Posts Tagged ‘Kamehameha Schools’

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Presenting the past to preserve our future

February 13, 2009

Our last post, “How Do You See Yourself?” provoked an amazing response. Nearly a month later, we continue to receive emails and tweets from diametrically opposed camps. Some say we are helping to perpetuate stereotypes by ignoring gross prejudices. Others believe that we as a people must move beyond past grievances and take control of how we see ourselves as well as how others perceive us.

While I won’t go as far as to say we’re perpetuating stereotypes, I will agree that I am more likely than not to excuse political incorrectness from kūpuna. The understanding and wisdom they hold is far greater than any bias they may carry.

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With each passing of a hulu makua (literally feather parent – elder who is precious like beautiful feathers), we lose more of our foundational knowledge. Over the course of millennia, our kūpuna learned from their ancestors and environment, thereby forging an incredible culture that continues to thrive today.

However, for the Hawaiian culture to endure that knowledge must be transmitted and we must be the willing recipients of our kūpuna’s insight.

Nāna i wawaele i ke ala, ma hope aku kākou – He cleared the way, we came later

With this in mind, Kamehameha Schools’ Hawaiian Cultural Center Ka‘iwakīloumoku thankfully put together a program that provides our entire community with the opportunity to hear and honor the voices of our kūpuna.

Jamie Fong Coordinator of Ka‘iwakīloumoku and Nā Momi Ho‘oheno – the oral Hawaiian history series –shares, “In this fast changing world, the cherished mo‘olelo [stories] of our kūpuna and cultural practitioners can easily be lost and forgotten. Our goal is to capture some of these precious stories and to share them with current and future generations.”

jkaThe series began in January with the incredible story and music of Johnny Kameaaloha Almeida, one of Hawai‘i’s greatest composers. Called of the “Dean of Hawaiian music,” Almeida’s remarkable use of the Hawaiian language and “pure Hawaiian” melodies continue to move us more than a century after his birth.

marylou1.jpgOn Wednesday, February 18th on the Kapālama Campus, Nā Momi Ho‘oheno will present a short film on two master feather artists, the late Mary Lou Kekuewa and her daughter Paulette Kahalepuna. Known as the “Queen of Feathers,” Aunty Mary Lou and her protégé Paulette have shared the artistry of Hawaiian featherwork with generations of limahana hulu. Paulette will also be on hand with a demonstration of the artform to which she and her mother have dedicated their lives. The public is welcome and admission is FREE.

In the coming months Ka‘iwakīloumoku will host other events promoting Nohona Hawai‘i, Hawaiian ways of living and learning. In March, the oral history series will continue with a short film on Haili’s Hawaiian Foods, the famous eatery located at the Ala Moana fish market. Founded more than 60 years ago by Peter and Rachel Haili, today their daughters carry on the family’s rich Hawaiian culinary traditions. In coming months, we can look forward to programs such as Nā Lani ‘Ehā – the music of the four ali‘i Kalākaua, Lili’uokalani, Leleiohoku and Likelike – and an offering from our Māori cousins called “He Reo Aroha.”

For more information, please contact Ka‘iwakīloumoku at 842-8655 or email them at jafong@ksbe.edu.

As Jamie so eloquently put it, “I’m humbled that kūpuna would entrust Ka‘iwakīloumoku with their precious life stories. We owe it to them to portray their mo‘olelo with accuracy and integrity, so that their stories will live on for generations to come.”

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How Do You See Yourself?

January 16, 2009

Recently, having lunch with friends, I was struck by how much Native Hawaiian self-image has changed over the years.

There was nothing particularly unusual about this lunch – a typical get-together of the cronies gathering for a highly anticipated talk story session. However, on this occasion we were lucky to be joined by one of our hui’s Grandpa Joe.

A distinguished gentleman in his eighties, Grandpa Joe is one of those wonderful people you want at all of your parties. A raconteur at heart, his lifetime of experiences and wry wit combined to have us all rolling with laughter. Drawing us in as confidants, he would lean forward conspiratorially. His shock of white hair edging ever nearer and his eyes dancing, he wove amazing tales of the “old days.”

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During the course of the lunch, the conversation turned toward us. “What do you do?” he asked. A physicist, a lawyer, a writer, a professor and a flack (yes, I’m the underachiever of the bunch) were the answers.

“Wow, a group of smart Hawaiians,” he said completely devoid of irony.

“Grandpa!” his namesake mo‘opuna squawked. But, Grandpa Joe was nonplused. He had no idea why his grandson was upset.

Grandpa Joe wasn’t being racist though; he was simply reiterating what he’d heard for a lifetime. Graduating from Kamehameha Schools nearly 70 years ago, his was a world in which native opportunities were few. What we now consider commonplace – a group of college educated Native Hawaiian professionals from ordinary backgrounds – was unheard of in his day.

But more interesting to me, he did not see the very incongruity of his thinking. Here was a man – a Hawaiian man – who without the benefit of higher education used his intellect and will to forge a highly successful international career. There is absolutely no question that Grandpa Joe is an extremely “smart Hawaiian.” Yet, he was unable to place his own life example above the stereotypes embedded within him decades before. He continues to carry the century old bias that Hawaiians are somehow inadequate.

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A generation later, my father followed along the same path of self-deprecation. A recurring conversation in our house went something like this.

Dad: “Hawaiians are lazy.”
Child: “Dad, aren’t we Hawaiians?”
Dad: “Yes.”
Child: “Is anyone in our family lazy?”
Dad: “No.”
Child: “So what Hawaiians are you talking about?”
Dad: Silence

Coming from a household of incurable workaholics, I never understood how my father could make such an outrageous statement. However, in speaking with Grandpa Joe, I began to better understand my own history. My father, like Grandpa, could not reconcile the gulf between his own experiences and the prejudices of long ago.

Yet – even though they could not see it within themselves – both of these smart, hardworking men are part of changing how Native Hawaiians are perceived. Amazing examples like theirs are the lens through which my friends and I view ourselves and our people.

Now, it is incumbent upon us to ensure that others of our generation, as well as the next, deliver on the potential we so clearly see.