A sense of place, a place of stories

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Representatives from a variety of Waimea schools pose in front of the Mele Mural at Kahilu Theatre during an Education Hui meeting on April 9. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Representatives from a variety of Waimea schools admire the newly installed Mele Mural during a meeting at Kahilu Theatre on April 9. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Kanoa Castro and Pua Case of Kanu o ka Aina New Century Public Charter School speak about the newly installed Mele Mural, created by the combined efforts of students from a number of Waimea schools.(PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Pomai Bertelmann speaks about the Mele Mural during an Education Hui on April 9. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Representatives from Waimea schools met for an Education Hui at Kahilu Theatre on April 9 to discuss a variety of projects. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Representatives from a variety of Waimea schools admire the newly installed Mele Mural during a meeting at Kahilu Theatre on April 9. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Students dance at an undated May Day celebration at Waimea Middle School. (PHOTO COURTESY OF PUA CASE)
The May Day court from an earlier year poses for a photo. (PHOTO COURTESY OF PUA CASE)
A community May Day Art Exhibit at Kahilu Theatre will appear again this year from May 14 to July 1. (PHOTO COURTESY OF PUA CASE)
A community May Day Art Exhibit at Kahilu Theatre will appear again this year from May 14 to July 1. (PHOTO COURTESY OF PUA CASE)

Rain. Ocean. Flowing streams. Snow on the mountain. As these many forms express water, so too, do they express Waimea, her stories, and her storytellers.

Waimea’s stories are taught in classrooms, shared on the Internet, carried around the world by voyaging canoes. They are vibrantly painted on the walls of buildings, danced, sung, strung into lei and sometimes even written down. In whatever form, stories are living elements of the community, highly valued resources for teachers and students. And when community educators work to bring these stories together, the water flows mightily.

“Really, it’s the thought that we are all one school,” said Pua Case, of Waimea Middle School She and 16 colleagues gathered at Kahilu Theatre last Wednesday for a meeting of the Waimea Education Hui, an informal—and most enthusiastic—collaboration of educators and community leaders, inspired to work together, share resources and plan events.

The hui began in 2007, in partnership with the Paniolo Preservation Society, in preparation for “Waiomina,” the centennial celebration of Ikua Purdy’s and other island cowboys’ historic victory at the 1908 Cheyenne Frontier Days in Wyoming. When hui members returned from Wyoming, they wanted to continue hosting classes—eventually expanding beyond the paniolo culture for a broader picture.

“We are education based, culture and place based,” said Case, “a means for the community to experience a ‘sense of place, sense of identity’ and come together, learn together, and have the same information … such as in the teaching of the stories of Waimea.”

The Waimea Education Hui meeting on April 9 began with an introduction to the new Mele Mural project on the theater’s exterior walls, transformed by students and artists into epic tales in living color. Like the hui, the two-week endeavor brought together students from six different school and their families, friends and educators.

The Mele Murals three acts are depicted in three panels that journey from green hills into the spiritual realm of Manau’a and conclude with a rainbow of imagery over Mauna Kea.

Educators Keli‘i Bertelmann, Pomai Bertelmann and Kanoa Castro explained that the name of the mural, and of the three separate walls, came predominantly from the student artists. Ideas appeared as visions or dreams, some shared by more than one student.

“The other thing that came was for us to always remember the rain,” said Keli‘i Bertelmann, recalling how many of those long work hours were done together in the Waimea rain.

Pomai Bertelmann said the rain played an integral part in the mural, pointing to an area of the third panel where yellow paint ran down the wall in streaks.

“At one point, they were actually dipping the roller into the pan and rolling the ua right onto the wall,” said Pomai Bertelmann. “It was important to leave it like this.”

“This wall had the best conversations,” said Kanoa Castro, art teacher at Kanu O Ka Aina New Century Public Charter School who initiated the project about a year ago. “I felt like I went on a very, very long huaka’i without leaving Waimea.”

After the mural presentation, the Waimea Education Hui met indoors to converse and share updates on a wide variety of cultural and education projects, including the Malama Honua Worldwide Voyage of Hokule’a and Hikianali’a, which is scheduled to depart from Hilo about May 27. The Waimea Education Hui has been teaching students and others the oli, “Malana Mai Ka’u” so that, when the time comes, anyone can stop wherever they are, focus, chant and show support for the canoes as they leave harbor. (See inset box).

The canoes will sail first to Tahiti, then Samoa, Kiribati, Tonga and Aotearoa in New Zealand. Hawaii students will track their course, ask questions, and continue incorporating the WWV into their school curriculum. Additionally, Na Kalai Wa’a—the nonprofit educational organization dedicated to supporting the WWV—has been conducting teacher training sessions. Recently the first cohort of E Lauhoe Wa’a, consisting of 26 teachers, concluded their training by sailing Makali’i from Kawaihae to Keauhou during the spring equinox.

“It was an incredible experience that two of our teachers had at the wa’a,” said Amy Salling of Waimea Country School. “They were able to bring a lot into their classrooms, and it has had a profound effect.”

In addition to the Mele Mural project and WWV, numerous art and cultural events and programs are in the works by the Waimea Education Hui members and organizations. Dr. Momi Naughton of the North Hawaii Education and Research Center talked about ongoing and upcoming culturally significant classes and the next Heritage Center display and video projects, paying tribute to the region’s paniolo culture.

For Case, the events bring together the schools and serve as opportunities for students and families to learn from one another and to celebrate together. The Waimea Middle School May Day Celebration on May 9 at the Thelma Parker School gym, and the Second Annual Waimea Students-Families-Community May Day Art Exhibit, May 14-July 1, at Kahilu Theatre, are two events that unify the community.

“Most important for me, was the idea early on to look at the community schools as one school, and to do as much as we could together,” said Case. “If something important is happening at one school, we all have the opportunity to participate. It’s simple. If somebody has a great idea, let’s share it with everybody else … We are really open to anyone who wants to be part of doing great things for the community.”

Like the rains and streams, all these good works from the Waimea Education Hui flow together toward the “ocean” of a common goal. With art and music, science and communications, cultural studies and more, educators, students, families and others work together to support the “unity” in community and to tell and retell Waimea’s continuing stories for generations to come.

For more information, or to participate in the Waimea Education Hui, please contact Pua Case at pua_case@notes.k12.hi.us or 938-5550.