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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Hawaiian educators gather on Big Island

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

HILO, Hawai'i — The kupuna and makua who share their knowledge of Hawaiian culture, language and crafts with public school students across the state are gathering on the Big Island this week to exchange and build on their store of island lore.

Kumu hula Maile Yamanaka teaches a chant that describes some history and lore of Hilo for a gathering of kupuna and makua.

Photos by Kevin Dayton • The Honolulu Advertiser

Yesterday, the 130 participants listened and practiced, grinning at one another when a fellow instructor offered a particularly clever teaching tip.

On a lanai at the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel at the edge of Hilo Bay, kupuna Kimo Awai of Keaukaha Elementary School outlined some of the history of Mokuola, or Coconut Island, just across the water.

In ancient times Mokuola was a temple for healing, but sick people were required to swim to the island before they could be treated. It is thought that perhaps this custom assisted the kahuna by weeding out those so ill that they were unlikely to survive the swim.

Awai explained how the bones of the highest born were dried on stones on the island before burial, and how the bay surrounding Mokuola was a favorite surfing spot for Kamehameha the Great.

Pattye Wright

Roy Palacat
Inside a hotel meeting room, another group practiced a chant taught by kumu hula Maile Yamanaka that described areas in and around Hilo and what they are known for, from the "killing water" of Wailuku River to Leleiwi, a place where the spirits leap into the netherworld.

"We teach about these stories and these places, and we have to have the visual experience of it, the touch, the smell, the look of it, so that when we bring these mo'olelo (stories) into the classroom, they're alive for us," said Pattye Wright, also known as Kupuna Kea to the 675 students at Makalapa Elementary School near Pearl Harbor.

Kupuna means "grandparent" in Hawaiian or relative of that generation, and makua is "parent" or relative of that generation, such as an aunt or uncle. The Department of Education's Kupuna Program assigns Hawaiian elders to elementary schools to share their knowledge of Hawaiiana. The program started more than 20 years ago.

During their Big Island meeting this week, group members will travel as far afield as Kalapana, Pahala and Kilauea for lectures and storytelling. Craft classes are being held in hotel meeting rooms and a Holoku Ball is scheduled for Thursday.

Time also will be set aside to mull the Hawai'i Content Performance Standards, part of an effort to strengthen the connections between the traditional teachings of the kupuna and the more formalized educational objectives of the public school system, said Roy Palacat, makua at Kealakehe Elementary School in Kona.

Much of that work amounts to identifying what is already in the teachings of the kupuna, such as the fine arts and world language lessons imbedded in hula, or the physical science studies within a discussion of moon phases.

"In everything that we do Hawaiian, there's standards in there. It's just getting these people to get used to how to identify them," Palacat said.

Reach Kevin Dayton at kdayton@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 935-3916.