Hīnaleimoana Wong-Kālu, a 1989 graduate of Kamehameha Schools, is a practitioner of hula and advocates for Hawaiian cultural education. Currently, Hīna works as an educator at Hālau Lōkahi Hawaiian Public Charter School located in Kapālama on the island of Oʻahu. Hīna's passion for cultural integrity and language is attributed to her grandma, Mona Kealoha of Kapālama. Grandma Mona ignited a fire within Hīna to push for social acceptance of Hawaiian language, ideas, and lifestyle. As a result, Hīna continues to be vigilant and steadfast in Hawaiian things.
Hīna also credits her heightened cultural advocacy with the humble beginnings of learning cultural protocol as a child in a Chinese family. In learning how to pour and serve tea correctly to elder family members and maintaining cultural ceremony at a Chinese cemetery, Hīna began her cultural awareness at a very young age. Hīna also recalls an exposure to Hawaiian cultural education beginning with an involvement with Kamehameha Schools. As part of an entourage representing Hawaiʻi under the tutelage of Randie Fong in the 1980s.
“…the experience helped me to become who I am today… It gave me the foundation on which to build… gave me steps to take that I would have never followed had I not learned from my experiences at Kamehameha (Schools) and built upon them.”
In Hīna’s opinion, being culturally appropriate involves so many factors including one’s own upbringing, training, and life experience. According to Hīna, being culturally appropriate is when you are able to live and breathe and eat who you are, by virtue of how you are. Hīna recalls being part of the delegation that traveled extensively throughout Polynesia to represent Hawaiʻi in international cultural exchanges with the Hōkūleʻa’s “Voyage of Rediscovery.” The group was under a high amount of scrutiny at a time when people were learning about Hawaiian people. These experiences of cultural re-discovery while representing our Hawaiian people have shaped how Hīna teaches, creates, and choreographs hula today.
For Hīna, the epiphanies began coming to mind during high school at Kamehameha while auditioning for Concert Glee Club and Hōʻike. After coming back from Rarotonga in 1992 as a graduate delegate, Hīna began the process of her own life transition and realized that through higher cultural awareness, she would find a place to shine. All along the way, Hīna found herself in many challenging situations and consciously needed to realign her thinking that of Hawaiian / Polynesian cultural values. Through this way of thinking, she discovered her pathway to a new cultural identity.
“These experiences taught me how to re-evaluate and shift gears, and take other experiences that came after to determine if that is what I wanted to hold onto.”
These fundamental values have allowed her to become a haku mele. As a kumu she teaches by interacting with hauman. She is able to teach through hula and mele that is composed and created with culturally relevant elements. In doing this, she emulates the teachings of her last kumu, Uncle Kimo Alama Keaulana.
“...I wanted to take what I’ve learned, as a modern Hawaiian composer, using our language and our culture to honor her lineage, to be able to honor simply what she means to us.”
With all of these ideas, Hīna composed the mele, Pauahilaninui for Princess Pauahi.
Hīna encourages Hawaiians to find their own paths and take a huaka’i to finding a place of acceptance. In doing so, these journeys may bring a new understanding of what is culturally appropriate. Hīna believes we must find balance between Western cultures and a person’s own native culture to truly value the lifestyles and heritage that are inherent within our communities.
“Haumāna need both the sterilized, structured, discipline in life as well as the real stuff that is in the community. Throughout Polynesia, people know how to read the implicit and the explicit; people are able to read eye brows, body language, and what is intended beneath the surface: the kaona.”
Hīna advocates the importance of being able to know and understand multiple layers of meanings in life through a cultural lens. Having the ability to deliver and decipher both, without being afraid, should be what Hawaiians take with them into the next generation of Hawaiʻi. For Hīna, taking the journey was important to finding her own “Place to Stand”.