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Growing Your Hawaiian Identity

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Cheyane Teixeira, current MAʻO YLT member sells produce at Waiʻanae Mall’s weekly Farmers’ Market.

Incorporating programs such as MAʻO Youth Leadership Training (YLT) and the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa’s Ka Papa Loʻi O Kānewai, UH has given students the opportunity to participate in Hawaiʻi’s fight for cultural perseverance and self-sustainability.

With the start of a new school year nearing, students may question how they can get involved with their Hawaiian community. Knowing that time and money is a main factor in the college life, here are some simple ways students can dig deep in their Hawaiian roots.

Kamuela Enos, Social Enterprise Director at MAʻO Farms said in a phone interview, “[Cultural programs] show that millennials and younger generations can be really powerful if you give them the right space to live out their kuleana.”

For those planning on joining Leeward Community College or the University of West Oahu, Maʻo YLT may be the right fit for them. YLT is a two-year program, which pays for the college tuition of selected students, while also providing a monthly stipend of $500 depending on the amount of years enrolled.

Kamuela Enos said, “[the program] shows the power of our culture and how it endures, while also providing our community with food and access to higher education.”

Although the program does offer to pay full tuition, those selected must also display a desire to work and learn more about the Hawaiian culture. Taking in to consideration the drive one has for perpetuating the practice of growing and harvesting, students from all types of backgrounds can apply.

Gracey Toʻo Toʻo, a former Maʻo YLT member said in a phone interview, “I’m not Hawaiian, but I do come from a Samoan background. Joining this program really taught me about the Hawaiian culture and the importance of giving back to not only our community, but the land as well.”

A change in cultural perspective isn’t all that one will get from this experience. In fact, if one is looking for a way to be self-sustainable, YLT offers skills that will benefit them in their everyday lives.

Cheyane Teixeira, current YLT member said, “My family had a pig farm, so I knew about livestock, but wanted to learn more about growing vegetables. [Students] do everything from packing, washing, harvesting, and planting. Pretty much, the youth are running the whole farm.”

After working Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 7 A.M. to 12 P.M., students then take their produce to local farmers’ markets, giving back to the community and advertising their programs. If you are interested in joining, recruitment takes places in both the summer and winter seasons.

Another way students as well as their families can get involved with the ʻāina, is through UH Mānoa’s Ka Papa Loʻi o Kānewai. Once hidden under bushes along Mānoa stream, the loʻi was discovered in the early 1980s, now serving as a gathering place for people intent on preserving ancient Hawaiian practices as well as developing their Hawaiian identities.

Daniel Puni, an active worker at the loʻi who is also majoring in Botany said, “Speaking from one who hadn’t really immersed himself in the Hawaiian culture until after college, it’s a great doorway for those who’ve never had the opportunity before. Also, for those who grew up in [the culture], it’s a great way to still be connected.

Volunteers can participate in harvesting and planting kalo as well as other Hawaiian activities every first and third Saturday of the month. On top of gaining hands on experience, volunteers are also given moʻolelo, or stories, which tell the history of Hawaiʻi and Kānewai, complete with framed pictures showcasing the loʻi’s kūpuna (elders) and milestone events.

If you are interested in volunteering, members of Ka Papa Loʻi O Kānewai welcome all visitors.

Kai Kunipo, Ka Papa Loʻi O Kānewai’s Administration Officer said, “You don’t have to be a Hawaiian studies or Hawaiian Language major, or even Native Hawaiian. This place is open to Hawaiians and Non-Hawaiians alike, who just want to learn more about the Hawaiian culture.”

Looking for a break from the constant hustle and bustle of college life? Losing oneself in the Hawaiian culture may prove to be a great getaway. Below is the contact information of both organizations touched upon above.