Category Archives: kahua ao moomeheu

Sacred in Practical

In Kimmerer’s section on “Planting Sweetgrass” in the chapter titled “An Offering,” she relates the story of a ceremony she and her father participated in. It was not a Ceremony, big C, but it became their thing, this act of gratitude and the pouring of the first coffee of the morning into the soil.

She recounts how years later she asked him about this ceremony because as she started learning more of what had been forgotten, regarding her cultural identity and practices, she felt like what her father was doing was about giving an offering to the gods of Tahawus. For her it was a light at the end of the tunnel, that although they did not have the words of their ancestors, the ceremony was not forgotten. She asks her father if he learned it from his own father, and the generations before him. His answer was just no, but it seemed right.

If it ended there, at the fact that the pouring of the coffee was really to get the coffee grounds “plug” out of the boiled coffee so that it did not go into the cup, I think that would have been ok. It was a functional, practical “ceremony.” After all, coffee grounds are good for the soil, they had a purpose.

But it doesn’t end there. Her father thinks more on this question

‘But, you know,’ he said, ‘there weren’t always grounds to clear. It started out that way, but it became something else. A thought. It was a kind of respect, a kind of thanks. On a beautiful summer morning, I suppose you could call it joy.’

That, I think, is the power of ceremony: it marries the mundane to the sacred. The water turns to wine, the coffee to prayer. (37)

As a native Hawaiian educator who has lost the ability to speak and think in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi (it has been forgotten for three generations), I do not have the words for ceremony. I do not have the historical memory. But I do know that there are things that we do as a family that may seem mundane, practical (around gathering, fishing, etc.) but they feel right and they are things that we pass on to our children and grandchildren as ceremony.

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Why I is never me, but always “we”

grandmaʻs garden

I just turned in my third article a couple months ago and as a 50 year old academic, that is pretty lame. I went to AERA where they were introducing some social justice pioneers and one of them published 7 books and like 200 articles. Yeah, I haven’t been doing anything but teaching for 27 years so I am already near my end and not even close to that.

Still, what I noticed about my very slow writing (like an article every year and a half) is that half of the battle, no, 3/4 of the battle is this push back on my part of not sounding too white. I sometimes use words that are not English (like kuleana), but I have to use it because it means more than just my obligatory one word definition that I give it (obligation). However, if you know, you know, and if you don’t know, I really don’t care if all you think it means is obligation. Maybe I’m not writing to you. . .yet.

Mostly, though, I shift my pronouns away from I to we and then reviewers keep asking me who the “we” is. The we is me, but it’s never just me. It’s the difference between indigenous thinking and western thinking. You know that saying, pull yourself up from your own bootstraps? There is nothing indigenous about that. Individual success is never done individually. There are paths and jungles and oceans that were crossed to get me here. It takes a village. That makes more sense to me. Those are the we, the village, or in my case, the lahui.

What does this have to do with the picture above that just looks like rocks and stuff? This is a picture of my grandmother’s garden, a menagerie of shells, rocks, abandoned toys, driftwood, a lone skateboard wheel. Every day, my grandparents would walk the two miles along the coast to Kaʻanapali and while grandpa sat on the bench to watch the water, grandma would walk the beach picking up more “seeds” for her garden. This garden ran the length of the house from her bedroom to the kitchen door. It was filled with anything and everything that caught my grandmother’s eye – from sea glass to puka shells to non biodegradable plastics. She would haul her treasures up the hill to Fleming Road and plant them in her garden. This garden is the story of me, both as that face shaped rock that she picked up, but also as a grandmother now, it is about the “seeds” I look for and pick up. Things that maybe are not worth much to someone else, but let me show you what makes each thing sacred. This is my treasure, this is what I teach from, this is whom I teach for and about. As a native Hawaiian teacher who teaches through a lens that privileges my grandmother’s garden, I teach through aloha ʻāina, a Hawaiian moʻo pedagogy and praxis of sustainability, metaphor, generational knowledge, ancestral memory and sacredness of “we.” I may stand in front of you barefoot and alone, but I bring with me multitudes. Welina. 

