Raised Hānai: Recollections of Hawaiian adults


By bhadmin February 2, 2021

Hanai is a form of informal adoption that has been practiced by Hawaiians for generations. Children in informal systems of care retain their family and cultural connections. Underrepresented in the literatures on hanai and informal adoption is the experience of children raised in these systems. The purpose of this study was to understand the Hawaiian cultural practice of hanai from the experience of Hawaiian adults who were raised hanai. This study also explored the connections between those raised hanai and their birth families. A purposive sample of ten adult Native Hawaiians raised hanai in Hawaiian families participated in a series of in-depth interviews. Employing qualitative methods of ethnography and narrative, the interviews included free-association narrative, semi-structured questions, and drawing of a family tree. Findings from the first research question, “What is hanai?,” define hanai as a form of child rearing in which children are usually raised by grandparents or other relatives. Hanai is a kinship rooted in Hawaiian culture, practiced with variations, and impacted by Westernization. While hanai children are housed, cared for, loved, and educated by their hanai parents, they usually maintain connections with their birth parents. For some, hanai is a way to perpetuate legacy including family and cultural knowledge, a distinctive feature of hanai. The second research question addresses the experience of hanai . Topics include the favored status of hanai children, familial responsibilities, hanai children’s preparation to carry family legacy, and dual relationships with family members. Hanai participants described a strong emotional connection to hanai parents. The overall experience of hanai was positive, even though seven participants lost a hanai parent to death during their childhood. The third research question about birth family connections found hanai participants in regular contact with their birth mothers, some birth fathers and siblings. The participants’ lifelong relationships with their birth parents ranged from close to distant. However, four participants had no contact with their non-Hawaiian paternal families. Created from the study, a Hanai Family Model depicts multiple relatives cooperatively caring for a hanai child. The model includes the transmission of legacy and maintaining connections with birth family as key parental functions.

Fahs-Beck Scholars

Meet the Scholars

Fahs-Beck Fellows

Meet the Fellows


Our grant programs are changing.


Learn more