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The Seeds We PlantedPortraits of a Native Hawaiian Charter School$

Noelani Goodyear-Ka'opua

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780816680474

Published to Minnesota Scholarship Online: August 2015

DOI: 10.5749/minnesota/9780816680474.001.0001

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Enlarging Hawaiian Worlds

Enlarging Hawaiian Worlds

Wa‘a Travels against Currents of Belittlement

(p.167) Four Enlarging Hawaiian Worlds
The Seeds We Planted

Noelani Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua

University of Minnesota Press

Abstract and Keywords

Chapter four provides a portrait of HKM’s interdisciplinary wa‘a (canoe sailing) education program. I attend to the ways Hālau Kū Māna’s wa‘a program enables processes of “world enlargement” against limiting and belittling views of Indigenous cultures and peoples.

Keywords:   Indigenous education, No Child Left Behind, settler colonialism, Indigenous resurgence, aloha ‘āina, kuleana, hoʻomana, Hawaiian studies, educational ethnography, Hawaiian sovereignty

The kūpuna are always trying to show us stuff, but half the time we probably never even see…. The canoe takes away all the barriers … and allows our ancestors to come in and show us and teach us. The canoe is a vehicle that takes the kids to another place so that they can also see beyond what is just in front.

■ Kumu Bonnie Kahape‘a-Tanner, December 4, 2004

Indigenous Pacific Islanders’ senses of self are created as much in travel as in continuous residence upon particular lands.1 We are both routed and rooted.2 As Native Pacific cultural studies scholars Diaz and Kauanui write, “The land and sea constitute our genealogies and, not surprisingly, they lie at the heart of the varied movements to restore native sovereignty and self-determination. Land and sea are ways by which peoplehood is fashioned.”3 Along similar lines, this chapter balances chapter 3’s focus on rootedness to ‘Aihualama by exploring the routes of HKM’s interdisciplinary wa‘a education program and the Project’s emphasis on learning through the preparation for and practice of sailing, including the genealogical mo‘olelo that guide and give those practices deep meaning. Understandings of self and community in relation to the natural world are produced in movements across the ocean. Such travel requires no less detailed an understanding of place and kuleana than that of the more rooted practice of kalo cultivation.

Against knowledge regimes that cast the Pacific Islands as tiny, isolated “islands in a far sea” and Native islanders as backward and isolated from centers of economic and intellectual production, Epeli Hau‘ofa calls us to look to “our sea of islands” as an expansive source of strength:

(p.168) If we look at the myths, legends and oral traditions, and the cosmologies of the peoples of Oceania, it will become evident that they did not conceive of their world in such microscopic proportions. Their universe comprised not only land surfaces, but the surrounding ocean as far as they could traverse and exploit it, the underworld with its fire-controlling and earth-shaking denizens, and the heavens above with their hierarchies of powerful gods and named stars and constellations that people could count on to guide their ways across the seas. Their world was anything but tiny. They thought big and recounted their deeds in epic proportions.4

This shift toward a strengths-based perspective brings attention to the movements, trading patterns, and stories by which islanders have established “new resource bases and expanded networks for circulation”—to the ways our people are enlarging their worlds.5 In this chapter I attend to the ways Hālau Kū Māna’s wa‘a program enables processes of world enlargement against limiting and belittling views of Indigenous cultures and peoples. By seeing the wa‘a as a living teacher herself and using the social and spiritual relations developed with and through her as opportunities for learning, HKM educators recenter Hawaiian genealogical connection to a vast oceanic network.

Each time HKM students approach Kānehūnāmoku, their wa‘a, or enter their Wa‘a Project class, they offer her the following genealogical chant:

  • ‘O Hōkūle‘a ka wahine, ‘o Mau ke kāne
  • Noho pū lāua a loa‘a mai ‘o Makali‘i
  • He keiki, he kiakahi
  • Holo pū ‘o Makali‘i i ka moananuiākea
  • A loa‘a mai ‘o Kānehūnāmoku
  • Ka pulapula, he kiakahi
  • Kia aku ka maka i ka ‘alihilani A ‘ōili mai ka moku la
  • ‘O Kualoa ka ‘aina, ‘o Kānehoalani ka pali nāna e hi‘i
  • I ke ala pono e holo aku ai a ho‘i mai
  • Me ka ‘ike o kō mua e kau mai nei
  • E mau mai ka ‘ike a mau loa e!6

(p.169) Within HKM discourse the school’s twenty-nine-foot wa‘a kaulua kiakahi (double-hulled, single-mast canoe) Kānehūnāmoku is gendered feminine, as are the other wa‘a within her genealogy. At first blush this language may seem to mirror the patriarchal gendering of both Western and Satawalese maritime traditions. Such language is evident in the first line of the genealogical mele written for Kānehūnāmoku by HKM students, with the assistance of Hawaiian singer-songwriter Kainani Kahaunaele. The chant begins by recognizing the female ancestor Hōkūle‘a, the wa‘a kaulua that ignited the resurgence of Hawaiian longdistance voyaging, and her first navigator, Mau Piailug, the Satawalese master of noninstrument celestial navigation who enabled the rebirth of open-sea canoe travel throughout Hawai‘i and Polynesia by sharing his knowledge with a new generation of Hawaiian voyagers. In the mele, their heteronormative pairing produces the child wa‘a Makali‘i.

In this chapter I read beyond the initial apparent similarities to patriarchal gender systems in HKM’s gendered language about the wa‘a. By closely attending to the pedagogical practices within HKM’s wa‘a program, we see more fluid, nonbiologically determinate gender practices that emphasize balance over hierarchy. As one reads further into the genealogical mele the narrative disrupts dominant gender binaries. The second-generation wa‘a Makali‘i produces Kānehūnāmoku not through a heteronormative pairing with a male progenitor but through her travels across the vast ocean (ka moananuiākea). Following Kānehūnāmoku’s birth, the chant honors the lands that care for her. Within that dualistic pairing of kāne and wahine energies, it is the male element, Kānehoalani, who holds the young wa‘a lovingly (“ka pali nāna e hi‘i”), as a parent would a baby.

These more open gender practices can be seen as a form of world enlargement. Kāne and wāhine both can be leaders as navigators or captains or supporters as crew members. They can both be nurturers as mākua and kumu or those who are nurtured as students. The presence of a wahine captain and kumu, Bonnie Kahape‘a-Tanner, and her longtime assistant, Pualani Lincoln, has been profoundly influential in this regard. The teachers portrayed in this chapter also build on a long legacy of wahine ‘ōiwi voyagers.7 Moreover, kumu and haumāna speak of Kānehūnāmoku not as an empty or inert vessel waiting to be directed by the masculinized energy of a navigator but as an active (p.170) force who teaches and transports them, revealing knowledge and ways of seeing, thinking, and being that would not otherwise be possible.

Sailing against Legacies of Belittlement

It was Hoaka—an early, waxing moon—on the first day the mixed sixth-and seventh-grade class began their venture into the world of the wa‘a during the 2010–11 school year. I pulled into the parking lot, with my two daughters in tow, just before the Hālau Kū Māna bus arrived carrying the group of fifteen ‘ōpio across the Ko‘olau mountain range forty-five minutes from their campus to the shores of Kualoa beach park. Their three primary teachers had decided to open the semester by bringing them to this site where, as science and language arts teacher Ku‘uleianuhea “Anu” Awo-Chun explained, “the wa‘a of our generation began. From this beach, Hōkūle‘a first touched the water.”8 Later, social studies teacher Māhealani Treaster added that Kualoa was also the place where Kānehūnāmoku first launched in 2002. The visit not only allowed the ‘ōpio to touch the one hānau (birth sands) of these two wa‘a and the educational movements they continued to carry but also invited them to begin seeing themselves in the context of an intellectual mo‘okū‘auhau of Indigenous Pacific navigators and voyagers. By drawing on the lessons and guidance of earlier generations of wayfinders, they might contribute to the intergenerational development of knowledge about place, self, and community through ka ho‘okele ‘ana (travel, especially sailing). The students called to those teachers of times past who remained present but required careful observation to perceive:

  • ‘Auhea wale ‘oe, kamali‘i o ka pō?
  • Eia ho‘i au, kamali‘i o ke ao.
  • E a‘o mai. E a‘o mai.9
  • Where are you, child of the night?
  • Here I am, a child of the day.
  • Teach me, teach me.

As the opening protocols closed, the kumu asked their haumāna to engage in a practice common to navigators past and present: observation (p.171)

Enlarging Hawaiian WorldsWa‘a Travels against Currents of Belittlement

Figure 14. Hkm students and teachers launch Kānehūnāmoku from the shores of Kualoa, beginning a day of training on the waters of Kāne‘ohe Bay. Captain Bonnie Kahape‘a-Tanner (wearing sunglasses) is visible behind the wa‘a. Kualoa was also the site of the first launching of Hōkūle‘a, a genealogical predecessor of Kānehūnāmoku’s and the wa‘a that relaunched Hawaiian sailing and wayfinding practices in the twentieth century. Photograph courtesy of Hālau Kū Māna New Century Public Charter School.

of the natural forces around them. “During this ten-minute grounding activity, I want you to especially focus on the plant life and the geographic features around you,” Kumu Anu instructed.

