Kauhale Message

Hawaiʻi Papa O Ke Ao, the UH’s strategic goal to transform the UH system into an Indigenous Serving Institution is an initiative that both Chancellor Yamane and Chancellor Straney work on together. Together with campus representatives Gail Makuakāne-Lundin (UHH) and I, we have worked on a number of projects to contribute measurably to Hawaiʻi Papa O Ke Ao. One of these projects is called Kūkūʻena. Kūkūʻena is a cohort of HawCC, UHH and Community members committed to a 2-year hula (4 classes). As the learners soon find out, hula at HawCC is not just about choreography; it is about become wholly aware of our individual-selves in the context of our academic-cultural community.

How has project affected our employee-learners? Here are their testimonies:

Joe Genz, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Anthropology, UH Hilo

1) How has the Kūkūʻena experience affected your personal Leadership, Community Bridging, Hawaiian Language & Culture?

The Kūkūʻena experience has impacted me personally in several ways. Learning about Hawaiian culture and language through the medium of hula has afforded me, as a guest in the islands, a glimpse into the Hawaiian worldview. A strong, heartfelt invitation to fully participate in the traditions of hula has made my learning incredibly meaningful, and I feel more and more connected to the Hawaiian community through these growing relationships. The Kūkūʻena experience has also increased my confidence to immerse myself in Hawaiian and local activities—I am currently coaching my young son’s soccer team! At a deeper level, actually enacting stories of creation while performing the hula repertoire has made me reflect on my own sense of both indigeneity and spirituality, with the ultimate hope that one day I would able to better connect to my students through these levels of understanding.

2) How has your Kūkūʻena experience affected your professional promotion of Leadership, Community Bridging and Hawaiian Culture & Language (i,e, curricula modifications, extra-curricula activities attached to academic programs, etc).

From my first year experience in the Kūkūʻena cohort, I have incorporated Hawaiian stories, traditions, and beliefs into all of my classes, and I have performed and taught a hei choreography and associated chant to several groups of students. I have also developed strong rapport with a community group in North Kohala, and have helped to co-facilitate a service learning project there in which incoming freshmen help to restore ancient sweet potato cultivation and learn about the land. Student reflections of their experiences reveal that they want to continue to bridge academic and community relationships in their future studies. I have also encouraged these students to take active leadership roles in helping to conduct these events in culturally appropriate and sensitive ways, and when prompted, students seem to really want to be involved in the process. From this success, I am in the process of making similar curricula modifications to the rest of my classes.

3) How has your modifications positively affected a learner/learners.

Students seem to really enjoy learning through practical engagement, whether by performing hei to re-enact history or by working in the same land that they are reading about. Not only have students responded positively in wanting to learn more in such an engaged way, but after these activities, the atmosphere in the classroom is so much more conducive to teaching and learning. Barriers between teacher and students starts to diminish and the class develops a newfound sense of comradery. I have had one student, in particular, who has recently shared with me that she was greatly inspired by my commitment as a teacher to be a part of the Kūkūʻena cohort as a part of Hawaiʻi Papa O Ke Ao, and that our collective class engagement with the Hawaiian community has helped to guide her current graduate studies in marine science to be committed to cultural sensitivity and local community engagement.

The Kūʻula cohort with Dr. Misaki Takabayashi at Limahuli, Kauaʻi.

Dr. Misaki Takabayashi (UHH Marine Science)

1) How has the Kūkūʻena experience affected your personal Leadership, Community Bridging, Hawaiian Language & Culture?

Experiences that I was afforded as a Kūkūʻena allowed me to make my relationships with Hawaiian language and culture authentic. It is my own authentic hula, however poorly I danced; I have my own authentic relationship with the forest when I enter to gather; I have an authentic responsibility to learn the language through which hula is executed. By having such authentic relationships with Hawaiʻi, I have begun to recognize the roles that only I can play in community bridging and leadership.

2) How has your Kūkūʻena experience affected your professional promotion of Leadership, Community Bridging and Hawaiian Culture & Language (i,e, curricula modifications, extra-curricula activities attached to academic programs, etc).

I have incorporated many aspects of the Kūkūʻena experiences and learnings into my classes at UH-Hilo. With much help from others, I have developed one new course (MARE488: Kūʻula) where students conduct natural science research that integrates Native Hawaiian and Western sciences. My colleagues and I are also collaborating with Edith Kanakaʻole Foundation to allow the first-year Masterʻs students in the Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science Program to experience-based learning of the Native Hawaiian perspective of the humanʻs relationships with the environment of Hawaiʻi. Lastly, I am able to communicate the relevance and implications of my coral research in the framework of Hawaiʻi, the place and culture, in grant proposals and outcome disseminations.

3) How has your modifications positively affected a learner/learners. 

The responses of the learners to the above-mentioned curriculum development have been overwhelmingly positive. 98.8% of the 82 students who have taken MARE488 has rated the class as the highest rank. You can view reflections of the experiences in this class by some of the learners and NOAA collaborators in a short video.


Doris Chang, Secretary to the Chancellor, HawCC

When I first enrolled in HWST 129 Hawaiian Chants/Classic Dance in Spring 2008, it was the result of a recruitment effort by Dr. Taupouri Tangaro. The class consisted of (traditional) students, faculty, staff and administrators from both campuses.  I was filled with excitement and enthusiasm of learning the hula at a pace geared for beginners.  As “Kukuena/Aunties,” the faculty/staff/administrators became familiar faces as well as friends to our traditional students in the class.  Tangaro believed that our positions as employees of the college would help to support student success by creating a bridge for students transferring from HawCC to UH Hilo.

I am honored and consider it a privilege to be a Kuku`ena, in assuming a role as the “older sister” or “Aunty.”  I have developed a deeper awareness and respect for our natural environment through the making of our implements as well as an appreciation of the dance, chants and beating of our implements.

I’m sharing a picture of our wahipana to Moloka‘i where we visited Ka`ana at sunrise.  On that beautiful morning when the sun was rising, we were told to look above the sun and see the rays reaching high above into the sky.  Something as simple as seeing the “fingers of the sun” gave us a great feeling inside and made it well worth waking up at four in the morning.

I’ve learned that there’s a greater calling for the Kukuena to provide a service to our college as well as to the greater community.  It’s been a very long journey over the years.  It took a lot of commitment and dedication, but it was well worth the “sweat!” Mahalo nui e Tangaro!

Please do consider joining Kūkūʻena…it is fun, there is a strong community of support here, here the body, mind and spirit finds balance.  At the end of each class we transfer the hula ʻprocessʻ toward student success. I look forward to seeing you,


Kauhale, Acting Director

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