Celebrating the commons

Summit + Hanahau‘oli School

Oahu K-12 Schools
Place Makiki
Text Will Caron
Thread School of the Future

Hanahau‘oli School is dedicated to educational excellence by making learning exciting, challenging and enjoyable. Hanahau‘oli is committed to learning by doing. The school integrates the essential skills and concepts of the basic disciplines, promotes critical and creative thinking and emphasizes the important role of the arts as an expression of self and culture. The learning environment also integrates school life with the home and world, and encourages partnerships within the community. The Hanahau‘oli child develops as a unique individual, with a deep sense of groundedness, demonstrated by a respect and responsibility to self and others within a diverse and global society.

Since antiquity, Hawai‘i has welcomed the coming of the new year with the Makahiki season, a time of celebration for the bounty of the land. Lasting four lunar months during the archipelago’s rainy season, Makahiki honors the deity Lono, associated with themes of fertility, agriculture, rainfall, music and peace.

Traditionally, work would stop during this season, certain religious practices were suspended, and limits were placed on activities associated with Lono's counterpart Kū, such as deep-sea fishing and warfare. Makahiki season was devoted to practicing sports, feasting, dancing and renewing communal bonds. Ho‘okupu—or offerings, literally "to cause growth"—were made to Lono, symbolizing the hopes for a fruitful harvest.

At Hanahau‘oli School, a small, multi-age, private elementary nestled at the foot of lush Tantalus hill in Makiki, O‘ahu, the Makahiki celebration has lived on for decades. Students dye muslin to create their own kīhei, or cloaks; each grade learns several oli, or Hawaiian chants, and some students prepare hula, to showcase during a full-day Makahiki program.

On the day of the program, children clad in hand-dyed kapa bring ho‘okupu wrapped in ti leaves (usually canned goods) that are collected at the end of the day and donated. The whole school participates in an opening chant that gives thanks to Lono and to the ‘āina for providing food and shelter. Then the students perform their learned oli and hula as proud family members look on.

For sixth graders, the program is especially important. As the big kids on campus, they get the privilege of bringing a model Hawaiian court to life, and of perpetuating traditional Makahiki games including ‘ulu maika, ‘ō‘ō ihe, hukihuki, haka moa and kōnane.

‘Ulu maika is a pitching game that tests a child’s accuracy. Like a cross between bowling and horseshoes, ‘ulu maika involves rolling disk-shaped stones, often made from basalt and sometimes coral, down a kahua—a course of flattened ground. The aim is to roll the stones between two pegs standing only several inches apart without hitting either one of them. ‘Ō‘ō ihe is a sport of spear throwing, and the students participate by hurling wooden javelins at a banana tree stump. The child whose spear lodges itself most firmly in the stump is the winner. Hukihuki is a team tug-of-war game; in haka moa, students stand on one leg in a group and jostle with one another on the grass in an attempt to be the last one standing; and kōnane is a two-player strategic board game similar to checkers.

A student pair is selected to be chief and chiefess, and other roles, such as kahili bearer and warrior, are assigned to other sixth graders, each with distinct responsibilities during the program.

But perhaps the most difficult role is that of the kahuna, or priest. The brave sixth grader that assumes this role for the program must learn a long and complex Hawaiian invocation to welcome the guests and give thanks to Lono. The selected student must listen to a tape recording of the complicated prayer to learn the exact inflections and pronunciations of the Hawaiian words, and must execute the prayer with the solemnity and gravitas it deserves.

To some, this task might seem beyond most 12-year-olds, but to alumni, family and teachers, it’s no surprise at all. The Makahiki program at Hanahau‘oli is indicative of the school’s progressive educational philosophy: students are taught that, with the right amount of joyous work, they can do anything they set their minds to. And year after year, students rise to the various challenges of the Makahiki program, carrying the traditional Hawaiian celebration into the future.


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Ikaika Hussey
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Will Caron
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