One ‘ōpio drew and wrote about the “majestic mountains” of the steep Ko‘olau range rising above. The northern most ahupua‘a of the Ko‘olaupoko moku (district) on the windward side of O‘ahu, Kualoa is characterized by the ridge named Kānehoalani. Kānehoalani juts out from the main range and lies at the head of Kāne‘ohe Bay, the largest sheltered body of water in the islands (approximately 12.7 kilometers/7.9 miles from farthest northwest and southeast points and about 4.3 kilometers/2.7 miles wide).10 Another ‘ōpio depicted the calmness of the ocean that day. In addition to the surrounding (p.172) mountains, Kāne‘ohe Bay contains one of the only barrier reefs in the Hawaiian Islands, and it is within these protected waters that HKM students, led by Captain Bonnie Kahape‘a-Tanner, have done most of their wa‘a training over the past decade. Additionally, the two natural channels, one at each end of the bay, make it an excellent place for launching and landing vessels such as large double-hulled sailing canoes. Prior to the heavy impact of suburban residential development in the post-1959 era, numerous streams and other fresh water outlets into the bay created an extremely diverse ecological and productive aquacultural environment.11 The abundance of food and water was important for provisioning wa‘a for long voyages.

Earlier in the year, the seventh graders had also learned that Kualoa was a key site of political power on the island when Indigenous systems of governance were still intact. Despite the fact that the Hawai‘i state curriculum content standards for the seventh-grade course History of the Hawaiian Kingdom does not include O‘ahu chiefly traditions, Kumu Māhealani taught her students about eighteenth-century O‘ahu Island chief Kahahana. “How do we do this place-based learning if we’re not connected to O‘ahu first?” she asked rhetorically as we talked about her reasoning for including that series of lessons even though they were not within the settler state’s required curriculum. “I had to take it back [before the unification of the islands under Kamehameha].”12 Thus, she told her students about Kahahana’s refusal to relinquish control over Kualoa to Kahekili, Maui Island’s ruler and Kahahana’s hānai (adopted) father. Kahahana’s advisors had assured him that giving up Kualoa would have essentially meant relinquishing his authority over the whole of O‘ahu.13 Kumu Māhealani had made a conscious decision to depart from state benchmarks in order to align with HKM’s foundational commitment to place-based pedagogies. Moreover, it was important for the ‘ōpio to know that Kualoa has long been a place for raising leaders and a crucial site of seeking and maintaining sovereignty.

After our initial greetings to each other and to the ‘āina of Kualoa, the students, their teachers, my daughters, and I gathered around an ahu (shrine) protected by a hedge of naupaka. Affixed upon the ahu were stones representing several wa‘a from across the groups of islands anthropologists (mis)named Polynesia. In the centuries prior to European (p.173) and American imperialism in the Pacific, our sea of islands had long been connected by voyaging canoes and the crews that sailed them. For instance, Kualoa had been a home of La‘amaikahiki, the stories of whose travels between Hawai‘i and Tahiti approximately thirty generations ago remain in circulation despite colonial attempts to discount the great seafaring traditions of Kānaka. Earlier in the year, the seventh graders learned about another famous voyager, Hi‘iakaikapoliopele, who left her mark at Kualoa when she battled and defeated a powerful mo‘o named Mokoli‘i. The great lizard’s fin formed an islet just off the shore from where we stood that day. The ‘ōpio had photographed and written poetry about Mokoli‘i and Hi‘iaka’s feat in an integrated social studies and language arts project. Both teachers considered that project the most successful of all the assignments that year, and yet the content did not fit into the state’s detailed social studies benchmarks. In mainstream public schools middle schoolers take two semester-length courses in the seventh grade, History of the Hawaiian Monarchy and The Pacific Islands. In such courses students learn about Hawaiians’ and Pacific Islanders’ cultures instead of experiencing and becoming producers within dynamic and relational Indigenous systems of knowledge production.

In contrast, we stood at the ahu honoring a network of twentiethand twenty-first-century canoes that comprised part of the contemporary extended wa‘a/waka family made possible when Satawalese master navigator Mau Piailug began sharing his knowledge with contemporary Hawaiian navigators such as Nainoa Thompson and Milton “Shorty” Bertelmann in the 1970s.14 More than a just a successful scientific experiment, Hōkūle‘a became a symbol of Hawaiian ingenuity and intelligence. For Kānaka throughout Hawai‘i, it represented a sort of undeniable, in-your-face redemption against the racist narratives saturating daily life, including especially those taught in schools. Its success spoke back to systems and individuals who demeaned and discounted Native knowledge (and people) as worthless, feeble, and anachronistic.

The simple sight of the wa‘a entering bays and harbors across the islands provoked emotional responses and revelations that would be indelibly marked upon the na‘au and the minds of many Kānaka for the rest of their lives. Hōkūle‘a and its travels became living evidence (p.174) that the racist stereotypes of Hawaiians as uneducated and incapable, which many Kānaka had internalized, were false. When I interviewed wahine aloha ‘āina Loretta Ritte about her involvement in the movement to stop the bombing of Kaho‘olawe beginning in the late 1970s, she immediately connected it to the symbolic power of Hōkūle‘a’s travels. Remembering her childhood and adolescence, she recounted the messages that had been repeated to her over and over: “Everybody told me Hawaiians were stupid, Hawaiians were lazy, Hawaiians were good for notin’. That’s how I grew up, raised on Kaua‘i. That’s what they told us Hawaiians.”

These narratives shaped her own aspirations and identity as a youth. It was against this backdrop of racism that the vision of the Hōkūle‘a approaching the island of Moloka‘i, to which she had moved in her young adulthood, refreshed and inspired Auntie Loretta.

When the Hō kūle‘a came and you see this magnificent ship coming in and [her voice slowed and dropped to a hush] there’s no engine, there’s no noise, only Hawaiians—hoooooh [she shook her fist above her head then opened her palm over her heart, patting it several times]—it was awesome…. [It was] a strong opening of the eyes of who we were as people.15

The year Hōkūle‘a first voyaged to Tahiti, Auntie Loretta was one of four individuals who crossed the channel between Moloka‘i and Kaho‘olawe to make the second landing in protest of the U.S. Navy’s destruction and desecration of the island.16 She observed that what “opened peoples’ eyes” was the synergy of ostensibly purely cultural initiatives, like the Hōkūle‘a’s voyages, with movements viewed from the outside as simply political, such as the Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana (PKO). As Tengan describes the interconnection of these two movements, “The Hōkūle‘a’s voyage and the activism of the PKO thus became the primary cultural and political catalysts for the development of the cultural nationalist movement.”17 Together, these currents triggered a deep recognition that far from worthless or irrelevant, the ‘ike of our kūpuna were priceless treasures to be nurtured generation after generation. Important to note, both included ocean travel and the crossing of colonial and imperial boundaries. Hōkūle‘a’s voyages (p.175) inspired similar efforts in Tahiti, Aotearoa, and the Cook Islands, as well as the building of more wa‘a kaulua in Hawai‘i, just as the PKO’s activism linked Kānaka with demilitarization, denuclearization, and independence movements throughout the Pacific.18

On the sands of Kualoa, the HKM ‘ōpio read a short narrative about Hōkūle‘a’s first voyage. Kumu Māhealani asked them to think about the range of emotions that arose in the process of that first journey after a several hundred years’ pause, from the joy of the 17,000 Tahitians who came to greet the wa‘a in Papeete to the anger that flared as members of the crew fought among themselves. She gave two specific examples. In the first instance, the rebirth symbolized by Hōkūle‘a’s arrival prompted so much excitement that the many children who had jumped up on the canoe nearly sank the stern.19 In the contrasting second example, navigator and teacher Mau Piailug was so upset with the fighting and factionalism that had developed between the haole scientists and the Kānaka on board that he abruptly returned home from Tahiti, leaving only tape-recorded instructions for the crew’s return to Hawai‘i. Several students whispered their recognition of the teacher’s supreme discontent with his students.

Kumu Māhealani went on to describe that conflict as a struggle provoked by distinctly different ways of viewing the purpose of the voyage. The white scientists on board, she explained, saw the voyage as an experiment, a way to provide evidence for the theory that Polynesia could have been settled in a purposeful manner with wooden canoes and noninstrument navigation. For the Kānaka on board, the voyage was a way to reconnect with ancestors and to restore Hawaiian pride. Her retelling of the story emphasized the importance of working together as a crew, even when people disagreed.

But embedded in the story was another implicit critique that could have been highlighted: Indigenous people have struggled for our knowledges, then and now, to be valued and seen as legitimate without being filtered through white, academic authorities. Although the successful voyages of the Hōkūle‘a and successive canoes have conclusively disproved earlier, racist anthropological theories that assumed Indigenous Pacific Islanders were incapable of making long-distance voyages for settlement and trade, belittlement of Indigenous knowledge and the kumu who carry that knowledge continues.

(p.176) The struggles and successes of HKM’s wa‘a program illustrate the ways educators work against multiple forms of belittlement, demonstrating the depth and rigor of contemporary Hawaiian seafaring as a valid form of educational excellence. The fight for what counts as valuable knowledge and teaching authority continues to this day, and the impacts of NCLB and state-designed curriculum content benchmarks function as forms of belittlement in a variety of ways. For example, though the Wa‘a Project persists as one of the most effective aspects of HKM’s educational program, in the wake of NCLB restructuring, students’ work with the canoe counts toward earning credit only insofar as that time can be attached to state-determined content standards in one or more of the four core areas (language arts, math, science, and social studies) and the assessments are graded by a teacher who is deemed to be of highly qualified status. That is, wa‘a learning cannot stand on its own merit as a complex, legitimate knowledge field.

