Hihiʻo: Dream, Vision

Hihi’o[1]: Exploring Nainoa’s Dilemma

            We are a group of women in a graduate level cultural diversity class, all educators, sitting in the frigid classroom on Sand Island listening to Nainoa Thompson talk about his dilemma, the reason why he doesn’t feel ready to start the worldwide voyage. He has hauled himself out of the sick bed. His eyes are still feverish. On the whiteboards surrounding us are notes and maps and quickly scrawled thoughts and questions. We are in the lair of a madman or a genius, most likely both. We are not water people. We are not here to help with the logistics of the sail, nor are we the money people. We are just teachers. We are one of hundreds of teachers that he’s already talked to. We are not here to be trained by his Polynesian Voyaging Society team. Instead, we are here to listen to his dream and his vision. We are here to help him problem solve, because he will not sail until our educational system in Hawai’i can not only serve the Hawaiian students, but can be a model to save indigenous education around the world. It is as important to him as having a well-trained crew and a safe route. This is his mana’o lana. Mana’o – thought, idea, belief, opinion, theory, thesis, intention, meaning, suggestion, desire, want. Lana – floating, buoyant. He is sharing this lofty, floating, buoyant idea. He is saying it out loud to as many people as will listen so that the mana will build by speaking his truth.

The idea is not new. Dr. Manu Meyer, my master’s level advisor, always talks about Hawaiian epistemology as the game changer for education around the world. I look to the other women. Half of them are department of education teachers, the rest of us are at independent schools. None of us are new to the education field so I would think they would be more jaded, but as Nainoa is sharing his vision, his “seeing Tahiti,” they see it too. It’s an exciting night with a transformative leader. Mana’o ‘i’o – faith, confidence. It’s a Herculean task that takes collaboration and community buy in, but he has the skill to empower individuals to fulfill their kuleana and go beyond to better the organization, the community, etc. He strives to improve the education system by fully integrating followers into core functions. He keeps saying, I’m not a teacher. I know the canoe. You know education. It’s a challenge for us. It’s not about planning curriculum for the worldwide voyage. It’s about transforming education for the world, and he doesn’t want togo until it’s done.

While reading the Santamaria case studies, I realize that getting grants and creating a PVS “school” for teachers is one thing, but acknowledgement must come first, not just by teachers, but also by those in power. Teaching is political, which means that it can also be an act of empowerment, advocacy, revolution, and liberation as long as we acknowledge that colonization is widespread in society (52). This is not just true in American society, but as we look at boat people around the world (not ship people, boat people in Vietnam, South Africa, Philipines, etc.), we can really see the impact of colonization. If we do not acknowledge that we are a colonized, marginalized people, we can’t move forward. There is only so much red dirt we can sweep under the rug. Ultimately, what I’m learning is that we, as native leaders in our own right, need to be a political participant. We need to latch onto a hihi’o, recognize our kupuna path, even if it’s in another’s vision, then put our being into that work in order to create social change. We are in this program because we occupy a liminal space that determines our political path. We are nothing but awake. We just thought we were asleep.



Santamaria, L.J. & Santamaria, A.P. (2012). Applied critical leadership in education:

 Choosing change. New York: Routledge.


[1] a dream or vision

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