When UH Mānoa Dean Maenette Ah Nee-Benham is asked about her vision for Hawai‘inuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge, she says she looks no further than Ka Papa Loʻi O Kānewai, the loʻi or taro patch, located a stone’s throw away from Hawaiian Studies.
“At any given time, there are many people, all kinds of people—from na keiki (children) all the way up to kūpuna (elderly)—working at the loʻi,” she said. “Of course, we are also a university so we host classes from different disciplines like ethnobotany and soil science.”
The hā (breadth) and hohonu (depth) of people who utilize Ka Papa Loʻi O Kānewai parallels Benham’s mission for the school. As its inaugural dean, she set the school’s direction on a mission to pursue, perpetuate, research and revitalize all areas and forms of Hawaiian knowledge. This encompasses its language, origins, history, arts, sciences, literature, religion, education, laws and society, and political, medicinal and cultural practices.
Hawai‘inuiākea has the national distinction as being the only school of indigenous studies at a Research I institution. It is also UH Mānoa’s youngest school, established in 2007 by placing the Hawaiian Studies Department and Hawaiian Language Department in one college.
Both academic units offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees that serve an estimated 200 students major in Hawaiian language with the same number majoring in Hawaiian Studies. An additional 1,600 students take classes within the program to fulfill general requirements for other majors.
“Our school is unique in that we engage Kanaka Maoli (indigenous people) and non-Kanaka Maoli scholars, practitioners, policymakers community leaders, traditional/cultural leaders to focus their wisdom and skill sets on pressing dilemmas with response to Kanaka Maoli principles and contemporary sensibilities,” says Benham. “This indigenous world-view is rooted in the ʻāina and life pathways of our people (both traditional as well as neo-traditional and contemporary) and frames the context and content, the form and flow of how we educate and empower to ensure our sovereignty of spirit, people and place.”
In four short years, there’s no question Hawai‘inuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge has made great strides boosting the school’s extramural fund to $3 million in contracts and grants. Benham and staff also greatly increased the number of community engagement activities, including Educational ‘Auwai, which builds pathways for Native Hawaiian students to think of UH Mānoa as their destination of choice.
“We want our Native Hawaiian children to feel like this is their place,” said Benham. “UH Manoa is their home.”
Top Photo: The juxtaposition of Hawai‘inuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge location next to the loʻi is key to the success of its mission.