As I mention, teachers must make conscious decisions to teach outside the state’s social studies benchmarks in order to include mo‘olelo Hawai‘i that precede known Western contact. The State of Hawai‘i’s content requirements for secondary-level social studies do not prescribe any inquiry of Hawaiian history and society prior to the unification of the islands under Kamehameha in the last decade of the 1700s and first decade of the 1800s. The K–12 Hawaiian studies curriculum is problematically periodized, privileging Captain Cook’s 1778 arrival such that students study precontact Hawai‘i only in the fourth grade. In other words, the state curriculum benchmarks structurally exclude upper-level study, for sixth through twelfth graders, of the vast majority of Kanaka Maoli existence. They leave out an immense field of storied and place-based knowledge that includes the voyagers of old. This represents a significant erasure and a violent disconnection of ‘Ōiwi youth from their ancestral past, as well as a huge missed opportunity for all students in Hawai‘i’s schools to learn from the storehouses of social, scientific, historical, and literary knowledge contained within Hawaiian mo‘olelo. Moreover, measuring student and school success by standardized multiple-choice tests constitutes knowledge as superficial and individually held. Finally, the NCLB definition of what constitutes a highly qualified teacher (HQT), coupled with the (p.177) state’s process for certifying teachers, excludes masters of Indigenous knowledge. In HKM’s case the wa‘a program’s most experienced and well-trained master teacher has been structurally marginalized due to this failure to recognize Indigenous knowledge authorities. These examples represent ongoing discursive belittlement, and the sections that follow both elaborate and contest those master narrative structures. Simultaneously, I discuss the ways pedagogies associated with building, maintaining, navigating, and sailing wa‘a provided students ways to traverse those currents of belittlement and rediscover Indigenous structures that allowed for world enlargement.

Voyaging to Become Kumu of Navigation

A founding HKM teacher, Bonnie Kahape‘a-Tanner came to Hālau Kū Māna by way of Kawaihae on Hawai‘i Island and then Satawal in the Federated States of Micronesia. It was through these travels that a wa‘a called her back to her home to establish HKM’s sailing and navigation program. In the ensuing years, she has captained and cared for Kānehūnāmoku, teaching dozens of youth and fellow teachers to sail. Kahape‘a began her wa‘a training with Makali‘i, an educational voyaging canoe based on Hawai‘i Island, in the mid-1990s. While working as a teacher and administrator in both English-and Hawaiianlanguage based settings, Kahape‘a flew back and forth between O‘ahu and Hawai‘i islands every weekend over a four-year span to train with the Makali‘i crew based in Kawaihae. At the time the training was not directly related to her job, so the time and money she spent came out of her own personal commitment. Her story of coming to see and practice Indigenous Oceanic traditions of sailing and navigation as complex knowledge and social systems is an example of the power of wa‘a travel.

In 1999 the Makali‘i crew took their teacher, Papa Mau Piailug, back to Satawal. It was the first time, after almost thirty years, that Hawaiian navigators and sailors whom he trained honored Piailug by sailing him home westward across the Pacific on a Hawaiian canoe. Unable to take leave, Kahape‘a quit her job in order to serve on the crew and to learn from Mau in his own homeland. Describing that trip, she repeatedly spoke of his profound effect on her and the larger wa‘a family in Hawai‘i. (p.178) The journey informed her thinking about wa‘a pedagogies, Indigenous Oceanic education, and its rootedness/routedness in a broader cultural system.

If you talk about real traditional education, we got a really good glimpse of it when we did that trip because we got to see Mau in his own environment. See, he’s been coming to teach in Hawai’i for thirty years, but [until 1999] no one had ever gone to learn from him in his own environment: how his people treat him, his own language, the clothes he wears, the foods that we ate with him…. I got a good glimpse of what traditional education really is, and it’s all observation. It’s observation and hard work…. He sees you working hard, and you go ask him something, he gon’ tell you. But if he sees that you’re just one lazy person that just wants information but you’re not gonna do anything with it, then he won’t even.

This experience solidified Kahape‘a’s commitment to the Indigenous principle that knowledge must be earned through the demonstration that one has the capability to be responsible for that knowledge. She also witnessed, through her own experience and the stories of her teachers, a strong emphasis on the pedagogical approach described in Hawaiian as ma ka hana ka ‘ike (one learns by working or doing). “When Mau taught Shorty [Bertelmann] … it was like, you ask a question, he tells you the answer and then that’s it. Don’t ask that question again…. You watch what I’m doing, and then you do it.”

She distinguished these teaching practices from Western forms of collaborative learning in that the relationship between teacher and student mirrored the structure of authority on the wa‘a. “When you’re on the canoe, you listen to the captain. And if you have someone on your crew that’s gonna be yapping and trying to tell other people what to do, it’s like, that’s not gonna work out.” Similarly, in wa‘a pedagogies, though the teacher and learners work together toward a common goal, the captain determines the scope of the collective work, divvies out tasks, and assures those assignments meet the teacher’s high standards. Anything less could threaten life and safety at sea, which is the ultimate kuleana of the captain. “That’s the sense of the kumu role to the (p.179) haumāna,” Kahape‘a explained. These experiences provided a foundation for her pedagogical practice, in which Indigenous knowledge is understood to be created in mutual exchange and obligation that must be lived daily.

Seeing the canoe and the navigator’s authority woven into the social fabric was transformational for Kahape‘a as a young voyager and educator. I asked her what it was like as a female student of navigation working with a teacher in whose culture navigational practice was then reserved for men.

He never made it a problem for us. In fact, he says—and its on YouTube—that the first navigator was a woman. I think she was from Majuro or somewhere in the Marshall Islands. And she was a female! So he would always say, “For Hawaiian women, its no problem.” But then if you ask him about Micronesian women, he would say, “No. No.” So it was funny, you know, he could make that stretch, too, right? “For you women its okay.” Because since he had been here [in Hawai‘i] this whole time, women were a part of it. All along. So it’s okay for you guys over here, but not for them. It still is not okay for [women in Satawal] to do that. But it’s never been a problem [for me]. Never. Not at all. I think that Mau would’ve taught anyone that would ask him a question. He was really open. It’s just that people would never really ask him too many questions, like beyond the first [initial questions]…. But who [was] going [to] go back and actually interact with him on a regular basis? There are only a handful of people that did that.

Her response highlighted that in coming to Hawai‘i, Mau had to change to accommodate our Indigenous gender practices, which differed from his at the time. And yet the difference was also explained by recalling an earlier moment within his own people’s navigational genealogies, in which a woman initiated navigation.

The knowledge of such stories, as well as the oceanic and heavenly currents and patterns observed by generations of navigators, has been largely excluded from the dominant, formal educational institutions throughout both Hawai‘i and Micronesia. Because of these shared (p.180) contexts, one message Papa Mau shared with the crew during their stay in Satawal particularly stuck with Kahape‘a:

He said that our kuleana was to teach what we learned and share what we experienced. That was his only wish for those of us that were able to take him back to his island….“You just keep your culture strong.” It’s so simple, yeah? You just keep doing it. Just keep doing it.20

This message, a clear instruction from her kumu about her kuleana, guided the next decade of her life and her teaching career. No matter what the personal, institutional, and systemic obstacles, restoring the practice of ocean travel and the relationships cultivated would thereby become a responsibility she could not deny.

Shortly after Kahape‘a returned from Satawal and unsure of her next move, she met Keola Nakanishi at the He‘eia fishpond a few months before Hālau Kū Māna was scheduled to open. HKM developers had just received a federal curriculum development and teacher training grant under the Native Hawaiian Education Act focusing on Hawaiian navigation and astronomy, or Kilolani. Though such a grant would not pay for the acquisition of property or the construction of facilities—two things that start-up charter schools sorely needed— grant writer Adam Kahualaulani Mick was able to argue that it was necessary to build a canoe for the field-testing portion of the grant. Crucial, authentic assessments of student learning entailed actually being able to sail and navigate. To demonstrate the ability to apply the principles of Hawaiian astronomy and navigation, students would need to get on a wa‘a. For HKM, a school with no permanent facilities or land, the wa‘a became its first floating moku (piece of land).

The wa‘a became the constant as staff navigated the tumultuous waters of operating a Native Hawaiian community-based charter school. Although the canoe was not finished and functional until midway into the school’s second year, the project of developing curriculum that could be used on the wa‘a provided critical funding support and intellectual momentum in an environment of fiscal inequity and deep suspicion of Hawaiian culture–based schooling as a serious academic (p.181)

Enlarging Hawaiian WorldsWa‘a Travels against Currents of Belittlement

Figure 15. Hālau Kū Māna students sail in Kānehūnāmoku’s home waters of Kāne‘ohe Bay. Kānehoalani, the prominent ridgeline of Kualoa that is mentioned in Kānehūnāmoku’s oli mo‘ok ū‘auhau, rises up behind them. At the hoe uli (main steering paddle) are Kana‘i Chock and Maika Motas. The additional crew members visible are Sanoe Sexton and Brandon Turk. Photograph courtesy of Bonnie Kahape‘a-Tanner of Kānehūnāmoku and Mana Maoli.

endeavor. At the outset of HKM’s first year, we were informed that charter schools would be receiving $5,700 per student, which was well below equity with the already underfunded mainstream public schools. Then, three months into the school year, charter school administrators received word from the state that our schools would be given only $2,997 per pupil and zero funding for special education students. For HKM this amounted to an almost 70 percent decrease in expected state allocations the first year, after budgets had already been set, teachers had been hired, and students were attending class. Such a drastic, unexpected budget cut would have likely led to HKM’s closure had it not been for the Kilolani grant. “It literally kept us afloat,” Nakanishi remembered.


