Midkiff Learning Center temporarily became a concert venue as haumāna celebrated Lā Kūʻokoʻa with mele aloha ʻāina by The Vitals 808
Kumu at Kula Ki‘eki‘e’s Midkiff Learning Center were busy this month, with a full slate of activities honoring Lā Kū‘oko‘a, Hawai‘i’s Independence Day, commonly celebrated from 1844 until 1895, when the Provisional Government took over and replaced the holiday with Thanksgiving. “They were very effective because most of us celebrate Thanksgiving - but not Lā Kū‘oko‘a,” said Kumu Ku‘uleilani Reyes, the Hawaii Collection Librarian for Midkiff. “Part of it is to deal with the historical trauma, but then also to move forward, draw strength from our ancestors rather than ‘woe is us, this is terrible.’ We acknowledge it, but not dwell on it. Let's move forward. Let's leverage our strength that we get from our kupuna now - they've endured. We're still here.”
The Midkiff kumu led with the question, “How did our kūpuna celebrate Lā Kū‘oko‘a?” According to our historical nūpepa, our kūpuna held marches, gave speeches, organized presentations in churches, hosted parties, and created mele, which guide our events this month. Midkiff staff engaged in outreach to kumu and haumāna, teaching about the holiday and engaging them in a homeroom activity - Mele Aloha ‘Āīna. Each homeroom selected a mele from a curated list, deciding which best demonstrated aloha ‘āina - one of the foundations of E Ola! meaning Hawaiian patriotism; love for the land and its people. Then they chose two lines from the song, and incorporated the words into album cover artwork either digitally or by hand. The idea was to go beyond visuals and bring ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i front and center. “We need students to be engaged. Just telling them ‘oh, just write this down’ is not enough.” said Reyes.
This year’s activities built upon previous years; the Midkiff staff has taken the lead on Lā Kū‘oko‘a commemoration since 2021. Where previous years focused on the date itself - November 28 - this year brought a week’s worth of activity and education. Haumāna voted on the best album cover design. They also brought t-shirts to be printed with a special Lā Kū‘oko‘a design created by our graphic artist master Kāwika Mahelona. On November 21 guest speakers Mark Ellis and Kaiwi Hamakua-Makue talked about their Moananuiākea Voyage on the Hōkūle‘a, where they connected with other Pacific indigenous cultures. The next day haumāna learned about native Hawaiian leadership from Suzanne Vares-Lum, President of the East-West Center, and the empowerment of Hawaiian cultural identity through theater, from Haili‘opua Baker, UH Mānoa Hawaiian Theatre Program Director. A presentation from haumāna recently returned from London and Italy followed on that day. Their trip included a stop at the British Archives to view the actual Lā Kū‘oko‘a document recognizing the sovereignty of the Hawaiian nation by Great Britain and France.
Reyes humbly acknowledged the efforts and planning she and her colleagues undertook to make this the largest celebration at KSK to date. The Midkiff kumu worked to spread the word about Lā Kū‘oko‘a throughout campus - from ‘Akahi Dining Hall to Chapel. “We have to look beyond our classroom, look beyond homerooms. And how do we leverage touch points with haumāna, with the kumu, with our community in general?”
Reyes had additional kuleana off campus this week, with the International Indigenous Librarians Conference, being held in Hawai‘i for the first time. After leading the opening protocol on the first day of the forum at Waimea Valley, she was one of the keynote speakers at the conference. Her topic: Midkiff's role in Lā Kū‘oko‘a festivities with Kula Ki‘eki‘e. “It's really about building relationships, cultivating connections, so we can uplift the lāhui,” she said.
The week of events culminated with a concert in Midkiff by The Vitals 808 on the November 28 Lā Kū‘oko‘a holiday. “When it came to the concert and choosing the group, we wanted a group that can get the students up on their feet right and moving but at the same time, that the they will see some mele aloha ‘āina and then we can also intersperse their songs with speakers,” said Reyes.
Going forward, Midkiff kumu are planting the seeds for more student-led Lā Kū‘oko‘a activities. As part of their cultural identity, “they own it, and they may come up with some even more clever ideas than I can ever dream. And that's part of you know, being alaka‘i lawelawe, servant leaders. It’s to serve and uplift the lāhui.”