I’m always interested in notions about personal destiny and life purpose, and recently I came across a new (to me) branch in this tree of ideas: the Hawaiian concept of kuleana. Broadly defined as “responsibility,” kuleana is understood to include a deep accountability to several interconnected realms: self, family, community, earth, etc.
I discovered the concept in the pages of Terrie M. Williams’ book The Odyssey of KP2: An Orphan Seal, a Marine Biologist, and the Fight to Save a Species. She writes:
Kuleana is a Hawaiian word that has no direct translation into English. It describes the sense of ancestral-based responsibility that often comes with a unique undertaking or experience. It is destiny with a DNA underpinning coupled with a realization that you are doing what you were meant to do in this life, the harmonization of talent and trajectory.
In my experience, the happiest individuals are those who have discovered their kuleana. Such individuals weather hardships, challenges and sacrifices not as obstacles or excuses for failure but as a natural part of life’s adventures. The entire odyssey called life is a joy.
A beautiful concept — and one that gently encourages us to think and act beyond our own small spheres of perceived influence. There is so much more out there, all around us, and we are accountable to it (all of it) by simple virtue of the fact that we are, at root, a creation of it.
I also find it noteworthy that kuleana has no direct translation into English. The concept — with its interconnectedness and wide-ranging responsibility — certainly exists within other indigenous cultures, but it is much less prevalent within “modern” white societies, which tend to be driven more by personal gain than by personal responsibility. If there were words in English to describe kuleana, would our motivations be different? How can we create the words to fill that gap?
I hope you find your kuleana. May your life’s journey be an odyssey of joy.