Enlarging Hawaiian WorldsWa‘a Travels against Currents of Belittlement

Figure 16. Hkm students crew Kānehūnāmoku as she sails the open waters off the Kona coast of Hawai‘i Island.

Photograph courtesy of Bonnie Kahape‘a-Tanner of Kānehūnāmoku and Mana Maoli.

For Kahape‘a the grant and construction of a sailing canoe provided an opportunity that allowed her to fulfill her kuleana to her teachers, her kūpuna, and future generations.

It was unheard of … to get paid, which is necessary, but to do something that is your kuleana at the same time! That hardly ever happens. You don’t usually get paid to do your kuleana…. Hālau Kū Māna has been able to allow many of us to fulfill our (p.183) kuleana or, at least, try ‘um out and see if you can hang tough and last. The school allows students and staff to find it…. Had I gone into teaching in a mainstream school, it would not have allowed me to keep practicing and sharing this kuleana in a school setting on a daily basis.

In fulfilling this kuleana, over the years Kumu Kahape‘a has used a pedagogy that fosters gender balance. When students arrive at the wa‘a, they line up in a single mixed-gender line facing Kānehūnāmoku for their opening chants. This differed from the opening protocols at the Lo‘i Project and for the school as a whole at the beginning of the each school day, when students stood in two lines according to biologically determined sex. Throughout the year, students in the Wa‘a Project were divided into small groups, called watches, mimicking the ways a wa‘a crew on a long journey were divided into smaller subunits to attend particular duties for set periods of time. The watches were typically constituted as mixed-gender groupings. The kumu consciously appointed both kāne and wahine students as watch captains, thus allowing all students to develop leadership skills through these rotating positions and also getting the ‘ōpio ma‘a (accustomed to) working under leaders of various genders. As a consequence, over the years it was just as likely that certain wahine or kāne students would rise up as exceptional leaders and wa‘a practitioners.

In 2004 I spoke with Captain Kahape‘a just as the three-year Kilolani grant came to completion; she was envisioning an expansion of the wa‘a’s role as a full-time classroom and an expanded curriculum. “Right now [the wa‘a] is only used two days a week, sometimes only one day, which is not enough,” she shared. Though HKM’s program structure for the next two years allowed for some of that expansion, the limitations imposed by NCLB restructuring soon circumscribed those visions. As detailed in previous chapters, time at the outdoor field sites was steadily eroded. By the 2010–11 school year, students in the Wa‘a Project were able to spend only half a day at the wa‘a site, and any given ‘ōpio would have only forty-five minutes of direct contact time with the canoe (with the remaining time spent at onshore stations focused on science or social studies and led by HQT-status teachers in those disciplines).

(p.184) Besides the schedule, Kumu Kahape‘a became ineligible to employ as a full-time teacher because she did not meet HQT requirements according to NCLB regulations. It is hard to imagine a more qualified teacher to blend Indigenous and Euro-American marine-based knowledges in a project-based school environment. Kahape‘a was trained and sanctioned to teach by internationally recognized masters of Indigenous navigation Mau Piailug and Clay Bertelmann. There is only a small number of Kānaka who have earned and continue to exercise the kuleana of captaining a Hawaiian voyaging canoe. In addition, she holds a captain’s license through the U.S. Coast Guard-Merchant Marines. Kumu Kahape‘a also earned two master’s degrees (one in counseling psychology and the other in transformative learning and change) from Western universities, and she had more than fifteen years’ experience working as a teacher and an administrator in both Hawaiian-and English-language settings when she was disqualified by the HQT definition. More important, she was recognized by her peers as one of the most effective and rigorous teachers at HKM. Yet despite these qualifications across a range of cultural contexts and institutions, she could not be deemed HQT, because she had not participated in a state-sanctioned teacher certification program and had not taken the PRAXIS exams.21 Such regulations may be useful in assuring that teachers come into schools with some basic level of training. Scholars of Native education have critiqued, however, the notion of what constitutes being highly qualified and the mechanisms for enforcing it. At best these imposed definitions of authority and qualification are epistemologically incompatible with Indigenous knowledge systems, and at worst they serve as a barrier to Indigenous educators entering teaching as a profession and an affront to the self-determination of Indigenous nations.22

When I reinterviewed Kumu Kahape‘a in 2011, she had been forced to find creative ways to continue upholding her kuleana as a teacher of Indigenous Oceanic voyaging. She was working on a part-time contract basis at HKM, and the days students spent at the wa‘a had to include certified teachers in science or other core academic areas in order to legitimize the amount of time spent there. I thought back to something Kahape‘a had told me seven years earlier. Speaking about how she responded to close friends and family members who were (p.185) telling her she needed to have a job that paid more money, she stated matter-of-factly:

I don’t think so. Maybe I gotta do something else on the side, but I’m not willing to not teach kids on the canoe. Kānehūnāmoku is not something you can just walk away from. It’s hard, but it’s definitely my kuleana.23

Her kuleana included a commitment to place-based and genealogically rooted knowledge practices that required a lifetime of relational obligation. At the time, she had no idea of how hard that would become in the wake of NCLB restructuring and the redisciplining of the curriculum.

In order to continue teaching wa‘a postrestructuring, Kumu Kahape‘a cobbled together income from her part-time work at HKM, sought opportunities to run short-term wa‘a camps on the private market, provided free wa‘a training on weekends to interested HKM teachers so that they could integrate those experiences into their own classrooms, and ran another federal curriculum development grant, which was about to expire when we talked in 2011 (leaving her without full-time employment). What had kept her committed despite the structural remarginalization of Indigenous knowledge was Kahape‘a’s obligation to her kumu, among whom she included not only Papa Mau and Uncle Clay Bertelmann but also the wa‘a as a living entity and kūpuna (ancestors) of generations past. It was through them that she came to fully understand and trust the power of Indigenous knowledge systems to stand as educational foundations in their own right. The wa‘a’s name, Kāneh ūnāmoku, reflects the kind of deep and extensive intergenerational, empirical knowledge that has often been marginalized as simply myth. Yet it is the basic revaluation of these wells of knowledge that has undergirded the success and longevity of the Wa‘a Project despite these various challenges.

Kānehūnāmoku: Revealing Hidden Islands and Ancestors

Kā nehūnāmoku—the wa‘a HKM ‘ōpio sail—has served as a vehicle for crossing temporal and epistemological oceans and, thus, enlarging the worlds to which teachers and students have access. Her name (p.186) and the story of her naming represent the ways the wa‘a allows reconnection and rediscovery of ancestral knowledge from which Kānaka have been alienated. The story also shows that Hawaiian names such as Kānehūnāmoku are themselves vessels for intergenerational knowledge about changes in the natural environment over time. In short, this knowledge resides in stories and in names. By seeing the capabilities of ancestors, HKM kumu also hope that‘ōpio will come to recognize their own intelligence and worth. As Kumu Kahape‘a told her colleagues at one faculty retreat with the wa‘a, “Look at Kāne. She embodies us as a people. She is a reflection of our kūpuna and their brilliance.”24

As construction on the wa‘a was being completed, Kumu Kahape‘a and others had been contemplating a name for the vessel. In early fall 2002, Kahape‘a was chosen to participate as an educator aboard a thirty-day trip to Papahānaumokuākea, also known as the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI), as part of a coral reef ecosystem reserve expedition sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Through a process that included detailed and consistent observation of the natural environment, quiet reflection, familiarity with ancestral stories, and intellectual exchange with peers, Kānehūnāmoku revealed itself to her.

On the voyage Kumu Kahape‘a was in conversation with her colleague Kekuewa Kikiloi, an ‘Ōiwi anthropologist who was researching ancestral names and stories of these lesser-known islands lying northward of the human-populated Hawaiian Islands. They began referring to this part of the archipelago as the “kūpuna islands,” both because the NWHI were geologically older than the eight major islands and because they were also believed to be places where spirits of the ancestors went after death.25 During their trip up the island chain, they read through the literature Kekuewa had brought along.

Writing of our shark ancestors, nineteenth-century historian Samuel Kamakau lists Kānehūnāmoku among the foundational gods, the manō kumupa‘a who traveled between Hawai‘i and the faraway lands of Kahiki:

O na mano kupupaa. O Kanehunamoku, o Kamohoalii, o Kuhaimoana, o Kauhuhu, o Kaneikokala, o Kanakaokai, a me (p.187) kekahi poe mano e ae…. Nolaila, ua hoike kino mai ma—na akaku a ma na hihio, a ua hoike mai i ke ano o ke kino, he mano kekahi kino o‘u, he pueo, he hilu, a he moo, a pela aku a nui loa ke ano o na kino i lahui ia.26

These divine beings took many bodily forms, including shark, owl, lizard, and human, and they revealed themselves in dreams, visions, and trances, sometimes as reflections and as sounds in the wind. As Kamakau’s description of the ‘aumakua Kānehūnāmoku suggests, knowledge lives and changes shape, requiring multiple reading practices to grasp its many dimensions. Several texts also describe Kānehūnāmoku as a mythical paradise, “the hidden islands of Kāne,” set up in the heavens and appearing only occasionally.27 Such understandings of Kānehūnāmoku signal the importance of prayer, patience, and revelation. Even then, not all will come to see the hidden islands. In the Kumulipo, a Hawaiian cosmogonic origin chant, Kānehūnāmoku is a concrete physical place, too. It appears in the third wā (time period) as the lands to which the birds of the sea flocked soon after their creation.28 It was to and among these kūpuna islands, frequented by the birds of the sea, that Kahape‘a and Kekuewa traveled.