Pono Investment

Kapolei High

This is just a  moʻolelo about what a pono path and an investment in the future can do to move mountains in a short amount of time.

My brother, Dr. Walter Kahumoku came to UHWO in January and quickly created a very logical logic model/change model on paper to create a pathway from the public schools to UHWO back to the public schools. This was a grow your own teacher education pathway that included early college courses, bridging programs, tutor support, financial support in the form of work study, college prep and testing support up to availability for a masters program as well as a teacher leadership cadre to also grow our own teacher mentors for the high school and college teacher candidates.

By March of the same year, a few of us were on the road to sell the program to principals, complex area superintendents, community non profits, anyone who would listen. Then there was a big meeting to reiterate the story, talk about the path and answer questions.

This is December, same year, and brother and his very invested staff, made up of several veteran teachers from the area who left their schools to work with UHWO (work with Walter) have just held their first hōʻike with the teacher leadership academy high schoolers from Waiʻanae HS, Kapolei HS and Campbell HS. It was a sight to see. Packed multipurpose ballroom, happy parents, excited students.

The teachers are invested. Even my student teacher at Waiʻanae who is able to still work for the writing center at UHWO but as a tutor at Waiʻanae is invested. These have become her kids. Our principals are smart enough to use our student teachers as TLA tutors and instructors. Those same principals who said well this kind of thing has been tried before are happy!

It is a moʻo worthy project. I am honored to be on the fringes of this movement.


Unleashing the Mana


As Hawaiians, of course we use moʻolelo as a GPS for surviving and thriving in this world. We are all moʻolelo. Here is my presentation to PAMLA Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association 2017 at Chaminade University. I was a last minute add because one of the English professors at UHWO reached out to see if I could offer up a paper in one of the open sections so I saw that Folklore and Mythology was open. This is the moʻolelo of how I used a moʻolelo ka wā kahiko to inform how I was going to create the lashings for the kauhale I was building (middle level secondary teacher education).

It was called Unleashing the Mana from the Goddesses: Lessons from Pele and Hiʻiaka. My notes are here.

The cool part was that one of the professors from Ohio that came specifically to hear my paper talked about it in the evening forum on tales from Kahiki and succinctly said that I would connect with their work because I was talking about teaching teacher preparation in a Hawaiian way which was pretty spot on.


WiPCE 2017


I am headed to the World Indigenous People’s Conference on Education 2017 in Toronto at the end of this month to talk about nurturing cultural humility in our pre-service teachers. It is a combination of creating a third space within my classroom, using cultural humility and culturally responsive practices to model what I want my students to do in their own placements in the school. Finally, use deep reflection and ancestral knowledge as a way to tap into the kinds of lifelong reflection on practice necessary to nurture cultural humility in these young teachers. I am still working on those questions that will bring about the kinds of reflection that I want, but the semester is coming up in August so I will be able to continue to research. In the meantime, I am sharing my slides here.

WiPCE 2017 presentation.pptx

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What You Get When You Give a Little


There are people in my life that connect on a level that is spiritual and timeless. The relationship does not need to be stoked and watched and baby’d. It survives on a plane that is metaphoric. One of the people that I have that kind of connection with is Manulani Meyer. She is a mentor to many, a part of many Hawaiian educators’ moʻokūʻauhau, but I am lucky to call her my buddy. Our lives continue to intersect when we most need it to and I try to stay attuned to the wind and movements of the earth so that I can also be that HĀ for her.

I told her that I was having a hard time writing because I would rather write poetry than academic prose and she sent me this.

