the life of pono: documenting an ancient hawaiian culture

Celebrate the spirit of Aloha with these images of a community fighting to bring power back to Hawaiians.

by Matthew Whitehouse
23 May 2016, 11:05am

rosie matheson

In Hawaii, every action in life is either pono or not. It's a word that roughly translates as "righteousness" and even the state motto, Ua Mau Ke Ea O Ka'aina I Ka Pono, or, The Life of the Land is Perpetuated in Righteousness, reflects that belief that life is meant to be lived, well, right. Be it pono for the `āina (land), pono for the makai (ocean), or pono for the ohana (community/family), it all boils down to treating others and the planet with respect; an ethos that UK-based photographer Rosie Matheson strove to capture in her latest photo series. An attempt to document the true identity of Hawaii - one away from the picture-postcard imagery typically photographed - Matheson wanted to give the people of the islands a voice and, through a mixture of portraits and landscapes all shot on film, focus on the revival of this most ancient of cultures. With an emphasis on tattooing - an art form used to guard health and spiritual wellbeing in which practitioners share the same intricate patterns as their ancestors - the resulting images are raw, honest and intimate; a group of people proud of who they are and where they're from. Most people look to the future to influence their actions; the Hawaiians look to the past. Maybe we could all use a little more pono in our lives. 


Text Matthew Whitehouse
Photography Rosie Matheson