They talked at length about the story of the hidden islands of Kānehūnāmoku. They made daily observations about the patterns they noticed in the ocean and sky. Finally, the ship they were on paused at the northernmost of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, whose traditional name Westerners obscured when they called it Kure after a Russian explorer. Through his reading and interpretation of ancestral stories and chants, Kekuewa believed the proper name of the island to be Hōlanikū. There at Hōlanikū, Kahape‘a placed all the lei in the water that her students had made for her to take as ho‘okupu. It was in this context of being saturated with information from their shared readings, conversations, and observations of the typical rhythms of the environment, as well as offering thanks and honor to the area, that Kānehūnāmoku revealed itself to Kahape‘a and Kekuewa. She described the moment on their return back down the archipelago, after they had left Hōlanikū and were near an island widely known as Lisianski but whom contemporary Kānaka have renamed Kapoukumau.29

(p.188) One night, we slept out on the deck…. I had woken up before the sun rose. Right on the top of the deck, I sat up in my lawn chair. I looked out over the railing, and I could see all these islands! I mean, all the islands over there are so flat you can barely see them even when you’re just a mile away; they’re just like pancakes. But these were like big, high, rocky-looking islands. I was just like, “Whoa! Where are we, ‘cuz this is not where we were when we anchored?!” But we were anchored the whole time. I looked up and still had stars up, so I was trying to figure out north, south, east, west, [trying] to figure out where everything was and I thought, “This is nuts!” Then Kekuewa came to wake me. He walked up the ladder, and I was like, “Kekz, check this out!” Both of us just stood there like, “Holy shit!” We counted, and there were twelve islands. We kept going, “No, count again, count again!” All the things he brought to read said there were these twelve islands; twelve islands, Kānehūnāmoku.

Kahape‘a shared this story with her students immediately upon her return, and together, they agreed that Kānehūnāmoku was the appropriate name of the new wa‘a. Kumu Kahape‘a’s story also emphasized the importance of research, observation, and the revelatory aspects of Hawaiian perspectives of knowledge. Kūpuna reveal ‘ike to learners that have been actively seeking it. In the naming process, Kahape‘a and her fellow learners used multiple literate practices to seek understanding of ancestral ways of relating to place through names and stories.

Kekuewa’s further explanation of the name Kānehūnāmoku underscores the ways that such names carry concrete and complex understandings of the natural environment developed by Kānaka ‘Ōiwi over generations. In his blog written during the trip, he describes the natural phenomenon explained within the Kānehūnāmoku “myths”:

Kānehūnāmoku and the twelve sacred islands represent a concept that is tied to real processes that have been observed for generations by our ancestors. Over time the concept has become layered, and embellished with color and flavor…. What this process directly translates to is the relationship between (p.189) tidal changes and moon phases, and the disappearance and reappearance of low lying landforms. As the moon reaches different phases with the Earth, it changes the gravitational pull of the planet, and thus creates changes in currents, and the level of our oceans. Islands that are sensitive to these changes can disappear, and become “hidden” by the god Kāne. These traditions and ancient stories of Hawai‘i have many levels of meaning to them. They teach us important lessons in life, based on thousands of years of observation and learning. It is important to maintain the integrity of these stories, so that these fundamental lessons don’t get “hidden” or “lost” themselves.30

What is perhaps most significant about this explanation is that the phenomenon described by the name Kānehūnāmoku was observed over time, across generations. That is, the kind of knowledge embedded in the name is developed intergenerationally. Thus, the name itself becomes a vehicle for transmitting knowledge across generations, for crossing temporal oceans.

In the chapter-opening epigraph, Captain Kahape‘a describes Kānehūnāmoku as a vehicle for connecting students with ancestors typically veiled in our rushing through daily life—our world filled with unending distractions from the natural forces around us. With Kānehūnāmoku as the centerpiece, knowledge is framed as both spiritual and empirical, both revelatory and observable, developed over generations yet also deeply personal. The next section illustrates an example of this kind of Hawaiian-knowledge transmission in the contemporary era. In so doing, kumu and haumāna move between different cultural lenses for describing natural phenomena, and intellectual rigor is encouraged by making genealogical connections explicit.

Genealogy: Providing Direction, Depth, and Accountability

“You ever had your parents tell you you not the center of the universe?” Kumu Kahape‘a asked the kaikaina (middle schoolers) who sat in a circle on her lawn. Sitting among them, I noticed a few chuckles and nodding heads. “Well, in the mana‘o of the navigator, you are. You are the piko.”31 Talk about student-centered learning, I thought to myself. (p.190) This was not, however, an individualistic brand of student-centered learning. Rather, students were encouraged to understand themselves in relation, particularly in genealogical relation. For it is only in understanding relationships that a navigator is able to direct her or his course, perceiving the movements of celestial bodies in relation to one’s location.

The ensuing lesson focused on the Satawalese and Hawaiian star compasses that Kahape‘a and other contemporary Hawaiian navigators use and that are introduced to every new class of sailors at HKM. The compasses are introduced through diagrams, but ultimately, a navigator must internalize these tools for perceiving the surrounding environment. Each navigator calibrates her perception not to a universal instrument or standard of measurement but to the dimensions of her own body in relation to the wa‘a, the sea, and the sky. The intellectual conversation I observed during this lesson illustrated the kind of interdisciplinary and intercultural fluencies that wa‘a learning could enable, in contrast to the shallow accountability of standardized-testing regimes. As the kumu moved between languages and epistemes, students mirrored this behavior. She encouraged the learning process by giving her students tangible and genealogical proximity to an acknowledged master and source of knowledge. (By genealogical proximity I mean both lineages of intellectual exchange and the ways those intellectual connections are made familial and spiritual through the relationships between kumu, haumāna, and the knowledge practiced.) From an ‘Ōiwi perspective, by invoking one of her kumu, the teacher created a context demanding excellence and, thus, accountability for learning. By explicitly calling students’ attention to genealogical connections, they could better understand the stakes of their learning in a larger context. Self-direction, from each of their metaphorical wa‘a at the center of their worlds, would be framed by this collective context.

From a small bag beside her, the kumu, whom the students simply called Aunty Kahaz, pulled out some simple objects that opened a series of complex lessons about two related star compasses: a Satawalese compass developed over centuries, taught to her by Mau Piailug, and a Hawaiian derivation, designed through the intellectual exchange and cultivation of lifelong relational obligations between Indigenous Oceanic peoples—between Papa Mau and one of his Hawaiian students.32 (p.191)

Enlarging Hawaiian WorldsWa‘a Travels against Currents of Belittlement

Figure 17. Satawalese master navigator Papa Mau Piailug gifted his wayfinding knowledge to several Hawaiians and encouraged those sailor-educators to pass on the skills and understandings. This compass (paafu) was made by Papa Mau using coral from Kualoa, and it is used as a tool for teaching the movements of celestial bodies in relation to each other and to a canoe in motion. It was given to Hālau Kū Māna and the crew of Kānehūnāmoku for training. Kānehūnāmoku sits on the waters of Kāne‘ohe Bay in the background. Photograph courtesy of Bonnie Kahape‘a-Tanner of Kānehūnāmoku and Mana Maoli.

Kumu Kahape‘a explained to her rapt audience, “Kūkulu o ka lani [the Hawaiian star compass] was Nainoa’s modern creation, blending an old, old, old, old tool for using the heavens with the abstract kind of math normally taught in school.” It used the Hawaiian names for various forces within our distinct natural environment. She explained that although the ideas behind Mau’s compass came from far across the ocean, the physical materials in front of them were gathered by Papa Mau at Kualoa beach, a few ahupua‘a down the coast. “He gave them to HKM and Kānehūnāmoku, so you gotta touch [the compass] before you leave! It was literally made by a grand master, a rare master in the entire world.” The compasses exemplified the ways Hawaiian navigational knowledge had been produced in Indigenous intellectual exchange.

(p.192) Sitting on the grass with her students circled around the map, she pointed to the various coral pieces with a stick and introduced their names. I imagined Kahape‘a sitting like this as a student with her teacher. She told her haumāna that the compass was a tool for navigating wa‘a as well as for directing oneself through life. It would soon become evident to her students that such navigation used multiple cultural fluencies, required a detailed understanding of the natural environment, and developed a clear and purposeful sense of self in relation. The compass provided a framework for visualizing oneself as the piko and situating oneself in relation to complex movements within the environment.

In these lessons about the star compasses, Kumu Kahape‘a moved fluidly between the terms and orientations used in different languages— Hawaiian, Satawalese, and English. She pulled out two pieces of sennit cord with coral pieces tied to each end. “These four coral pieces indicate the cardinal directions: ‘ākau, hema, hikina, komohana,” she said as she pointed to each with a long stick. The ‘ōpio repeated the names after her, also drawing diagrams into their notebooks. After teaching the names of the four quadrants, she added two more kaula (cords), dividing the circle into eight, and then added three more loose coral pieces into each space around the circumference to designate each house. The ‘ōpio were expected to memorize both Hawaiian and Satawalese names for these star houses. Looking together at the compass on the grass in the middle of the circle, Kumu Kahape‘a fired a series of questions at the ‘ōpio.

