Lasting impressions

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Ke Kanakolu murals celebrate ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi

It’s overcast and drizzling in Kakaʻako but that does little to dampen the excitement of paint-speckled haumāna from Ke Kula ʻo Kamakau as they leave brightly colored handprints all over the side of Scott Hawaiʻi’s Kona Street wall.

“We’re here to do a mural and share our aloha,” explains fourth grader Vaiti Lopez.

The mural the Kāneʻohe public charter school students are working on is the sixth in a series of 10 walls on five islands. Collectively they tell the moʻolelo of Kalapana, as written by Moses Nakuina and serialized in Hawaiian language newspapers in 1902. The mural series is also a celebration of ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi and Ka Papahana Kaiapuni, the Hawaiian language immersion program offered today in 23 public schools. The mural project is named Ke Kanakolu (30), in commemoration of the kaiapuni program’s 30th school year.

“Ke Kanakolu is one project celebrating the life and the strides of ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi from its beginning to today, not only stopping today but also looking at the next 30 years and the next 30 after that and the next 30 after that,” explains Kamalani Johnson, the project’s Hawaiian language director.

The first mural was painted on Hawaiʻi Island in November and the last wall will be completed in May on Kauaʻi. The path mirrors Kalapana’s travels across the pae ʻāina to master the art of hoʻopāpā, a battle of wits, and avenge his father’s death by winning a riddling contest on Kauaʻi.

The Ke Kanakolu team includes “Prime” Hina, a prominent figure in Hawaiʻi’s urban art scene, who helps students convey both the story of Kalapana and their own kaiapuni experience. Project manager Mahea Akau adds public art experience to the mix. “I knew right away who I wanted to build the team with – it was 808 Urban and Kamalani Johnson,” she said. “To commemorate 30 years is huge for our lāhui and for us to have the privilege of being part of that is pretty special.”

Johnson hopes that those who see the walls will walk away knowing that ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi is a living language and that the murals are an expansion of the Hawaiian language domain. Using street art to tell the story of Kalapana and the kaiapuni program is a demonstration that ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi exists away from education.

The wall the Kamakau students are working on focuses on Kalapana’s final battles with the kānaka makua who first bested his father in a riddling contest, then executed him. Kalapana wasn’t much bigger than the Kamakau students when he decided to avenge his father’s death. “His tenacity and his love for his family, his ʻohana and his ʻāina, his land, really brings him through to the end,” said Johnson. The students’ mural also tells “their story of Ke Kula ʻo Kamakau, their namesake Samuel Mānaiakalani Kamakau, their kaiapuni experience and how they view the value of ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi for them.”

To third grader Moanakekai Haehae, the reason for the mural is pretty simple. “I want them to know we speak ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi,” she says.

As Johnson points out, the murals also reflect the longevity of the Hawaiian language, which nearly went extinct after decades of being banned in public schools. But 40 years ago, ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi became an official state language, paving the way for the ʻAha Pūnana Leo immersion preschools that in turn created demand for the kaiapuni program which now serves more than 2,800 keiki a year. “The tenacity of Kalapana as a small child doing what he needed to do, going up against adults, it’s very, very similar and very comparable to Hawaiian language efforts of today in various domains of ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi,” Johnson said. “We’re looking at the grassroots efforts and what it took to go against a system for the longevity of ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi.”

Community members are invited to help paint the remaining walls. Follow Ke Kanakolu on social media to learn about upcoming paint days.


Vaiti Lopez, 4th grade

“I think it’s a good idea to do this so people can actually see the Hawaiian language will never die and when we put our handprints on it it shows we have courage to keep on continuing this beautiful language.”



Kaleikoa Cuban, 4th grade

“I want them to learn about the Hawaiian Islands and Hawaiʻi… Hawaiian language is important.”



Pua Kepoo, 3rd grade

“We’re going to put our handprints on the wall no ka mea we can show our love and support to our school. The thing I like about my school is that we speak Hawaiian for the whole entire day and we don’t want to stop.”



ʻIliwai Makaʻine, 2nd grade

“I speak it at home, I speak it at Kamakau and when I see my friends sometimes. I speak it sometimes when I go a place like hotels and I speak it to my mom and my dad.”


Kaleikaumaka Chan, Kindergarten

“I’m painting wall with different kind of colors. It’s going to tell how a boy that’s little, he talked to an evil chief.”