"A'ole rainbow," says one boy. "It is anuenue!" Both answers are correct, but there are only "13 letters" in the alphabet at Punana Leo O Maui. The Hawaiian Immersion school is one of many in the state whose classrooms echo the language that once flourished from mountain to sea....OLELO HAWAI'I, the HAWAIIAN LANGUAGE.
Punana Leo translates to "nest of voices." This is the foundation of learning at the school. Children are fed the language in their ears and mouth similar to young birds cared for in a nest. The kumus (teacher) and parents are devoted to teaching their children much more than the alphabet and numbers. From different moon phases to the right time to fish, the children are learning the ways of their ancestors. Punana Leo is a school, but my time there felt like I was home with an 'ohana (family).
A couple weeks ago I spent the morning with the kumu and keiki (children) of Punana Leo O Maui. The school is located in our beautiful town of Wailuku which made the short walk up the street convenient. It was Maui County Fair weekend, so upon my arrival 22 preschoolers seemed very excited about life. It was breakfast time, but not before the keiki said a pule (prayer). As they ate, I explored. Everything around me was in Hawaiian from one of my favorite childhood books, "Love You Forever" to the directions for washing your hands. I was out of my comfort zone and completely immersed in the Hawaiian culture.
After story time we ventured outside for protocol. Barefoot keiki and kumu stood together facing the Hawaiian flag. They sang and performed an 'oli (chant). Some keiki seemed distracted, while others were daydreaming away. Their voices gave me chicken skin and I felt as if it echoed through Mauna Kahalawai (West Maui Mountains). During this time the keiki asked permission to enter the hale (house/building). There is a deeper meaning behind protocol, but in Hawaiian culture it is custom to ask permission before entering any place. It is a sign of respect and the keiki learn that at a young age.
After protocol it was time to sing Hawai'i Pono'i. With their little hands guarding their tiny hearts, they sang the words of King David Kalakaua. They discussed the moon phase Muku, and the significance of planting banana on this day. I was thankful for a couple Hawaiian language courses in college and the pictures they were using to help me get an idea of what was being said. It was embarrassing and inspiring at the same time.
If you walk around the school you will notice the "history" of the building. This is a nicer way to say the building is old and with that comes structural and maintenance issues. Punana Leo is a non-profit that receives its money from grants, fundraisers and donations. The financial aspect of the school is never ending. Money is needed to support it, and everyone does everything they can to make sure it thrives.
There are many things in life that inspire us and my time with the Punana Leo O Maui 'ohana has opened my eyes and heart. The education of children, whether it be in English or another language is shared by all of us. Parents, siblings, grandparents, teachers, politicians and our community are all responsible for the lives and education of children. The Hawaiian language is alive and you can feel it all around. People are devoted and passionate about bringing back a culture and language that was taken away. E OLA KA 'OLELO HAWAI'I...THE HAWAIIAN LANGUAGE SHALL LIVE.
Maui Thing worked with Oakland Raiders linebacker Kaluka Maiava on an exclusive "Native Nation" shirt. The design adds Hawaiian roots to the iconic "raider/pirate." Maiava is the first Mauian to play in the NFL. A portion of proceeds from shirt sales benefit Punana Leo. Get your Native Nation shirt by visiting www.mauithing.com!
(I apologize for no kahakos or okinas in this post. Our blog doesn't have the appropriate software to insert them.)