  • “How many pieces of coral are there total?”
  • “32,” the group answered quickly.
  • “What shape is this?” “A ci rcle.”
  • “How many degrees are in a circle?”
  • “360.”
  • “So how many degrees are in each house?”
  • This question met with silence.

“What is 360 divided by 32?” Kumu Kahape‘a prompted. After a couple of close guesses, she provided the answer, “11.25. 11.25 degrees in each house. How many miles are represented by one degree?”


Enlarging Hawaiian WorldsWa‘a Travels against Currents of Belittlement

Figure 18. Kumu Bonnie Kahape‘a-Tanner teaches students about the movements of stars through various houses on the horizon, using a compass (paafu) made by Papa Mau Piailug. Photograph by Akoni Tacub. Courtesy of Bonnie Kahape‘a-Tanner of Kānehūnāmoku and Mana Maoli.

(p.194) More silence.

“60 miles,” she stated.

“Hoooo!” some of the ‘ōpio responded.

Drawing on their awe, she continued, “On the wa‘a you use your hand to measure. One finger is two degrees, which is 120 miles.” She held up her hand in front of her, as though standing on a canoe gauging direction and distance.

“Papa Mau’s island is only a half mile across. If you were off by just a finger’s width, you would never even see the island, night or day! Even our own islands, if you were only two fingers off, you could totally miss Hawai‘i. This is how skilled our kūpuna were! The navigator has to be precise. Every move is purposeful.”

Students were expected to demonstrate mastery of the foundational idea that celestial bodies rise and set in different houses at the horizon, and they had to name the various houses in both languages. With that basic knowledge, the following lesson focused on the movement of the sun and a few primary constellations. Kumu Kahape‘a added two long, thin sticks across the compass. “This is Ke ala polohiwa a Kāne, also known as the Tropic of Cancer, and this is Ke ala polohiwa a Kanaloa, also known as the Tropic of Capricorn.”33 These mark limits of the sun’s movements in relation to us. Kahape‘a used her familiarity with their learning site—her home—to point out how to observe the movements of the sun in one’s own environment:

“Each day, the sun rises in a slightly different place. It moves a little until it hits that blue roof house near those coconut trees,” she said, pointing across the bay. “Then, it turns around and moves all the way to between those two hau trees.”

“This is like a science!” one of the boys blurted out in amazement.

“Exactly, it is a science,” their kumu responded, encouraging them to notice the points at which the sun rose and set in relation to their own homes or at the school campus.

“So if you live above Ke ala polohiwa a Kāne, sometimes you never see the sun?” one girl asked.

In the discussion that ensued, the students’ comments and questions mirrored the kind of movement between languages modeled by their teacher, speaking as comfortably about lines of latitude as about nā ala polohiwa or using the names Hōkūpa‘a, Wuliwulifasmughet, (p.195) and the North Star interchangeably to refer to the same body in the sky. Yet the kumu also illustrated that the differences in these cultural names for the same celestial body were important, not to be collapsed. She returned to the example of the two compasses, the orientation of each relating to the prominence of particular stars in the Hawaiian or Carolinian night sky.

In the Hawaiian compass, the primary orientation is to ‘ākau, the north, because of the permanence of Hōkūpa‘a is always in our night sky. Mau’s compass is oriented to the east because of the importance of the star Mailap. For our cousins in Aotearoa, the Southern Cross goes in circles [throughout the year] above their heads, but for us it goes like this [she drew a small, low-lying arc over the horizon with her finger].

Kumu Kahape‘a emphasized that whether on a canoe or not what matters most was one’s relationship to these bodies. Understanding the relationships was crucial to self-directed travel. Whether becoming the navigator of a wa‘a or of one’s own life, she explained, each of them needed to develop their awareness of the surrounding forces and movements as dependent upon the seasons and their location.

Genealogy was presented, then, as a way to understand relationality. In another class session, when students were learning the names and functions for various parts of the wa‘a, Kahape‘a explicitly pointed to the signs of the intellectual and familial genealogy of which the canoe and students were a part. Standing on the deck of the wa‘a, she directed students’ attention toward the kumu kia—the foundational piece that secured the mast to the deck. This part of Kānehūnāmoku’s body was named Heiau.

“We call it Heiau because of genealogy. There are two kumu kia on Hōkūle‘a, one named Heiau. When Makali‘i was born, its kumu kia was also named Heiau.”

These naming practices mirrored the ways significant names were passed from one generation to another within Kanaka families. Kumu Kahape‘a further emphasized the importance of genealogy as marked on Kāne as she explained the significance of the designs on each hatch cover of the two hulls. The patterns on the two rear covers signified two (p.196) kūpuna, recently deceased, who were influential in the early years of HKM’s wa‘a program: ‘Anakala Eddie Kaanana and Captain “Cap” Clay Bertlemann.34 And as Kahape‘a taught about the parts of the canoe, she told stories about these elders. In this way, a seemingly utilitarian lesson about the parts of the canoe became a vehicle for transmitting genealogical narratives. Like kākau (tattoos), the patterns on Kāne’s body reminded the ‘ōpio that the kūpuna were always present with them. This is a form of both motivation and accountability—excellence is demanded by the presence of master teachers. She can continue to tell students year after year about how each of these figures contributes to the knowledge and practices they are learning. The weight and meaning of that kind of genealogical accountability was most apparent in authentic situations for assessing and demonstrating student’s knowledge, such as the week-long trips the Wa‘a Project completed at least once a year.

Throughout the school year, a significant amount of the Wa‘a Project’s learning time took place at the canoe’s docking site. Even when students were spending four hours, three days a week at the site, the time and the number of students who could be on Kānehūnāmoku at any given time limited the extent to which they could sail weekly. Additionally, it was difficult to learn how to use the stars (other than the sun) to find direction when class was held during the daytime. In order to work around these limitations, over the past ten years Kahape‘a and her teaching team regularly conducted week-long camps at which the ‘ōpio did intensive wa‘a training. These required camps were held both in and around Kānehūnāmoku’s home waters in Kāne‘ohe Bay, as well as along the west coast of Hawai‘i Island with the Makali‘i crew based in Kawaihae.

The camps provided a means of authentic assessment. Did all members of the group demonstrate the mastery of skills required to board the wa‘a? Could each watch (small group) work together to create and execute a sail plan? Could students correctly identify important constellations in the night sky? Could the watches successfully work together to execute community responsibilities on land? They also minimized distractions. For instance, no electronic devices or mobile phones were allowed at camp, so students were unplugged the entire time. This allowed the ‘ōpio focus on the wa‘a, the natural environment, and each other.

(p.197) Though the tasks and schedule varied based on the camp location and other conditions, many elements remained relatively constant over the years, mimicking the routines of a long-distance deep-water voyage. The whole group typically awoke before dawn to observe stars and weather patterns. Journaling and breakfast preceded a land-based lesson, in which the crew might be studying the compasses, sail theory, or navigational charting. Throughout the day each watch sailed a leg on the wa‘a to practice what they had learned while watches on shore participated in small-group activities led by a science, social studies, Hawaiian-language, math, or language arts teacher. Just as the wa‘a time at camp allowed for synthesis and practice of what students had learned about sailing throughout the semester or year, the land-based rotations also provided an opportunity for synthesis, analysis, and application of knowledge from the various fields of study. For example, in 2011 students had been taking weekly measurements of temperature, dew point, and humidity and documenting their qualitative observations about clouds and other weather phenomena through writing and drawing. At the spring camp, they compiled and analyzed this data against their earlier hypotheses about the relationships of different weather variables. They were also able to make predictions about how the forces they observed in the early morning sessions might affect weather patterns throughout the day and into the evening. Evening sessions allowed students to debrief about their sails, talk story with community visitors, and observe the stars in their late-evening positions.

Particularly when the camps brought HKM ‘ōpio together with the larger wa‘a ‘ohana (as Kumu Kahape‘a and her haumāna referred to the crew members of other canoes throughout the islands), they provided a much deeper and more meaningful form of assessment and accountability than the testing regimes to which students were more frequently subjected. HKM alumni Noelani Duffey-Spikes recalled one camp that had a profound impact on her, in which the wa‘a crews from Hālau Kū Māna and two other Hawaiian charter schools came to fulfill a commitment made between their elders. Noe was a senior when she helped crew the journey to sail ‘Anakala Eddie to his home in Miloli‘i. She called it the three generations’ sail.


Enlarging Hawaiian WorldsWa‘a Travels against Currents of Belittlement

Figure 19. Kānehūnāmoku crew member and instructional assistant Chastity Oilila‘a supervises Maluhia Moses (Hkm class of 2013) in learning to properly use the lines to manipulate the sail before taking Kānehūnāmoku out on the open water. Photograph by the author.

