Writer, reader, place: writing with ho’okipa

My favourite topic is writing about writing, so when I got the invitation from Rosa to take part in the Talking Story series on ho’okipa I knew I had to make "writing with hospitality" my theme.

I started warming up in June with a post on how to make your readers feel at home, identifying some of the key features of hospitable writing such as:

  • pacing your readers’ experience
  • using signposts
  • plain, simple language
  • giving people enough space; and
  • being yourself.

As Rosa pointed out in her comments at the time, this last one is probably the most important, as it reflects and captures the spirit of aloha.

But I had a feeling at the back of my mind that writing with ho’okipa meant something just a little bit more than making your readers feel at home.  Like April I always like to start by exploring the meaning of a word. And I had learned from Rosa that the meaning of the Hawaiian values is multi-layered, multi-storied.  There is kaona behind the words (Rosa – I hope I have got this right…)

What else could I learn about writing with ho’okipa by digging a little bit deeper?

A good place to start was the wonderful exchange of writing, words and ideas at the Talking Story blog.  From other contributors and commenters this month I have deepened my understanding of ho’okipa to include:

  • respect for the dignity of other people
  • generosity
  • a sustaining environment
  • a warm and sincere greeting
  • anticipation and fulfillment of the needs of a guest
  • dialogue – the interaction between you and your guest
  • keeping your guest company
  • establishing a relationship
  • looking for the connections between you

Substitute ‘reader’ for ‘guest’ and I wonder if you can start to see the possibilities opening up to write with ho’okipa...?

As I kept looking for further insights into the meaning of ho’okipa I found an essay on the values behind the world-renowned Hawaiian practice of welcoming strangers to their land.  This made me realise that ho’okipa is about generosity towards others – but only from a position of respect for ourselves.

"Ho’okipa… teaches us to respect ourselves, to walk with dignity, and to honor the customs and traditions of our ethnic heritage – whatever it may be…"

I was reminded of what Rosa had said to me before.  The importance of being yourself when you write.  That hospitality comes from the inside out.  That the writer is just as important as the focus on the reader.  It’s a dialogue, a conversation, a relationship between you.

My last piece of research took me to another level again.  To a three-way relationship between host, guest and place.  I found this in a presentation and discussion on tourism in Hawaii (the wonders of the Internet!)  [If you want to explore, it’s the presentation marked  ‘Hawaiian hospitality behind the aloha’]

Again, it was the reminder that hospitality has to start with ourselves.  That ho’okipa is about knowing who you are and where you’ve come from.  And more than that it’s about respect and love for the place where you find yourselves.  That means creating a sense of  place: helping people to understand and love the place they are visiting, that sense of being at home. It’s about knowing (and loving) the place that you’ve come from.  And it’s about respecting and sustaining the environment that has brought us together, has brought us here.

I know, I know I’ve come a long way from how to write with ho’okipa… But I think the messages are transferable – because they come from the values that underpin it.  Writing with ho’okipa means writing with respect:

For your reader: anticipating their needs, using language that makes them feel at home,  signposting where you’re going, paying attention to detail, using positive language, writing with generosity

For you the writer: allowing your true voice to emerge, the permission to be yourself, writing in your own words, the confidence to tell your story from where you are and where you’ve come from

For the space between readers and writers: recognising the shared space that you create as a writer, the space that you invite your reader to join, and the space that changes, shifts, develops and grows from the dialogue, conversation, reflection, listening that happens within it; recognising the wider ripples that can spin out of your words and your shared understanding, taking responsibility for the impact in the wider space we inhabit – our community, our country, our networks, our world.

I’m going to finish with a beautiful picture that captures, for me, this sense of harmony between reader, writer and place… with a Hawaiian twist!  Many thanks Rosa for the chance to learn more about ho’okipa and to explore ways that we can build this into our writing, our reading, our world.


Guest Author: Joanna Young hails from Edinburgh, a place I am newly intent on visiting since I have come to know Joanna! She is the prolific author of both Coaching Wizardry and Confident Writing, and she truly loves to write for us; visit her often for the joy she weaves into every posting.


  1. says

    This is wonderful Joanna, thank you so much. I am truly touched by how much research and thoughtfulness you put into preparing this for us. Your article is my Christmas tree of gifts in July!
    I love the connection you have made here with how sense of place is created in the writer’s intention with hospitality. I am also very drawn to what you have explained to us about “shared space” -something I hope to always furnish here on Talking Story.

  2. says

    Well Rosa I really enjoyed the research. Every time I learn a bit more about the Hawaiian values I get more and more intrigued, curious, can see more and more connections to the things I want to write about. The invitation to write a piece was a great incentive to learn more.
    You do indeed create a wonderful shared space here and it is great being part of this ‘special event’ in July.
    To all the other readers out there – you’d be very welcome to chip in with ideas and thoughts too – this is a place where we can share words, ideas, possibilities together…

  3. says

    How to be a hospitable writer

    I don’t know about you but I’d never really thought about hospitality in relation to writing until I got an invitation from Rosa Say to take part in this month’s writing fest at her Talking Story blog. Rosa is a

  4. says

    Make Sunday your Day to Comment

    If Sunday commenting became your new practice, you would learn and gain much enrichment from our month within hospitality (called Ho‘okipa here). Consider the two-way, flowing nature of hospitality; someone welcomes you in, and you as their guest have …

  5. says

    Write with “Ho’okipa”

    Rosa Say, at Managing with Aloha, defines the Hawaiian word Ho’okipa asThe value of Hawaiian-style hospitality, in which guests and strangers alike are welcomed with your spirit of Aloha. There is complete generosity in Ho‘okipa, and those who aspire to

  6. says

    Hau‘oli la hanau to Joanna Young!

    Surely you know Joanna by now too: She is the personification of our Ho‘ohana Community in Scotland! Today is her birthday. Because of Joanna, I can now spell Edinburgh right the first time, without checking, and knowing that she is