E Hū e nā Kawowo: The Renaissance of Kānaka Civic Engagement

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Photo: Hālau Kū Mana
Hālau Kū Mana senior Hema Watson authored both the He Leo Hou and Ka Leo o nā ʻŌpio columns this month. – Photo: Courtesy

By Hema Watson, Grade 12 Hālau Kū Mana Public Charter School

E nā hoaloha mai i uka a i kai, mai i luna a i lalo, aloha!

Contemporary kānaka civic movements in the 1970s, or the “Hawaiian Renaissance,” reflected a rise in kānaka consciousness. Kānaka had to awaken from the effects of colonialism, which cut our people off from understanding, with a pure sense, who we truly were and our strength as a nation.

Clyde Maurice Kalani Ohelo, one of the early leaders of the Hawaiian Renaissance, fought the 1971 evictions in Kalama Valley on Oʻahu. Ohelo emphasized the importance of education in his awakening: “My job was to raise social and political consciousness. And to raise social and political consciousness, you would have to do tons and tons of research. And [in] those days, we used to put all our research into our heads. We didn’t have computers. We didn’t have all the high-tech things we have today.”

George Helm is perhaps the greatest poʻe aloha ʻāina laureate who went up against the illegal bombing and U. S. military occupation of Kahoʻolawe. His discourses on aloha ʻāina inspire us today to hoʻōla. Helm knew exactly who he was and his kuleana: “I am a Hawaiian and I’ve inherited the soul of my kupuna…The truth is, there is man and there is environment. One does not supersede the other. The breath in man is the breath of Papa (the earth). Man is the caretaker of the land that maintains his life and nourishes his soul.”

Herb Kāne dreamt that the stars would lead Hōkūleʻa to Tahiti. Captain Nainoa Thompson remembers that the rebirth of traditional voyaging “pulled together this deep, instinctual, almost innate need to be who I am, by knowing who I was. It allowed me to know that I’m going to be within the domain of powerful learning. I’m going to be in the domain of rich learning.”

In order to truly understand who we are as kānaka and our strength as a nation we can start by relearning who we are.

As we highlight these movements and the incredible leaders involved, we see how the past has influenced the present. One of the largest recent examples of our Hawaiian force occurred at Maunakea. At one point, there were over 8,000 people on the mauna. That movement led to the push for clean water and the demilitarization of Kapūkakī.

Ohelo, Helm, Kāne and Thompson came to a clearer sense of their identity and role in protecting our ʻāina. We, too, must follow in their footsteps so we can be civically engaged and survive as a lāhui.

Now, we look to the future…



This is the second of three articles dedicated to telling the story of the past, present, and future of kānaka civic engagement in Hawaiʻi by Hema Watson.