(p.199) There was Kāne, Makali‘i, and Hōkūle‘a. Right there, that was three generations of canoes. But also Cap had already passed, and we were continuing his promise to ‘Anakala [Eddie]. That was three generations, too. ‘Anakala and Cap as one, and then there was Auntie Kahaz and Auntie Pomai [Bertlemann] guys, and then there was us. Three generations. We were in Kealakekua, and … had all the canoes in the bay [about to set sail]…. Then, pū everywhere; that’s all you heard. They were just blowing the pū. If you weren’t blowing one, then you were hearing it echo off the cliff. Then, everyone was chanting, … At that moment it was like, [Noe took a long pause and spoke slowly] it made it real. We have a reason. [Her voice quickened.] This is the reason we do what we do. The reason we try and continue to perpetuate as traditionally as we can at this point, but also as strongly as we can, to show everyone else, whoever is a spectator, we’re still here! Hawai‘i is all capitalized, colonized, militarized. But we’re still here. We’re still practicing this. It is still strong in us, in our blood, in our voices, and we’re still going to pass it on. It’s not dying; it’s not going anywhere…. Those moments, they make all that work, all the hardships, all worthwhile—to continue what you believe.35

It was in seeing her position, at a piko, in relation to the members of these three generations of a familial and intellectual genealogy of voyagers that the meaning of Noe’s learning became most clear to her.

Sailing as a Crew and ‘Ohana: “He Wa‘a, He Moku. He Moku, He Wa‘a.” (A Canoe Is an Island. An Island Is a Canoe.)

The Wa‘a Project’s emphasis on teamwork, collective well-being, and collaborative success is particularly vital to transforming the way we think about education in this current era dominated by high-stakes testing. At a time when student and school success is primarily measured by the performance of individuals on tests taken in isolation, where each question can have only one right answer, the Wa‘a Project (p.200) uses the social units of the crew and the watch to assure that no one is left behind. On the wa‘a cooperation is a prerequisite to survival. The structure of the crew has been an important heuristic for teaching/learning teamwork, leadership, interdependence, and a more collectivist concern for the well-being of the whole group, both on Kānehūnāmoku and on land.

Each quarter, the students are divided into watches. These small groupings correspond to the ways a wa‘a crew on a long journey would be divided into smaller subunits to attend particular duties for set periods of time. The students work in watches of four to seven students while on the wa‘a, as well as on land and in their classrooms on campus. As Kumu Kahape‘a told students arriving for their first day of wa‘a camp:

Think of us as one crew. Each watch is a minicrew within that. Think about your role, about how to stay together as a crew, as an ‘ohana. Mau always said, “Stay together.” How challenging, yeah? Yet so simple. This camp, we get to practice: How do we learn to live with each other? How do we stay together?

Although collaboration in problem solving is among the skill sets identified by prominent national educational organizations as crucial to twenty-first-century literacies, the dominant assessment systems do not encourage team-based, collaborative learning.36 The requirements of No Child Left Behind, for instance, base school and student success solely on individual performance and thus marginalize the importance of cooperative and inquiry-based learning.

A watch captain is assigned to each group, and this responsibility rotates to a different person each quarter. The watch captain bears responsibility for the safety of their group and assures that their collective tasks get completed properly. The watch captains also make sure that each member of their group sufficiently masters certain skills so that the whole group can progress. In many cases this means that if one person does not understand or demonstrate mastery of a skill, the entire watch cannot sail. For example, observing land-based rotations at the wa‘a, I saw watch captains work side by side with peers having a difficult time learning the knots used on Kāne. If a single member of the watch could not complete the tasks, the whole group would stay on shore.

(p.201) On another occasion, during these land-based rotations, one sophomore watch captain impressed me as she led and tutored the members of her group. They were committing to memory a chant listing nearly twenty winds of O‘ahu. Two of the boys were not putting forth much effort.

“What do we need to do to help you guys learn it?” she asked them.

No response.

“Ok, I’ll say it, and then you repeat after on your own.” They began to follow her lead, quietly at first. But with each line of the chant gained, she acknowledged and encouraged their progress. “There you go! That’s how!”

From the very beginning of each year, kumu encourage this kind of initiative and repeatedly emphasize the importance of a watch working as one. In the swim test held the first week of each year, a watch is required to move together in the water. The group members can swim no faster than the slowest swimmer in their group. This assures the safety of each member of the watch and puts the emphasis on all members successfully completing the test as a group.

In addition to using the structures of the crew and the watch on the canoe, kumu also translate these relationships into the classroom. In contrast to the kind of individualism cultivated by the culture of high-stakes testing, Kumu Kahape‘a explained that the interdependent relationships forged through the experience of being a crew were transformative for many students who had not previously experienced schooling as collaborative. Speaking in 2004, she explained:

[The wa‘a] makes them feel like they’re a part of something, so they’re willing to take more risks, academically and socially…. We can openly talk in our group about kids that are failing other classes. The kids don’t get shame about it, because we try and put it out there like they each have to take care of each other. So if Laka’s getting straight As and brother over here is getting straight Fs, we all need to do something about it. We not just gonna leave him over here, and Laka’s not jus’ gonna sail outta here with her straight As. Everyone has to work together. The more you get the kids real with each other and working as a crew, then they can function better in class and out of class.37

(p.202) At the time she cited the specific example of a student who had come to HKM with “a thick file” cataloging disciplinary problems from his previous school, his flippant attitude toward education evidenced in actions like blowing smoke in his former teacher’s face. When he came to HKM, he “just want[ed] to be able to go to the canoe,” Kahape‘a remembered. That desire, the structure of working cooperatively as a crew, and the sense that everyone was working toward a shared goal kept him motivated and eventually made him, in Kahape‘a’s words, a “shining star.”

He told us, “It feels like someone’s got your back every day,” and that’s so important for them…. Kids are afraid to let others know about their vulnerability. We try and break down those barriers. When you’re on the canoe, everyone’s just there to take care of each other.

When I interviewed her again seven years later, Kumu Kahape‘a cited numerous examples of the ways her students had responded positively to this cooperative approach (as opposed to one based on individualized reward and punishment) that also included a clear leadership structure.

I saw this reflected in the ways she cultivated such qualities in her watch captains. Captain Kahape‘a stood on the deck as one of the watches and I boarded Kānehūnāmoku. “Where is Meahilahila?” she asked Moana, who was relatively new to the role of watch captain. We all looked back to see Meahilahila on the shore, unwilling to walk through the water to the canoe. As Moana explained her crewmate’s hesitancy, her kumu directed her back to shore. “You gotta go back and get her. She’s gonna get a class cut if she doesn’t come out here.”

On the canoe success demands caring for each other. The structure and metaphor of the crew or watch mirrors a larger collective understanding of the school as an extended family, which is iterated over time and by all segments of the school community as foundational to the school’s success. These metaphors provide important counterpoints to the factory or business models that have historically pervaded American-style schooling.

(p.203) With the canoe as a context for learning, students must attend to group dynamics, thus teaching them to work together and to look out for one another. The structure of the watch provides an embodied and immediate experience in the importance of successful interdependence. Each person is valuable. Everyone’s survival and well-being is dependent upon each person’s ability to carry her or his kuleana. As Captain Kahape‘a explained:

There’s a sense of urgency that we like to stress, because if you don’t do what needs to be done, someone’s gonna get hurt. That’s a reality … on the water. In the classroom the kids can go do something stupid, and maybe it’s not gonna hurt anyone. But on the canoe the reality is that, yeah, you do something stupid, and you’re either gonna endanger yourself or someone else. Its like, you gotta do it. You can’t choose to not pull on the sheet line. You need to do it now! And you need to do it right. So it’s natural that the canoe provides that sense of urgency and risk. Teenagers love that because they like to be on the edge of life.

This message of working together, of acting in synchronicity for shared purpose, pervaded much of the experiential learning and authentic assessment that took place in the Wa‘a Project.

Seeing a Piko, Enlarging a World

The deep learning experiences Kānehūnāmoku has allowed over the years includes students’ ability to simultaneously see themselves as the piko, a self-directed center, and as a piko, one point within an interconnected web of genealogy. Pōmaika‘i Freed was twelve years old when Kāne was first launched from the shores of Kualoa. She and her three siblings were among the first students of Hālau Kū Māna, and she and her older brother Lahapa were a part of Kāne’s first crew. Reflecting on the years she spent learning from the wa‘a and her kumu, Pōmaika‘i described the experiences of being both rooted and routed on the canoe, which helped her enlarge her own world beyond the day-to-day challenges in her life. Of the wa‘a, she said:

(p.204) She just stays steady, a real constant. I was telling Auntie Kahaz that it is good just knowing that the wa‘a is there at all those points through life. To have an opportunity to go on the ocean and exhale anything that might be troubling my mind at the time. It was beautiful, and it definitely preserved my sanity.38

What would stay with her far longer than any standardized test scores were the stories and lessons of her experiences. Through her training to become part of Kāne’s first crew, she learned the value of “what it’s like to dedicate yourself to something, to sacrifice, to work after school and on weekends.” Through her participation in putting together and carrying Kānehūnāmoku, she learned the value of “everybody working together, one speed.” Through the stories she was told and brief periods she got to spend with Papa Mau Piailug, she learned to value the “in-tuneness that comes through constant daily observation.” Through her participation in the blessing before Kāne’s first launch, she saw her first hō‘ailona and thus learned to value purposeful ceremony and attentiveness to the unseen kūpuna who will respond. And through her study of the stars, she gained the sense that “if I just look up into the sky and recognize a constellation and know what the name is and maybe what the story is, I feel I know where I am.” This is the kind of world enlargement allowed by the restoration and use of Indigenous life-giving vessels like the wa‘a.


