Nā Kuaʻāina

The word kua’āina translates literally as “back land” or “back country.” Davianna Pōmaika’i McGregor grew up hearing it as a reference to an awkward or unsophisticated person from the country. However, in the context of the Native Hawaiian cultural renaissance of the late twentieth century, kua’āina came to refer to those who actively lived Hawaiian culture and kept the spirit of the land alive. The mo’olelo (oral traditions) recounted in this book reveal how kua’āina have enabled Native Hawaiians to endure as a unique and dignified people more than a century after the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.

In this moving book, she writes:

“I can remember a time when it was demeaning to be called kuaʻāina, for it meant that one was an awkward and rough country person. In Hawaiian, kua means back and ‘āina means land, so kuaʻāina is translated literally in the Hawaiian Dictionary as “back land.” However, in the context of the Native Hawaiian cultural renaissance of the late twentieth century, the word kuaʻāina gained a new and fascinating significance.

A kuaʻāina came to be looked upon as someone who embodied the backbone of the land. Indeed, kuaʻāina are the Native Hawaiians who remained in the rural communities of our islands, took care of the kūpuna or elders, continued to speak Hawaiian, bent their backs and worked and sweated in the taro patches and sweet potato fields, and held that which is precious and sacred in the culture in their care.

The kuaʻāina are those who withdrew from the mainstream of economic, political, and social change in the Islands. They did not enjoy modern amenities and lived a very simple life. This mo’olelo recounts how the life ways of the kuaʻāina enabled the Native Hawaiian people to endure as a unique, distinct, dignified people even after over a century of American control of the Islands.”

Mahalo to Davianna and the University of Hawaiʻi Press for permission to provide chapter one of the book Nā Kuaʻāina here on our website. You can purchase a copy of the book in its entirety online at Na Mea Hawaiʻi/Native Books and other online book retailers.


Na Kuaaina, Chapter 1. McGregor.

Na Kuaaina, Chapter 1. McGregor.
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