search logo

Education leaders from the DOE, UH and private schools including Punahou, ‘Iolani, and Kamehameha have committed to working together to engage students in the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage. Above, KS Hawaiian Culture Development Sr. Program Manager Mark Ellis imparts his Polynesian wayfaring knowledge to Nānakuli High School students at KS' Kaʻiwakīloumoku Hawaiian Cultural Center.

Living Culture and Transforming Education

March 11, 2015

Contributed by Nadine Lagaso

The following op-ed by Dr. Randie Kamuela Fong appeared in the Sunday, March 8 issue of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Fong is vice president of Cultural Affairs for Kamehameha Schools, the education sponsor of the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage.

Something profound had changed in the cosmos when the Hōkūleʻa first glided across the sands and entered the shimmering waters of sacred Kualoa in 1975 – it had been many centuries since a double-hulled voyaging canoe had graced Hawaiian waters. But it was her return from a triumphant journey to Tahiti and back in 1976 that quieted the critics and created a shift in the Hawaiian psyche: Hōkūleʻa had become an icon of Hawaiian competence.

Upon such waʻa kaulua, our ancestors transported people, landscapes, ideas and aspirations as they traversed the largest body of water on earth at will.  Hōkūleʻa emerged at a time of great cultural resurgence which elevated and amplified the importance of Hawaiian culture, language, native rights, and self-determination.  The whole notion of navigating by the stars as our kūpuna did inspired us to redirect our attention to our own ancestral sources of knowledge and learning.  One of those ancestral sources is our south Pacific homeland – our true “mainland.”

Education Through Culture – Classroom of the World
It is hard to shape young people into worldly citizens without getting them and their teachers out into the larger world to live culture.  In 1985, for the very first time, students traveled to the south Pacific to support the arrival ceremonies of the Hōkūleʻa at Waitangi, Aotearoa (New Zealand). Hundreds of Māori warriors greeted the waʻa with a thunderous haka (traditional posture dance) that seemed to shake the entire earth. Students heard the eloquent words of esteemed elder Sir James Henare declare that the Hōkūleʻa extended family was the 6th Tribe of Te Tai Tokerau – their tribe.

In 1990, students and teachers traveled to Juneau to honor the Tlingit, Haida, and Tshimshian tribes of Southeast Alaska for donating logs for the construction of the Hawaiʻiloa canoe. This indigenous act of compassion acknowledged that there were no longer koa trees in Hawaiʻi forests of sufficient size to construct a voyaging canoe.

In 1992, students and teachers returned to Waitangi to erect an ancestral carved post named Mauipāmamao to represent the Hawaiian tribe, Ngāti Ruawāhia (Tribe of Arcturus/Hōkūleʻa). Later that same year, students proudly participated in the dramatic landfall of an impressive flotilla of Polynesian voyaging canoes led by the Hōkūleʻa at Avanā Pass in Rarotonga, Cook Islands as part of the 6th Festival of Pacific Arts.  Students and teachers were also key participants in ceremonies at Taputapuātea Marae, in Raʻiatea to initiate Hōkūleʻa at one of the most sacred sites in Polynesia known as a gathering place for navigational learning. 

In 1995 on the island of Nukuhiva in the Marquesas, students conducted experiments, one of which studied the effects of ginger in relieving sea sickness among the crew, and another on the effectiveness of a plant-based sunscreen.  In 1998-99 students and teachers did archaeological, environmental and DNA research on Rapa Nui and engaged in significant reforestation efforts to honor the community and to acknowledge the island’s history of serious deforestation.  

Since the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage began last year, students and teachers from schools throughout Hawaiʻi are finding their way into the Pacific to engage the voyage at different locations – some have even set their sights on places such as Capetown, South Africa, New York, and Rapa Nui over the next three years.  Such travel experiences are critical in strengthening young peoples’ identity as citizens of the Pacific and the greater world. When asked “Are these experiences cultural or educational?”  I reply, “They are both.”  From a Hawaiian perspective culture and education cannot be separated, they are one and the same.  Education in all its forms emerges from culture.  The lifeways of a people over time determine the particular knowledge that a culture wishes to perpetuate through its forms of education.

Culture Through Education – Top Education Leaders Unite
For four decades, Hōkūleʻa has been a beacon of learning, illuminating the world’s understanding of Polynesian ancestral ingenuity and demonstrating its global capacity to serve humankind.  Hōkūleʻa is an inter-generational classroom for families and communities, a science laboratory for exploring new knowledge, a venue for leadership development, a living library with an amazing collection of stories that connect the very ancient, to what has yet to be discovered.  Fundamentally, Hōkūleʻa is about education.

Hawaiʻi’s  top education leaders from the Department of Education,  the University of Hawaiʻi, private schools such as Punahou, ‘Iolani, and Kamehameha, and other institutions of learning have formed an unprecedented partnership:  Guided by the principles of the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage – caring for Island Earth – these education partners have committed to working together to help transform education in Hawaiʻi. 

They are challenging their respective faculties to robustly engage the voyage by turning classrooms and campuses into extensions of the waʻa. They are supporting the development of innovative curriculum and research and encouraging educators to freely share knowledge across institutions. They are promoting virtual engagement via where you can track the voyage live, and experience stunningly vivid videographic “learning journeys” of community-based sustainability projects at various locations along the voyage—you feel like you’re right there with members of the crew. 

Perhaps the greatest reward from all of these efforts is to witness students applying their global knowledge and understanding of sustainability with a sense of Pacific identity, and seeing how it is shaping their attitudes and behaviors as emerging leaders. 

These efforts are embodied in a doctrine endorsed and signed by all education partners:  Promise to Children.  Excerpts of this agreement read:

“We are the stewards and navigators of Hawaiʻi’s educational community. We believe that the betterment of humanity is inherently possible, and we believe our schools, collectively, from early childhood education through advanced graduate studies, are a powerful force for good…This is the voyage of our lifetimes, and we are steadfast in our commitment to achieve a profound transformation in education…We will transform our schools, empower youthful voices, and accept the responsibility of Mālama Honua. We believe that by inspiring children to explore, discover and learn about Island Earth, they will navigate the future of humanity toward vitality, renewal, and compassion.”

As Hōkūleʻa bids farewell to our Māori ‘ohana of Aotearoa, makes her way down under to Australia to honor the aboriginal nations, and continues westward to circumnavigate the earth, she will continue to be that beacon of learning, that icon of competence and excellence that reflects the educational transformation our children so richly deserve.  Kīauau, hukiauau, kōauau – Ke aloha nō!

KS Cultural Affairs Vice President Dr. Randie Kamuela Fong

malama honua voyage

Kaipuolono Article, Newsroom, Campus Programs, Hawaii, Kapalama, Maui, Department News, Ho‘okahua, Mālama Honua, Features

Print with photos Print text only