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KS faculty and staff visit Te Whare Rūnanga, a symbol of Māori unity in Aotearoa, at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds in 2019.

Kūkahekahe:  He pilina wehena ʻole – An inseverable relationship – KS and Ngāti Ruawāhia

Nov. 24, 2020

  • Hoʻokahua Cultural Vibrancy Group

Kūkahekahe – Cultural Conversations – features personal experiences and insights from faculty and staff about compelling cultural happenings within the KS organization, throughout the Hawaiian Islands, and across the larger Pacific and global communities.

Noted scholar Mary Kawena Pukui wrote that “He pilina wehena ʻole” referenced an “inseverable relationship.” This ʻōlelo noʻeau describes the pilina developed among our Kamehameha educators and leaders as they embraced our Polynesian heritage as representatives of the Hawaiian-Māori tribe, Ngāti Ruawāhia.

December 7, 2020, will mark the 35-year anniversary of Hōkūleʻa’s first landing in Waitangi, Aotearoa (New Zealand). The historic 1985 event was coordinated and sponsored by the Polynesian Voyaging Society and Kamehameha Schools which led to the birth of Ngāti Ruawāhia, the sixth tribe of Te Tai Tokerau. This unprecedented designation bestowed by respected Māori elder Sir James Henare was the start of Kamehameha’s tribal heritage in Aotearoa, the “land of the long white cloud.”

Master navigator and former KS trustee Nainoa Thompson recently reflected on our shared tribal history, “One of the forces that was always there was Kamehameha Schools; knitting the kuleana of the tribe together and building communities through that connection. Crew members may be the tiny thread that finds islands, but Kamehameha is the one that builds and sustains it to fulfill the responsibility.”

Over the past 35 years, this kuleana has called hundreds of students, faculty, and staff to the northern region of Aotearoa known as “Te Tai Tokerau.” This heritage has served as a catalyst for understanding who we are as Hawaiians within our larger Pacific community. But it has also served as a way of connecting people in parts of our organization who may not interact regularly with each other.

“I first met Mark Ellis (Kealapono Program Manager) while I was washing all the student uniforms on the 2014 trip when Hōkūleʻa returned to Waitangi after almost 30 years, along with Hikianalia; and washing all those uniforms everyday was no joke!” laughed Ekela Kaniaupio-Crozier, KS Maui Hawaiian Culture-Based Education Learning designer and facilitator. “My role on the trip was your hānai daughter!” added Kapalai de Silva, Hoʻokahua cultural specialist.

“We had two haumāna from Maui, two from Keaʻau and over a dozen Kapālama students travel for that very special, ancestral kuleana. It would have been easy for them to feel alienated and separated by campuses. But by the end of the trip, it was hard for us to leave each other,” Kaniaupio-Crozier said.

The same pilina has been experienced by other members of our KS ʻohana who travelled on subsequent ancestral pilgrimages to Aotearoa.

“I remember we were in Auckland Museum during our 2019 Māori school visitations, and we had chanted ‘Ngāti Ruawāhia’ together many times before. But chanting it that time, it felt different, and it hit me that we were a unit with a sense of belonging; more than just colleagues,” noted Keola Silva, KS Kapālama Elementary School vice principal.

“Now, when we see each other at various events or in the community, it’s a different feeling; Keola is my brother from Waialua and Wendy is my roommate!” said Shawna Medeiros, KS Kapālama director of Teaching Innovations.

Kamehameha’s connection to Aotearoa and our kuleana as representatives of Ngāti Ruawāhia have always inspired transformation in the best ways possible.

“At Kamehameha, haumāna often feel that they ‘know’ their individual identity as Native Hawaiians,” said de Silva. “The 2014 trip grounded that understanding in the reality that our identity is part of something larger than ourselves, as part of a community. It’s powerful to witness this change in the makua as well; alongside 15- and 16-year-olds, 40- and 50-year-olds experiencing this change in their naʻau.”

KS Kapālama Director of Pacific Innovations Chris Blake agreed. “When we go to Aotearoa, we end up wanting to understand more about our own culture,” he said. “That trip started me down a new path, to where I am today.”

“This year has challenged us in so many ways, bringing us new understandings of the word ‘flexible’” said KS Kapālama High School Poʻo Kumu Wendy Erskine. “But there is a small handful of places that you don’t have words to describe; being in Aurere, Aotearoa during the 2019 trip and experiencing Māori hospitality and the depth of these relationships with Kamehameha was empowering. It’s important for our haumāna to see what it means for the global community to be our best selves, and to know where we fit as servant leaders in the bigger picture of our Pacific home.”

Pacific Conversations

Part one of a new episode of Pacific Conversations celebrating the 35th anniversary of Ngāti Ruawāhia debuts on Nov. 25, 2020! This week hear from Hawaiian and Māori members of the 1985 Hōkūleʻa Crew who sailed on the epic voyage from Rarotonga to Aotearoa. Stay tuned for part two: Sir Hector Hekenukumai Busby – Hawaiʻi’s Legacy in Aotearoa next week on Dec. 12, 2020. Visit the Pacific Conversations page on the Ka‘iwakīloumoku website for details.

Students from KS Hawaiʻi, Maui, and Kapālama gather with Māori students while visiting kura (schools) in 2014. Photo courtesy of Chris Blake.

KS Kapālama Elementary School Hope Poʻo Kumu Keola Silva, KSK High School Poʻo Kumu Wendy Erskine, and KSK Director of Teaching Innovations Shawna Medeiros express their mahalo to host Gina Harding at Aurere, Aotearoa.

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