(1.) Hau‘ofa, “Our Sea of Islands”; Teaiwa, “Militarism, Tourism and the Native: Articulations in Oceania”; “Articulated Cultures”; Diaz and Kauanui, “Native Pacific Cultural Studies on the Edge”; Diaz, Repositioning the Missionary; Tengan, Native Men Remade; Aikau, “Indigeneity in the Diaspora”; Aikau, A Chosen People, a Promised Land.

(2.) I was first introduced to this metaphor of “roots and routes” by the work of James Clifford. In particular, see Clifford, Routes. Commenting on the significance of the intervention made by Routes, Friedman writes, “Clifford’s stress on movement itself as the source of cultural production implies that it is people and things on the move that in themselves are agents of cultural creation as against the received view that culture is constituted in localized populations or communities.” Friedman, “From Roots to Routes,” 22.

(3.) Diaz and Kauanui, “Native Pacific Cultural Studies on the Edge,” 318–19.

(4.) Hau‘ofa, “Our Sea of Islands,” 7.

(5.) Ibid., 11.

(6.) This genealogical chant for Kānehūnāmoku appears in its entirety through the permission of Kānehūnāmoku’s captain, Kumu Bonnie Kahape‘a-Tanner.

(7.) Silva, Aloha Betrayed, 19.

(8.) The Hōkūle‘a is the wa‘a kaulua (double-hulled sailing canoe) that launched the resurgence of Hawaiian seafaring practices. See Finney, Sailing in the Wake of the Ancestors; Voyage of Rediscovery; Kyselka, An Ocean in Mind.

(9.) These are the concluding lines of a chant composed by Kumu Kāwika Mersberg for Hālau Kū Māna.

(11.) Almost all of the large fishponds that were built on O‘ahu by Kānaka Maoli in days past were filled for suburban development through the midtwentieth century. In more recent years new generations of marine resource stewards have attempted to revitalize traditional Hawaiian fishponds and lo‘i. Most notable among them is Paepae o He‘eia, a nonprofit organization that was formed by a group of young Kānaka in the early 2000s to care for and revitalize the largest existing fishpond on Windward O‘ahu, the fifty-acre He‘eia fishpond. Paepae o He‘eia provided an outdoor learning site and science-based instruction to several Hawaiian-focused charter schools, including Hālau Kū Māna. See the Paepae o He‘eia website at www.paepaeoheeia.org.

(12.) Māhealani Treaster, interviewed by the author, April 26, 2011. During this interview Kumu Māhealani made a point to say, “For the record, I am not Hawaiian.” This was important for her to state explicitly, since she goes by a Hawaiian name, teaches Hawaiian language and history, and could pass as a Kanaka. She also explained that it was important to acknowledge her position to her students, as well as to me, so that they might see that non-Hawaiians also have a kuleana to learn and care about the histories, place names, and practices of the Kānaka ‘Ōiwi and the ‘āina.

(13.) Ka‘ōpulupulu advised Kahahana against giving Kualoa to Kahekili: “Oh Chief! If you give away these things your authority will be lost, and you will cease to be a ruler. To Kualoa belong the water courses of your ancestors, Kalumaluma‘i and Kekaihehe‘e; the sacred drums of Kapahu‘ulu, and the spring of Ka‘ahu‘ula; the sacred hill of Kauakahi son of Kaho‘owaha of Kualoa.” See Kamakau, Ruling Chiefs of Hawaii, 129.

(14.) The ahu at Kualoa includes stones representing these wa‘a: Hōkūle‘a and Hawai‘iloa of Honolulu, Makali‘i of Waimea, Te Au o Tonga and Takitumu of Rarotonga, Taiohae of Nuku Hiva, E‘ala of Wai‘anae, and the O‘ahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association.

(15.) Loretta Ritte, interviewed by the author, June 2009. Video clips of this and other oral history interviews with early Kaho‘olawe activists can be found on the Mo‘olelo Aloha ‘āina project’s website at http://moolelo.manainfo.com.

(16.) This landing included Loretta Ritte; her husband, Walter Ritte; his sister, Scarlet Ritte; and Noa Emmett Aluli. See Ritte and Sawyer, Na Mana‘o Aloha o Kaho‘olawe.

(17.) Tengan, Native Men Remade, 55.

(18.) For a listing, with detailed descriptions, of Hōkūle‘a’s voyages, see Nainoa Thompson,“Why We Voyage: Reflections on Rapanui and Hokule‘a’s First Twenty-Five Years,” Polynesian Voyaging Society website, http://pvs.kcc.hawaii.edu/holokai/intro_holokai.html. For more on the Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana and demilitarization movements in Hawai‘i, see Blaisdell, “The Indigenous Rights Movement in the Pacific”; McGregor, Nā Kua ‘āina; Kajihiro, “The Militarizing of Hawai’i.”

(19.) For more information and images related to the story of Hōkūle‘a’s 1976 arrival in Tahiti, see Nainoa Thompson,“Voyaging and the Revival of Culture and Heritage,” Polynesian Voyaging Society website, http://pvs.kcc.hawaii.edu/ike/intro_ike.html.

(20.) Bonnie Kahape‘a, interviewed by the author, December 13, 2004.

(21.) The PRAXIS tests are a series developed by the Educational Testing Service and widely used as part of the certification process required by many states and professional licensing organizations. Some studies have begun to show the uneven impacts this test has on teacher candidates of various ethnic and racial backgrounds. One study in Alaska shows that among teacher candidates only 30 to 50 percent of Alaska Native candidates passed the PRAXIS I exam, whereas more than 90 percent of white candidates passed. The authors argue that the test is “essentially a test of cultural assimilation.” Hogan and Winebarger, “Decolonizing Education in Alaska.” Bennett, McWhorter, and Kuykendall argue that the PRAXIS I is an inequitable admissions tool, based on their findings among Latino and African American applicants seeking entrance to the teacher education program at a Big Ten university. Bennett, McWhorter, and Kuykendall, “Will I Ever Teach?”

(22.) Watanabe, “Because We Do Not Know Their Way.”

(23.) Bonnie Kahape‘a-Tanner, interviewed by the author, December 4, 2004.

(24.) Hālau Kū Māna staff retreat, December 6, 2010.

(25.) Personal communication, September 2004.

(26.) Ke Au Oko‘a, April 14, 1870. The Hawaiian text can be found through Ulukau: Hawaiian Electronic Library’s online Hawaiian newspaper archive, Ho‘olaupa‘i, at http://nupepa.org/gsdl2.5/cgi-bin/nupepa?l=en. The archive is searchable by title of newspaper, date or keyword search. The following English translation of the quoted segment is Mary Kawena Pukui’s: “Kanehunamoku, Kamohoali‘i, Kuhaimoana, Ka‘uhuhu, Kaneikokala, Kanakaokai, and some others were mano kumupu‘a…. They showed themselves in trances and visions in the forms they assumed as sharks, owls, hilu fish, mo‘o and so forth. There were many forms that these ancestral gods, the ‘aumakua (p.279) kumupa‘a, such as Kamohoali‘i and Kanehunamoku ma and other ancestral beings from the po (spirit world) assumed.” Kamakau, Ka Po’e Kahiko, 75.

(27.) Beckwith, Hawaiian Mythology; Rice, Hawaiian Legends; Gutmanis, Na Pule Kahiko.

(28.) Beckwith, Hawaiian Mythology; The Kumulipo.

(29.) Bonnie Kahape‘a-Tanner explained that this name comes from what is believed to be the ancestral name of the island, Kapou, and “ku Mau,” in deference to Papa Mau Piailug, who helped Hawaiian voyagers find their ways back to these islands by reclaiming voyaging traditions.

(30.) For Scott Kekuewa Kikiloi’s full posting on Kānehūnāmoku, see“Where Kane Hides the Islands,” Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Multi-agency Education Project website, September 30, 2002, http://www.hawaiianatolls.org/research/NOWRAMP2002/journals/kanehunamoku.php.

(31.) The word piko can refer to the navel. Kānaka Maoli recognize, however, several piko within each person. A piko is both a center within an individual being and a node or connector to generations that preceded or follow.

(32.) For diagrams of both compasses, see “Star Compasses,” Polynesian Voyaging Society website, http://pvs.kcc.hawaii.edu/ike/hookele/star_compasses.html.

(33.) According to Kanahele mā, “Ke Alanui Polohiwa a Kāne and Ke Alanui Polohiwa a Kanaloa are nā Ao Polohiwa. The ao polohiwa are the boundaries of the sun’s travels. Ao can be interpreted as realm, world, or space. Polohiwa means a dark space.” These terms can also refer to the summer and winter solstices. For further explanation, see Kanahele et al., Kūkulu ke Ea a Kanaloa.

(34.) Uncle Clay Bertelmann is symbolized by the design Makali‘i on the rear ākea side of the wa‘a. ‘Anakala Eddie’s design Maka upena sits on the rear ama side of Kānehūnāmoku.

(35.) Noelani Duffey-Spikes, interviewed by the author, March 31, 2011.

(36.) See, for example, the National Council for Teachers of English’s “The Definition of 21st Century Literacies,” the Partnership for 21st Century Skills’ “Framework for 21st Century Learning,” the National Council for Social Studies’ “Principles for Learning,” the Association for Career and Technical Education, the Consortium for School Networking, the National Council of Teachers of English, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the National Middle School Association, and the National Science Teachers Association.

(37.) Bonnie Kahape‘a-Tanner, interviewed by the author, December 4, 2004.

(38.) Pōmaika‘i Freed, interviewed by the author, May 1, 2011.