Pono-Pono Peace Initiative

Why Pono-Pono: Honoring Hawaiian Culture through Peacebuilding

June 06, 20245 min read

"Just as the puʻuhonua of old provided a refuge for those seeking to make amends and find their way back to a state of balance, our work aims to create the conditions for communities to do the same."

Why Pono-Pono: Honoring Hawaiian Culture in Peacebuilding

Our organization has its roots in Hawaii where our founder, Naomi Pedersen, received her bachelor's degree in Intercultural Peacebuilding. She studied in Laie, a puʻuhonua - a traditional place of refuge. Surrounded by the majestic mountains and clear oceans of Oceania, it's impossible not to be moved by the spiritual energy (mana) of the land (ʻĀina) around you. 

Hawaii Ocean Mountain

We believe that true peace is more than just resolving conflicts between people. It also includes our relationship with the ʻĀina and the mana between us. In Laie, the strong influence of Hawaiian culture provided a unique perspective on peacebuilding that has guided us. That's why we chose the Hawaiian word "Pono" as the name for our organization. Pono means balance and righteousness - to have real, lasting peace, we must be right in our relationships with the people and world around us. But the term "Pono-Pono" goes even deeper. When two words are combined in Hawaiian, the meaning is deepened and amplified.

 Pono-Pono reminds us that peace is not just about avoiding conflict or doing what is right, it is about actively working to create the conditions for peace to flourish. It's not enough to simply remove the weeds of conflict; we must plant the flowers and food of peace. Pono-Pono is a call to be a positive force in peacebuilding - to build equitable, harmonious communities where human rights are upheld and resources are shared fairly. It's not just the absence of war, but the presence of justice, compassion, and human thriving.

In many indigenous cultures, the land (ʻĀina) is imbued with a profound spiritual meaning and energy (mana). It is not just a backdrop or resource to be exploited, but a living, breathing entity with its own inherent worth and agency. This understanding of the sacred relationship between people and place is a core tenet of Hawaiian worldview.

When our founder, Naomi Pedersen, studied in the community of Laie, she was immersed in an environment that has been set aside for hundreds of years as a puʻuhonua - a traditional place of refuge and sanctuary. These sacred sites were established across the Hawaiian archipelago as safe havens where people could find protection, resolve conflicts peacefully, and restore balance to their lives and communities.

The very geography and natural features of Laie - the majestic mountains, the pristine ocean vistas, the lush foliage - serve to underscore its spiritual significance. This is not just any piece of land, but a place that has been hallowed by generations of reverence, ritual, and righteous living. The mana of the ʻĀina is palpable, infusing the air with a sense of tranquility, contemplation, and the possibility of transformation.

mountain hawaii

It is within this charged, sacred space that our organization's approach to peacebuilding was forged. The powerful lesson of the puʻuhonua - that there are places set apart for the express purpose of fostering peace, reconciliation, and the restoration of harmony - has become a guiding principle for us. We recognize that true, lasting peace is not something that can be imposed from the outside, but must be nurtured within environments that are intentionally cultivated to support it.

Brigham Young University-Hawaii have been at the forefront of integrating Hawaiian values and traditions into their curriculum and school environment.  As BYU-Hawaii leads out in honoring the culture of their host country, all the students at BYU-Hawaii, and the people who visit the campus are blessed.  Each goes away with reminders of their own cultures and the value it is to the world.  This is especially true for students enrolled in the Intercultural Peacebuilding program. Drawing upon their unique multicultural campus environment, these students have developed innovative programs that leverage the aloha spirit to promote harmony and wellbeing.

Pono-Pono Peace Initiative works hand in hand with the Intercultural Peace Building program to help expand the programs reach, strengthen it’s influence and help to diversify the students learning experiences.  Together we combine classroom learning with immersive field experiences, allowing students to directly engage with communities throughout the Pacific islands. They work closely with local leaders and elders to understand traditional conflict resolution practices, such as ho'oponopono, and then adapt these methods to address contemporary issues.

Beyond just teaching these cultural practices, the BYU-Hawaii students strive to embody the values of lōkahi (unity) and kuleana (responsibility) in their own conduct. They approach their peacebuilding work with humility, empathy, and a deep respect for local knowledge and wisdom. This has enabled them to build trusting relationships and collaborate authentically with diverse communities throughout the region.

The Intercultural Peacebuilding program at BYU-Hawaii stands as a powerful example of how we can meaningfully integrate Hawaiian cultural traditions into our global efforts to cultivate peace, happiness, and healing. By learning from these inspiring students and their community-driven initiatives, we can further enrich our peacebuilding work with the transformative spirit of aloha.


Just as the puʻuhonua of old provided a refuge for those seeking to make amends and find their way back to a state of balance, our work aims to create the conditions for communities to do the same. We strive to honor the spirit of the land, to work in alignment with its mana, and to facilitate processes of conflict resolution, restorative justice, and collective healing that are rooted in the wisdom of Hawaiian culture.

By embracing this profound understanding of place and its inherent sacredness, we hope to contribute to the building of a more peaceful, harmonious world - one puʻuhonua at a time. We are grateful to be learning from the Hawaiian people and culture as we work to embody these principles of positive peace. This is a sacred space, and we are honored to be a part of it.

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