Pulelo Ha‘aheo

Flying High in March and May, 2014

Kīhei’s Acceptance Speech

I Ulu i ke Kumu Awards

Hawai‘inuiākea School of Knowledge

UH Mānoa

14 years ago, in late October, we found ourselves kneeling in muddy grass on a field next to the ocean at a place called Ponerihouen in Province Nord, New Caledonia. After a long day of shared dancing, oratory, gift-giving, and feasting, we were asked to join in the ceremonial planting of pine trees. Our Kanak hosts told us that these trees were hō‘ailona of the Kanak presence on the land, were the embodiment of their guardian ancestors, were the memory-markers of significant events in their history. “These trees,” said one of our hosts, “will call you back to us. We will remember you through them; our children will use these trees to tell their children about your visit.”

So there we were, a dozen or so members of the Hawai‘i delegation to the 9th Festival of Pacific Arts, standing in a line in the rain in our nice Nake‘u delegation clothes, each of us with a brand new shovel, an already dug hole, a neat mound of dirt, and a baby pine tree lying at our feet. At the head of our line was our hulu kupuna, the South Kona fisherman, the mānaleo with an eighth-grade education, our ‘Anakala Eddie Ka‘anana. Without a word, without a signal, without looking down the line at the rest of us, he knelt, moved his new shovel off to the side, and planted his pine tree with his hands.  Miraculously, without a word, without a signal, without hesitation, the rest of us followed suit, palms down, muddy, smiling in the blessing of rain and in the common ground shared by Kanak and Kanaka.

Māpuana went back to New Caledonia nine years later. Waiting to meet her was a nine-year old Kanak girl named Baby Māpuana. Also waiting were the now thirty-foot tall kumu lā‘au paina of Ponerihouen and stories told to kids about distant cousins from Hawai‘i who had planted these trees, kneeling in the mud just like Kanaks.

This is the model of education that we aspire to. The nānā-ka-maka, hahai-kupuna model. The know-enough-to-keep-your-mouth-shut-and-follow-your-kupuna model.  The palms-down model. The carry-it-forward-in-story-and-song model.

More often than not, we fall short of ‘Anakala Eddie’s example, we fail to advance the hulu kupuna model, we choose the shovel and clean fingernails... But we do thank you tonight, in all humility, for recognizing our stubborn, recalcitrant, recidivist na‘au. The part of us that says: “no way will we give up.” Like many of you, we will nokenoke, we will ho‘omau, short-comings and all, “a hiki i ke aloha ‘āina hope loa.”

Pictured above from top to bottom: 1. Kahikina and Māpuana de Silva performing in honor of Kauka de Silva’s “Kumu Kukui” Award at the Hawaiian Hall Courtyard of the Bishop Museum on May 1, 2014. 2. Kīhei, Māpuana, and daughter Britny at the “I Ulu i ke Kumu” Awards presented on March 22 at UH Mānoa’s Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies. 3-4. Kauka waxing elequent; two of his pots speaking louder than words. 5. Cousin Paulette Kahalepuna, also a Kumu Kukui awardee.