they of old, the holy priesthood and the everlasting gospel. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are our ancestors. We are of Israel. We have the right to receive the gospel, blessings of the priesthood, and eternal life. Nations of the earth will be blessed by our efforts and by the labors of our posterity. The literal seed of Abraham and those who are gathered into his family by adoption receive these promised blessings—predicated upon acceptance of the Lord and obedience to his commandments.”3

The book of Abraham 2:10 it reads, “And I will bless them through thy name; for as many as receive this Gospel shall be called after thy name, and shall be accounted thy seed, and shall rise up and bless thee, as their father.”

The tribes of Israel have been scattered over the earth. Article of Faith 10 reads, “We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.”

This gathering of Israel is happening now, and we are a part of it. What does it mean to gather Israel? It means the elect and pure and ready in heart from all over the world will have the chance to hear the gospel and accept it through baptism. We have seen this on our missions. We see it here on this campus, and we are a part of it. As children of the covenant, we have a responsibility to be a part of it, and gather Israel.

Brother Robert J. Matthews explains, “A covenant people are bound together not only by the same revealed covenants that they have individually made with the Lord, but also by the strength and support they lend each other as a Church.”

“[A] covenant people provides a base of operations through which the gospel can be carried to other people, priesthood authority can be preserved and exercised, and the kingdom of God can be extended through the earth.”

“This bonding provides a functional channel for the Lord to work through among the peoples of the earth. Thus, a covenant people make covenants with the Lord to serve him, and the Lord in turn covenants to redeem them through the gospel.”4

I believe that being a part of the House of Israel, and a covenant people, also gives us power to fulfill President David O. McKay’s prophecy for all who attend this university.

4. Nourished and fed by others

I have lived abroad in foreign countries for about five years of my life after graduating from high school. In each of these situations abroad, I have met people who have took me under their wing. Just like a mother hen takes her chicks under her wing and cares for them, these people took me under their wing and took care of me in different ways. Some fed me spiritually, and others fed me food. All fed me with their genuine kindness and fellowship. As a missionary there were always members who took special care of me. My favorite token of support from members was receiving a bag of fresh kimchee. When I lived abroad in Japan and China, the bishop and branch president and their counselors invited me over for dinner on several occasions. It was such a treat for me to be in the homes of families who loved each other. I loved seeing how the parents and children interacted with each other, and how they treated me as their guest. For anyone who has lived in an expatriate community, you can understand the close bond that develops among members who live abroad.

Another example of ‘taking someone under your wing’ can be seen in the life of Joseph F. Smith as a young missionary. Joseph F. Smith served a mission in the Sandwich Islands (Hawai’i) beginning in 1854 when he was just 15 years old.

“On Molokai, when he contracted a severe fever and was seriously ill for three months, a dear sister, Ma Mahuhii, attended him as lovingly as though he were her own son. She never forgot him, nor he her, and they greeted one another with deep affection whenever they met in later years.” 5

Years later Joseph F. Smith, then prophet, visited the saints in Hawai’i with Bishop Charles Nibley. The members greeted him with warmth and leis. Bishop Nibley recalls,

"It was a beautiful sight to see the deep-seated love, the even tearful affection, that these people had for him. In the midst of it all I noticed a poor, old, blind woman, tottering under the weight of about ninety years, being led in. She had a few choice bananas in her hand. It was her all--her offering. She was calling, 'Iosepa, Iosepa.' Instantly, when he saw her, he ran to her and clasped her in his arms, hugged her, and kissed her, . . . patting her on the head saying, 'Mama, Mama, my dear old Mama.'”

"And with tears streaming down his cheeks he turned to me and said, 'Charlie, she nursed me when I was a boy, sick and without anyone to care for me. She took me in and was a mother to me'" 5

I can give many more examples of how people took me under their wing, as can you. Maybe someone who listens to your problems and helps you find solutions, A friend who drives you places when you don’t have a car. A teacher who spends extra time in helping you understand a difficult concept, and in learning more about graduate school or job opportunities.

We tend to remember the kind things people do for us longer than the names or classes we take. I will never forget those kind people who befriended me when I lived abroad by myself. I would absolutely return the favor to them if they came to visit me in my country. And so it is. When someone takes us under their wing and cares for us, there develops a feeling of loyalty towards them, and a desire to return the favor and kindness to them, and to others. This is the gospel, and what it teaches us.

My main message is that I’m suggesting that each one of us have been hanai-ed or adopted in one way or another. If not legally, than spiritually. And hopefully, we will have this attitude and heart to feed and nourish others no matter what position we are in, wherever we are; and that we can cultivate and practice it here.


1 Drent, Kaaren. Coffee Times Magazine. Fall/Winter 2002/2003. Used with permission by Les Drent, Publisher, Coffee Times. 1 July 2007. .
2 Butler, Shanna. “Articles of Faith: What Abraham’s Covenant Means to You,” New Era, April 2006: 32–36.
3 Nelson, Russell M. “Children of the Covenant,” Ensign, May 1995: 33.
4 Matthews, Robert J. “Our Covenants with the Lord,” Ensign, December 1980: 33–34.
5 Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City. 1998: xv-xvi, 192.