“It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.”—Maya Angelou
Amid the ongoing protests, violence, and political clashes all stemming from systemic racism, we need ways to teach children about cultural differences and to appreciate the beauty in cultural diversity.
Ancient mythology and legends offer parents the chance to introduce other cultures and traditions, while also sharing powerful lessons embedded in those tales. After all, storytelling is one of the longest-lasting traditions precisely because of its power to motivate, inspire, and teach.
For hundreds of years, the legends and myths of the Hawaiian Islands have helped explain the natural phenomena and keep values and virtues alive in the community. One such story follows the creation of the Naupaka flowers (Scaevola sencea), which are native to the Islands and distinctive because they seem to be missing their other half–as if only part of the flower has blossomed. Here is the story of this one-of-a-kind flower:
There was once a powerful princess, Pele, who had brought fire to the Earth and controlled the element for eternity. Pele had a less powerful but very beautiful sister named Princess Naupaka. One day, Princess Naupaka was walking along the beach when she noticed a fisherman bringing his boat in. Even after a long day at sea, the fisherman, named Kaui, captured Princess Naupaka’s attention, and they fell immediately in love.
When Princess Pele learned about what happened, she grew angry. She couldn’t believe that her own sister would fall in love with a common man, and she demanded that Naupaka forget about Kaui. But Princess Naupaka knew in her heart that she couldn’t forget him. She went to see a priest, hoping to find some guidance on what to do. When the priest couldn’t help, Kaui and Naupaka went to see Princess Pele and explain their situation to her. But, when Pele saw the couple walking toward her, she exploded with anger. Gathering up all of her fire and rage, she began to hurl scalding lava as Kaui and Naupaka ran away.
Afraid of what would happen, Princess Naupaka took the white flower from her hair and tore it in half. “Go down to the beach and run away in your boat,” she told Kaui as she handed him the other half of the flower. Instead of going with him, she turned around and ran to hide from her angry sister in the mountains. Today, you can still find the Naupaka flowers torn apart, half of them in the mountains and their other halves by the sea. When you join the two parts, they look like the same complete flower.
Aside from entertainment and intrigue, what can children take away from this story? Here are three important lessons to highlight as you read it.
Division brings pain. Discrimination and prejudice always lead to hurt and pain, and this is an important lesson in Naupaka’s story. When Princess Pele uses her power to divide Naupaka and Kaui, she causes unhappiness between them and the permanent separation of the resilient Naupaka flowers. Take a moment to highlight the importance of avoiding discrimination and prejudice, using Pele as a role model of what not to do.
See with your heart. The story of the Naupaka flowers helps to show that differences–from class to racial, from social to cultural–exist in our minds but not our hearts. Try pointing out the differences between Princess Naupaka, a princess from a powerful ruling family, and Kaui, a fisherman–emphasizing how they chose to lead with their hearts despite them. Like Naupaka and Kaui, we should all use our hearts to see people where differences don’t divide.
We are beautiful when together. Like this special flower that grows in the islands, every one of us has a role as part of a greater community. Use this story to model for children the importance of embracing your collaborative role in a community, rather than acting independently (or divisively, in the case of Pele). Like the Naupaka flowers, we are only complete and beautiful when united with the whole.
The prevalence of racial injustice and violence in today’s world shows us that diversity is still under-appreciated and misunderstood. For children, it can be particularly difficult to navigate current events, media, and messages. Stories like Princess Naupaka’s and the unique Naupaka flower allows parents to share an ancient and enduring tale of seeing with the heart, while also showing the value and beauty in diversity.