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Hawaiian kinship system

In my linguistic classes in college we studied different kinship systems, and one was called the Hawaiian kinship system (or generational kinship system). In this system generation and gender distinctions are made, but no distinctions are made in degrees of consanguinity. So, all the females of the mother’s generation are called mother, all the males of the father’s generation are called father, all the male cousins are referred to as brother, and all the female cousins as sister.

I was surprised to see words for uncle and aunt come up in the ‘ohana lessons here. Does anyone know if these words are borrowed from English? "Ankala" does sound suspiciously similar to uncle.


September 12, 2019



ʻAe, you are correct. Like in many post-missionary / european contact cultures, the kinship and counting systems were altered to coincide with the respective missionary religious or colonizer cultural system. Generational distinction is the most important to the Hawaiian kinship system. A friend of your parents, for example, who is within their generation would be referred to as the "makua" generation, even if there is no blood relationship. This does not mean that there are no words to distinguish between these relations, or amongs different branches within the family (and cousins). There definitely are, but at the core cultural standpoint, the levels are the same and are regarded in this way, without necessarily needing extra distinction.

ʻAnakē and ʻAnakala are both loan words from enlgish to mean "Aunty" and "Uncle" to fit within the Enlgish system.

Thank you for contributing this! Many Native Hawaiianʻs disagree with teaching the "introduced" family system words when covering kinship in ʻŌlelo hawaiʻi.


Das ist interessant zu wissen, aber ich weiß nicht.


I'm no linguist ^_^ but I'll try to share based on my practical experience:

This has to do more with the culture and community. In many cultures it is normal that anyone in a specific community (like church/spiritual group), elders, people of respect, and people you are close to are all considered family. It has to do more with the way community is percieved through a cultural lens. In many Western cultures, the way community works is viewed very differently. Consider values like interdependence vs independence and how those concepts are viewed and held by different cultures.

This leads us to kinship systems.

Where in many European cultures, there is this concept of degrees of separation such as: Second and third cousins Third aunt by marriage Great uncle once removed - this is very confusing to me! And still a challenge to wrap my brain around. Because in my family's cultures, everyone considered family (by blood or otherwise) is brother, sister, auntie, uncle. It doesn't matter where they are in a "family tree." It has more to do with their relation to you in terms of age and respect. My family comes from two different Hispanic cultures and I was raised for some time in Hawaii and this concept is the norm in all three. In all three it is the norm to be welcoming, warm, and open to people, regardless of who they are or if you know them. There is a different level of understanding when it comes to the interconnectedness of a community and system compared to other cultures I've experienced (quite a variety!). This likely has roots that go back through time to our indigenous backgrounds and the understanding and relationship with the earth and ecosystem. I could go on for days. But long story short, this influences what community and family means. When it comes to viewing kinship I suspect there is also a difference between many cultures when it comes to the concept of lineage. This may also play a role.

Anyway. When greeting a cousin we say things equivalent to "Brother! Good to see you again!" Or "Hey Sis, what's up!" Calling someone auntie or uncle signifies respect and can also imply closeness (on a personal level). So you may have someone older ask you to do something and you say the equivalent of "Yes, Auntie." Maybe this can be compared to how sir and ma'am are used in some cultures. And for greeting people of a close personal relationship you may say Aloha Auntie! Which really translates to an affectionate hello with love and respect.

Hope that helps!

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