Makaʻāinana is the Hawaiian term often translated as “commoner”. But actually thatʻs a misnomer because in English a commoner is someone without rank or title and who were neither clergy nor noble. That is based on European social stratification going back to the Greeks and Romans. In Hawaiian, makaʻāinana is in fact a protected class and rank and unlike in European social stratifications, they were not tied by the land nor were they bound to serve a chief. A makaʻāinana could move freely and pledge allegiance to a chief of his/her choice. While in some ways, it did resemble a caste system in the sense one was born into it but in traditional caste systems, one does not have freedom of movement and freedom of allegiances. It can not be understood in European terms because of the lack of property ownership which was essential in class formation. The closest in the concepts of Hawaiian stratification I have found in terms of relate-ability and application are from Sāmoa, pre-colonial Visayan (in the Philippines), pre-colonial Merina society (in Madagascar), and pre-Islamic Indonesia .
The term makaʻāinana is quite beautiful in itʻs concept. The term “maka” means “eye”. “Mata” in most Austronesian languages from Indonesia to Rapa Nui still means “eye”. Maka in Hawaiian also means “face” and may have a relation with another term. In most Western Austronesian languages (i.e. Tagalog, Bahasa Indonesia, etc), muka or mukha means face and supposedly derives from the Sanskrit term मुख (mu.kha). 19th century New Zealand scholars proposed that maka and muka maybe related and this showed linguistic ties and/or on-going pre-colonial trade going on between Polynesians, SE Asians and India. In Hawaiian, maka means eye and face.
After maka, comes the term ʻāina. Everyone knows that ʻāina means land. But ʻāina in itself comes from the term ʻai refers to food and that which sustains you and you hold onto. ʻAi also figuratively means to rule because of the meaning of sustain and that which you hold on to. The the na in ʻāina is a normalizing suffix used to turn specific verbs into general nouns. Thus “to eat” or “to sustain” is changed from it’s verb form into “the persons/groups of people/things that which will sustain you and eat from”. The extra -na suffix in ʻāinana modifies the ʻāina even more to mean “the persons/ groups of people/ things that helps sustain the things that sustain you and eat from”. So the term makaʻāinana thus means the face or eyes of the people who sustain the land and everything on it that sustains you and society as a whole. They in essences help to sustain the entire society through their labors and skills. They are the real face of the lāhui. They are the face of the land. They are the eyes of the land. In my opinion, we need more people willing to sustain all that sustains us and we should honor our farmers, our fishers and also our our workers, our security guards, our sales clerks, our servers, our social workers and everyone else whose work enables us to sustain ourselves and keep us on the move for they are the face of the lāhui too. They help sustain our land and our society today.
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Thank you for this wonderful article, which I will share with my high school students.