Lee Irwin, Visionary Worlds: The Making and Unmaking of Reality. (93)

It is not anarchy, but the loss of place and position that threatens so many who would truly live another way, an alternative world. There are many who would give up reason for imagination if they could do so and survive; this is the great need, the driving force behind cultural collapse and struggle.  It is not the “irrational” but the imaginative, the artistic, visionary, and alternate that appeals. Reason has its place, as does language and sensation, but life is far richer, far greater and more alive than reason can reconstruct.  If reason is liberated from its bonds, it will rediscover its union with imagination, vision, artistry and mystical illumination as essential to its own further becoming. Reason illuminated is reason freed from externals and aware of its own illuminating potential. After St. Thomas Aquinas had long finished his Summa Theologica, he had a profound spiritual awakening that took him far beyond the bounds of reason. Asked afterward about all his many labors to write his great work, he replied: “Straw for the fire!”  So it is with the empirical worldview, the positivist stance is preparation for death and transformation, for a great dying and rebirth. There is reason to fear, for many suffer already in their unwillingness to let go, and thereby cause others to suffer.

What is so sacred now:

  • The reason behind “cultural collapse and struggle” is our need to give up imagination for reason in order to make enough to survive.
  • Even if we are able to free ourselves from externals, when we have spiritual awakenings, the large “aha,” we must quantify, qualify, analyze, reason and our laborious thoughts are “straw for the fire.”
  • Perhaps Lee Irwin knew Aunty Minnie Kaʻawaloa of Kalapana who said, “if you no listen, everybody suffer.” She was talking about the fact that the kūpuna from Kalapana were urging the catholic diocese to leave the Painted Church in Kalapana because the Painted Church looked mauka to protect from land and the Kalapana Maunakea Congregational Church was across the street looking makai to protect Kalapana from the ocean. The town had several scares over the years but the lava and tidal waves did not hit Kalapana until the diocese did not listen and moved the Painted Church. Now Kalapana as Aunty Minnie knew it from her youth is gone. So see, everybody suffer.

I guess the struggle is not so much do I listen, but what do I do now that I hear?

Hōʻike as Assessment


In Hawaiian, hōʻike means to show or exhibit ʻike. The key part of the word is ʻike because with those 4 letters (the ʻokina or glottal stop is its own letter), the complexities of the world rest in that word.

In Hawaiian education, the hōʻike is like the large summative “project” or assessment. The difference though is in the way it is “assessed.” In western education, large summative assessments are usually end of the term or end of unit tests or projects. They are weighed, they are measured, and sometimes found wanting (sorry for the Knight’s Tale muddled reference). In other words, there are points, a lot of points, tied to the assessment. There is a rubric or some clear expectation of what should be in the assessment in order to do the weighing and measuring. There is usually a grade to it and it affects all the other grades that came before.

The hōʻike is not about evaluation. It is about celebration of understanding and learning. It is not about grading. It is about bearing witness to each student’s growth, whether it is large or small. It is about honoring the process and sharing in the learning. It is NOT graded.

I just went to a hōʻike put on by the Malama Learning Center, a non profit STEM educational group that works in West Oʻahu. From their mission and vision statements:

Mālama Learning Center is a place in West O‘ahu that brings art, science, conservation and culture together to promote sustainable living throughout Hawai‘i. MLC strives to unify area schools, residents and businesses around a shared ethic of caring and conservation.


To teach and inspire communities to create healthy living environments

To me this is where science teachers go when they retire.

What impressed me about this hōʻike was that there were so many witnesses. The groups presenting their Nānākuli Watershed projects ranged from an honors biology class at Kapolei High School to 6th graders at Ka Waihono o ka Naʻauao. The witnesses were from the schools represented: the two complex area superintendents, principals or vice principals for all of the schools, families, siblings, the students, friends, university folks like me who brought our own students to also bear witness to the potential and magnificence of these students, elders from the area, cultural experts, and sponsors.

What it tells me is that I cannot just use the word hōʻike at the end of my syllabus and leave it open to my students to just share. I need to also encourage them to bring their own witnesses forward. I need to fill the room for my students. That is where the power lies and that is how hōʻike as assessment needs to happen.

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