2022 Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea Honorees Kumu Dana Kauai Iki Olores and Kumu Hina Wong.
July 31 marks the first national holiday of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi, Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea (sovereignty restoration day). Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea was revived in the 1980s by Dr. Kekuni Blaisdell and other revered kanaka aloha ʻāina. Today our own newly invested Kamehameha Schools Trustee Noe Goodyear-Kaopua KSK‘92 is a co-organizer of the Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea events and celebrations in Honolulu. This year, the State of Hawaiʻi recognized July 31 as “a special day of observance” through the passage of HB2475. Celebrations are happening throughout our kula and organization, in Hawaiʻi, and around the world. In this Kūkahekahe, we speak to community organizer and 2022 Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea honoree Kumu Hinaleimoana Wong KSK ’90 about this important holiday.
Hina, this year you have been selected as an honoree by the Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea organizers, along with Kumu Dana Kauai Iki Olores, who was an important part of your growth as a kanaka. Tell us more about why this shared honor is so special.
I graduated from Kamehameha Kapālama in 1990, and I found myself attending UH Mānoa. As a student in Hawaiian studies, I was able to immerse myself in Hawaiian classes. I met Dana Kauai Iki Olores at UH. She was my friend, my mentor and my tita, and in many ways she became my kumu in life. She supported me and lifted me up, and she taught me to embrace me. She too was māhū, and she used to tell me “Come on girl, come and pick me up!” And we would go and participate in so many Hawaiian things. I remember that one of the first times we went out there, she told me, “Oh, we are going to go oli and hula; I’ll be the hoʻopaʻa and you be the dancer.” I asked her what mele we going to perform, and she told me “You speak Hawaiian right? Well listen to the words and if you understand the words you should be able to dance.” She would require me to haku my dance to the chant on the spot! We would go to all kinds of events, but some of the most prominent in my memory were some of the very first Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea celebrations organized by Uncle Kekuni Blaisdell.
What was it like in those days?
At the time, they were very small events with only a handful of people, folks like Lynette Cruz, Dr. Baron Ching, and a handful of others would gather together. Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea was not something that many Hawaiians in the community knew about anymore. But Uncle Kekuni kept at it. It stayed small for many years. And I would wonder, “Why do we do this?” I myself had yet to rise in that consciousness. But really, I have Kauai Iki to thank for my involvement, because she kept telling us to go every year. And every year, she would take me to the different forested areas of Oʻahu to gather kinolau from our ʻāina… kinolau of Kū, Kāne, Lono, and Kanaloa to invoke political awareness, healing, knowledge, and enlightenment. We would invoke the presence of our ancestors every time we went. Kauai Iki and I were two of the primary dancers and chanters in those early years.
So Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea has become very personal to you as a Hawaiian over time.
Yes. I took my students to the celebrations in the earlier days of my teaching, and I would continue to go whenever I could. But Kauai Iki was always there. She was a great catalyst in my life, and very important to me, personally. With her aloha and support, I was allowed to become who I am today. Without Kauai Iki challenging me and guiding me during those early celebrations, I don’t know if there would have been a Kumu Hina.
This year the State of Hawaiʻi designated July 31 as Sovereignty Restoration Day, “A Special Day of Observance” by signing HB2475. It’s something many advocates have been working towards for many years. What are your thoughts on the designation?
I recognize that there may be political implications of a very nuanced level when it comes to the Hawaiʻi State government honoring this holiday, and I can see why they didn’t reinstate it as a state holiday. I think some in our movements would prefer the state to have nothing to do with our Hawaiian national holidays. But personally, I’m glad July 31 has been designated as a special day, because it gives the cause greater awareness of Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea and its significance among the general public. Everyone in the lāhui should celebrate, and everyone in Hawaiʻi should learn about it. Over time, this knowledge will grow and inform and firm our resolve as a lāhui. The process of education is still ongoing. There are still many out there in the larger Hawaiian, kamaʻāina, and malihini community in Hawaiʻi that do not understand the significance of our sovereignty being restored in 1843 by Great Britain, but not by the United States to this day. Not only is Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea a day to celebrate the return of our sovereignty historically, but a reminder to keep working towards the restoration of our sovereignty today. It’s about education and empowerment.
What would you like to see in the future for Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea celebrations in Hawaiʻi?
I think some of the things I’d like to see in the future are already starting. There’s another celebration in Waiʻanae sponsored by Auntie Lynette Cruz who is from Waiʻanae. Having these celebrations in our communities, in our places of work, in our homes, and not just at Thomas Square, is crucial. So much has been done to perpetuate Lā Hoʻihoʻi, but we need to keep it up and celebrate in and around our communities. The kānaka community is only a small percentage of the population of our islands, and we are spread throughout the pae ʻāina. There should be deliberate efforts made to celebrate everywhere in Hawaiʻi. We especially need the powerful players in the Hawaiian community to help support Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea, to recognize the symbolism and significance of Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea and what it stands for. If it was up to me, everyone in the lāhui and Hawaiʻi would embrace it! It is just as consistent to celebrate Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea with Merrie Monarch, with Kamehameha Day. We have to continue to empower ourselves to empower others through education.
What are some things you hope people keep in mind to celebrate Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea this year and in the future?
I view the celebration of Hawaiian holidays such as Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea to be an affirmation of our own existence and history as Hawaiians. Our observance and celebration of Hawaiian holidays is no different than American and other international counterparts celebrating and rejoicing in their own histories and narratives. Moreover, it is a way to honor and uplift our continued presence in our homeland, and a symbol of our resilience in Hawaiʻi.
We have done so much in the last decades to promote culture. I think the fundamental issues at the heart of celebrating Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea will help all people, not just Native Hawaiians in Hawaiʻi to see the importance of learning the Hawaiian language. Celebration of Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea helps us to make the case that Hawaiian language is normal in all of our spaces and places. What does it mean to our communities that we celebrate a Hawaiian national holiday? It leads to shifts in consciousness and fundamental understandings of sovereignty and acknowledgement. It’s actually a radical mind shift! I envision a Hawaiʻi where Hawaiian worldviews are reinstated as a normal part of everyday life and not just an afterthought. I dream of a Hawai’i where Hawaiian ethics, morals, principles and practices govern our affairs.
As an alumnus of Kamehameha what would you like to see for celebration of Hawaiian national holidays like Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea at our schools and organization?
I love that there are growing celebrations on the campuses and in Kamehameha’s offices. I look forward to hearing Kamehameha haumāna singing the other two former Kingdom national anthems, “E Ola Ke Aliʻi Ke Akua” and “He Mele Lāhui Hawaiʻi” and not only honoring “Hawaiʻi Ponoʻī.” I would love it if a recording was made! What is the body of national mele and what are the mele we as a lāhui should learn? I think Kamehameha has a role in these education efforts. And I would love it if Kamehameha held celebrations in public ways and honored the legacy by partnering with other organizations to celebrate every year. That is so important for education, and knowledge is empowerment for our people. I think that is one of the best ways we can lift up Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea.
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