Ululani Special Feature

Lāhui Rising Series

This educational series is designed to create a safe, respectful and enriching learning space for all audiences to hear and honor various perspectives on matters of Hawaiian interest.

Naumu, Charles Kale

Hōkū Akana

Charles Kale Naumu

Mea Nīnauele: Hōkū Akana

Charles Kale Naumu met up with Kaʻiwakīloumoku to talk-story about his experiences in Hawaiian Immersion education.  Poʻokumu Naumu greets us as faces of happy children pass through the lobby area. Waiting patiently as Poʻokumu addresses a student concern, a number of clerical support walk back and forth, making copies, answering phones, and conversing with the keiki in the Hawaiian language. Stepping into the office of Poʻokumu Naumu, three large file cabinets stand against one wall, and stacks of paperwork frame a large desk in the limited space that houses the principal at Ke Kula Kaiapuni ʻo Ānuenue. Located deep in Pālolo Valley, Ānuenue is a Hawaiian immersion school that services Kindergarten through 12th grade in both Hawaiian and English language mediums within the Hawaiʻi Department of Education. 

HA: E ke poʻokumu, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

CKN: I grew up here in Honolulu and attended public school for elementary, attending Kamehameha for intermediate and high school, finally graduating as a part of the class of 1964. My influences in elementary, Mrs. Kāne and Mrs. Akana at Maʻemaʻe School, encouraged me to apply for and attend Kamehameha.  In my younger days, my experience with Hawaiian knowledge was limited.  Growing up in Honolulu is very different from growing up in homestead or outer island.  As I attended these schools, even while attending Kamehameha Schools, Hawaiian cultural education was not considered important. The closest thing I had to cultural experiences came when I was put on the plane to visit my grandma in Hanapēpē. There, they raised goats, fished, and hunted to live.  My uncles and cousins of my Naumu ʻohana from the west side of Kauaʻi went out fishing and hunting to live off the land. Depending on my age, when I was younger, my involvement was just to play but as I got older, I was expected to contribute. When my cousins said, “Look at the goat or look at the shark.” I couldn’t see the goat, and I couldn’t see the fish.  Looking back, I realize that I was completely urbanized and couldn’t see the goat sitting there on the rock in plain sight. I hadn’t been raised with these skills to live off the land, and there is definite value in that kind of education.

HA: Were there any pivotal moments in your life that you feel influence your life today?

CKN: There was a defining moment for me. I had gone to college on the continental United States. I had been in the service.  I had gone on my church mission. I was about 24 or 25 before I returned to Hawaiʻi to teach. The first teaching assignment I had was at Waipahu High School to teach. A Hawaiian studies teacher there, another Mrs. Akana, had an impact on me. In earlier days, Waipahu High School serviced the entire Leeward Coast; the kids came into Waipahu High School from ʻEwa Beach to Mākaha.  She retired as I was coming in, and the principal at that time said, “You Kamehameha School grad, you go teach her line.” Mrs. Akana had taught all the lauhala weaving, cultural arts, and I was clueless. At the same time, the early 1970s was when the “con-con” (Constitutional Convention) came into effect and Hawaiian language was made the second official language. So, in an effort to learn, I attended classes in night school, then I went to Kamehameha classes, and I still felt clueless. I had such a hard time. But it wasn’t until I took the graded class at Mānoa that the Hawaiian Language started to click.  At that time there was only a few people who were teaching Hawaiian language. My kumu were Puakea Nogelmeier and Lokomaikaʻi Snakenberg.  I had so much to learn, so many students to teach, such high expectations with nothing to draw on.  These experiences made me realize how important cultural education is.  I felt that I didn’t know enough to teach it, but at the time, if there weren’t people to teach it, who would? Since these experiences impacted me so tremendously, and with the beginning of Hawaiian immersion in the 80s, it opened up a whole new realm of education for Hawaiian children, something that I wanted to be a part of.

HA: Poʻokumu, are there any other significant moments that have influenced your work as an educator?

CKN: I came from teaching at Waipahu and then administration in Waimānalo, servicing children from both Hawaiian communities of the east and west coasts of Oʻahu. Coming from teaching in those areas, I have seen that there is such a need for improving education amongst Hawaiian children. About five years ago the State of Hawaiʻi identified Hawaiians as the racial group that needed help in education in the Department of Education Strategic Plan. As we try to work through that, we see that a sizable portion of the Hawaiian population is still having problems. All efforts at Hawaiian education, at all levels, should be considered a valuable help to address these problems.

HA: Have you noticed any changes in Hawaiian education over the years?

CKN: Today there is more acceptance for Hawaiian thinking. Even more exciting, there is a demand for our Hawaiian knowledge in education and it will affect the way Hawaiians interact with the world. From then until now, people are still learning that there is so much value in all things Hawaiian. Not all knowledge can be learned from one person or one place. Although many kūpuna have passed on with their own unique knowledge, so much of that knowledge can still be found in our communities, in our schools, and from our own families, and our people. The efforts that we make here at Ānuenue are towards restoring the pride in being Hawaiian, and restoring Hawaiian thinking and activities through the language. This Hawaiian thinking and lifestyle distinguishes what we do from just being another tourist attraction in the world. You can go anywhere, to any island, in Australia and the Caribbean to get the white sand and beaches. One essential thing that makes Hawaiian teaching different is the aloha. The pride of being Hawaiian and lifestyle that goes with it, has improved through the efforts of living through the language and all the efforts happening at all levels of Hawaiian education.

HA: With education evolving, what do you foresee will be the direction of our Hawaiian learners in the future?

CKN:  Here at Ānuenue, our vision statement is ‘O ka ‘ike Hawai‘i ke kahua i kīpapa ‘ia ai ke ala e pono ai nā Hawai‘i. “Hawaiian knowledge is the foundation on which the path to Hawaiian well-being is paved.”

I believe that the Hawaiian student needs to look at the large picture. The catch word right now is globalization. Where does our Hawaiian language, our Hawaiian education, our Hawaiian thinking fit in? Supporters see that the language and culture is not only for Hawaiʻi, not only for within the United States, but for the world in general.  We are constantly tasked to take this awareness out and spread it around through education and venues like the internet where both Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians can access the knowledge and use it to grow.  Without active participants, funding, political support, and community awareness it becomes a struggle. Hawaiian language immersion education started in 1986 where it started to grow. When I first came here, the number of students in immersion was 1,800 but as we try to fight to get HSTA testing in the medium of Hawaiian language, the number that I am hearing is 2,100. This is only 300 more students in the last 13 years. If we were fully supported in all aspects, we would see more growth. Challenges that we face are many, but many of our own Hawaiian people think that the language, culture, and thinking is “cute” but not useful.  For example, the language in Waikīkī is something other than the Hawaiian language.  Still to this day, Hawaiian children are encouraged to learn Japanese, Chinese, and Spanish because of global business trends as if there is no value in Hawaiian language.

With all the things that are happening and developing now, the question for many families becomes, how do you justify devoting time to learning Hawaiian knowledge, language, culture, and thinking? These are the challenges that our families and potential students face today. For Hawaiian educators, a large part of our task is to teach not only the language or culture, but the thinking and understanding that there is relevance for the language and culture in American society.  We are teaching not only students, we are educating parents, politicians, and the larger community why being Hawaiian is valuable. It has been a constant struggle, but we can see our graduates, supporters and families making strides to spread the awareness that there is value in our native language and culture. They are making a difference in the global community. For this reason, we continue to push on!