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Director of ʻIke Hawaiʻi Cultural Advancement and lifelong kumu Keʻala Kwan.

Kūkahekahe: A kumu’s message of aloha and mahalo

Dec. 14, 2021

Contributed by Communications Staff

In this special Kūkahekahe for Founder’s Day 2021, ʻIke Hawaiʻi Cultural Development Director Keʻala Kwan reflects on his lifelong journey as a kumu with a message of aloha and mahalo for all who are a part of Pauahi’s legacy, and especially to Kamehameha’s teachers and students. 

It all began in 1887, when the Kamehameha School for Boys opened and with it, Ke Aliʻi Pauahi’s vision for educating Hawaiian children became a reality. Today, 134 years later, her incredible vision for a thriving lāhui continues through the tireless work, dedication, passion, and aloha of many people.  Kumu are some of these people. It is my honor and privilege to serve as a kumu as part of Pauahi’s vision.

My journey as a kumu ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has been a wonderful and awesome blessing. Indeed a blessing from ke Akua. “How so?” you ask.  Well, please make yourself comfortable as I share with you my humble moʻolelo.

Aloha mai kākou.  ʻO Keʻala Kwan koʻu inoa a he kumu ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi wau.  No Nānākuli mai au kahi kaulana iā Puʻu Heleakalā.  ʻO Puʻu Heleakalā kahi i hanau ʻia ai ʻo Māui ke kupua kaulana o Hawaiʻi nei a puni i ka Pākīpika.  Noho au me kuʻu ʻohana ma ka ʻĀina Hoʻopulapula.  Hana wau ma Hoʻokahua ma ke kula ʻo Kamehameha. Aloha.  Keʻala Kwan is my name and I am an ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi teacher.  I am from Nānākuli, a place famous for Puʻu Heleakalā the birthplace of Māui the famous demigod of Hawaiʻi and the Pacific.  I live with my ʻohana on Hawaiian Homestead land. I work at Hoʻokahua at Kamehameha Schools.

I was in my mid-20s when Aunty Sarah Nākoa, who directed the ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi section of Kamehameha School’s Continuing Education Program (CEP), invited me to teach ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi.  It was 1981, and I was working at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa (UH Mānoa) and had never taught before.  Thus began my kumu journey.

Aunty Sarah was one of my beloved kumu ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi at UH Mānoa during the 1970s when I completed four years of ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi. My CEP haumāna were all adults, including some kūpuna, and from all walks of life. The five years that I taught were enjoyable and gave me a real taste of teaching. One kupuna, an expert lauhala weaver, made a gorgeous pāpale lauhala (lauhala hat) as a makana for me. It was amazing how she did it without knowing my hat size.  This was a great example of kupuna ʻike, excellence and pure aloha.

Also in 1981, Aunty Aggie Cope, Executive Director of the Waiʻanae Coast Culture and Arts Society invited me to teach ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi. This once-a-week ʻohana class (keiki to kūpuna) met every Saturday morning in Mākaha. Teaching this intergenerational class for four hours was both a unique challenge and an absolute joy. I was proud and loved teaching ʻohana from my Waiʻanae Coast community. Mahalo a nui to Aunty Sarah and Aunty Aggie, two strong, capable kūpuna wahine, both kumu in their own right, for seeing my potential as a kumu and providing pivotal opportunities that set me on my life path.

In the spring of 1986, I became a full-time Hawaiian Resource Specialist at Kamehameha’s Hawaiian Studies Institute (HSI). At HSI I worked alongside and learned from outstanding kumu, such as Kaiponohea Hale, Maxine Puaʻala Nuʻuhiwa, and Keoni Du Pont. We presented Hawaiian cultural workshops statewide for the Hawaiʻi Department of Education teachers and kūpuna.  From 1989 to 1994, I also worked part-time to teach evening ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi college credit classes for Leeward Community College, at the school’s Waiʻanae Center. I have so many fond memories of the ʻohana, mākua, and kūpuna (whom I was reluctant to “teach” because they certainly had much more ʻike than me) during my first decade of being a kumu. All of these experiences taught me what it means to be a kumu, and to laugh and enjoy while teaching.  Perhaps most importantly, I learned to always teach with aloha.  But there was more to learn!

I began teaching full-time at Kamehameha Kapālama High School in the fall of 1990. I felt confident to teach at the high school level for the first time because of my previous teaching experience. However, I quickly learned two very important lessons. First, not all my haumāna were motivated to learn their mother tongue. And second, these were teenagers, who were in some ways the same, and in other ways quite different from the adult haumāna I had taught previously. I taught at the high school for the next 22 years, and would probably need a book to share those wonderful years with you. Suffice it to say, those were some of the best years of my kumu journey. After the 2012-2013 school year I transitioned to Kamehameha’s Hoʻokahua  Cultural Vibrancy Group. I am now blessed to be among excellent kumu at Hoʻokahua and we continue to teach nā limahana o Kamehameha.   

In closing, please allow me to share some of my mahalo reflections as a kumu.

Mahalo wau i nā haumāna (I am thankful to students...)

...who taught me to continually strive to be a better kumu.

... who pursued their passions and excelled in their chosen field of study and occupation.

... who have become the kumu ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi of today, at all levels – pre-school to grad school, to hoʻomau i ko kākou ʻōlelo makuahine i aloha nui ʻia (to perpetuate our beloved mother tongue).

... who are loving and nurturing mākua and kūpuna raising our next hanauna (generation) to be strong and confident Hawaiians, fully capable to pursue their dreams and aspirations.  

Mahalo wau i nā kumu... (I am thankful to teachers...)

... who know Hawaiian traditional lifeways, such as mahiʻai, lawaiʻa, holo waʻa/waʻa kaulua, hula, ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi and oratory, the healing arts, the sciences, leadership and more, and devote their lives to practicing and teaching what they know and passing it on to others to ensure that it endures.

... who took the time, especially during my early years as a kumu, to share with me the wonderful science, art, practice and magic of teaching.

... who modeled for me excellence in teaching that has at its core, aloha for haumāna.

Mahalo wau iā Pauahi... (I am thankful to Pauahi...)

... for her strong vision of a thriving lāhui, inspite of living during very difficult and dark historical times for herself and her people.

... for being an extrodinary role model of aloha – love, empathy, passion and compassion for her people.

... for her strong Christian faith and practice.

Haumāna enjoying a lesson at KS Kapālama.

Kumu Keʻala shares an ʻŌlelo Kahua presentation with Nā Kula Kamaliʻi kumu and staff.

Kumu of the Languages Department, 2012

Students look on during Commencement. Pauahi’s portrait reminds us of her legacy.

employee 'ohana,founder's da,reflection

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