By Danielle Smith
Ka Lā staff writer
Master builder Kumu Palani Sinenci leads students in performing a haka, or ceremonial dance, as another day of work begins on the construction of a Hawaiian hale on campus:
“Homakaukau?” Are you ready?
The workers are putting the finishing touches on what will soon be the piko, or naval, of the campus: a gathering place that will symbolize efforts to make the school a truly Hawaiian place of learning.
Ho‘ala Hou, an academic program for Native Hawaiians, designated part of its Title III funding grant to the construction of the hale. The intent is for it to become a center for prosperity and comfort on campus.
“It was built right here in the courtyard to be in the piko of the campus, and serve as a gathering place, a place to learn, a place for weaving, hula. Anything that you can do in a classroom, we can use this place instead,” said Melissa Martella, program coordinator.
This project is just one of many efforts that HonCC is making to become a Native Hawaiian based school, providing students and faculty with an enriched sense of culture and diversity.
“We really want to be able to perpetuate culture in any classroom setting. It’s meant to establish a connection, an understanding of Native Hawaiians,” Martella said.
As part of the effort, all faculty and staff have been offered training programs by Ho‘ala Hou that teaches Hawaiian history, language and traditions, and how to incorporate these into regular classroom lessons.
“This is a book, an ‘Aina-based textbook that we learn from,” said Boise Burdot, a former student who has stayed around to keep working on the hale and surrounding grounds
Dubbed ‘master gardener’ by students, Burdot has been a big part of project, collecting materials, learning, teaching, and constructing the hale.
After graduating with degrees in Native Hawaiian Studies and Botany from HonCC, Burdot is one of many students who have stayed committed to the project.
“Even if they didn’t pay me, I’d still dig,” he said.
The revival of the Native Hawaiian lifestyle in HonCC comes at a time when many are striving for the same recognition statewide.
While some stand to protect Hawaii and her culture on Mauna Kea, many others are working elsewhere to contribute their part.
This is especially true for students from Mohala Farms, who visited the school to work on the hale one day over the summer.
“The most important thing is that – in the face of all the challenges we have, climate change, population increase – when you’re doing something like this, you don’t have to be so powerless,” said lead farmer Mark Hamamoto. “When you do this and when you’re in community when you do this, we can actually feel like there is a way forward.”