Birthright, two poems by Denise ʻAkaloka Rivers

In the early days of Hawaiʻi, personal possessions were few but highly valued.  A personʻs most precious possession was also the most personal: his or her inoa (name.)  Renown Hawaiian historian Mary Kawena Pūkuʻi writes that once spoken, an inoa took on an existence, invisible and intangible but real and capable of marshaling supernatural forces.

In her poems, Birthright and Koʻu Inoa (My Name), Denise ʻAkaloka Rivers explores her feelings about not having been given a Hawaiian name when she was born, something that happened to many Hawaiians of her generation.

Meet the author: Denise ʻAkaloka Rivers




you denied me

ancestors. Mother tongue

deflated in my mouth, teeth stained



Ko’u Inoa


‘O Wai Kou Inoa?


I want to peel back

history-rich lineage

layers of legacy

an homage to

my ancestors


I want to embody

rare beauty

e like me ka mamo

o  na liko lehua

i ka Mauna ‘O Kumukahi.


I want to be blessed

to give good fortune

a chance to commence

jade green and vital

as fresh bamboo shoots

coaxed to coil for luck


I want to reveal

kaona thick as poi

and pa’i ai pure

but my given name is empty

and the  koko my father provided

mother diluted with another man’s name


But two decades postpartum

and not a moment too soon

kupuna made me her namesake

negating my false sense of identity

deeming me, full of laughter


‘O ’Akaloka ko’u inoa.


Credits: Video by Robert Delim and Kat Camit, post photo feature courtesy of Kahoʻolemana Naone

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