The Enduring Legacy of Language and Culture


Read this article in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi

By Kekaianiani Irwin

To friends breathing new life into language and culture across our beloved island chain, aloha kākou! During Hawaiian language month last year, I told the story of the Kūkulu Kumuhana Project, which began in 2017. A list of the subjects developed for the project can be found in that Ka Wai Ola article.

Kūkulu Kumuhana recently reached completion and was indeed fruitful: 60,000 Hawaiian language books comprising 46 new titles; e-book and audio e-book formats for many of those titles featuring fluent Hawaiian narration, mele, and chant; 23,700 ʻōlelo noʻeau posters (including 35 new Hawaiian proverb posters spotlighting family values and witty language); nine language enrichment classes for Hawaiian immersion families from Puna to Kekaha; three teacher in-service workshops attended by more than 60 kumu; and 17 kumu-developed curriculum units are some of those “hua pala” (ripe fruit) of the project.

Illustration: Kamakakēhau Fernandez
Kamakakēhau Fernandez is a graduate of the Hawaiian immersion schools of Pāiʻa, Kalama, and Kekaulike on Maui. He is steadfast in his efforts to give new life to ʻōlelo and ʻike Hawaiʻi in the entertainment industries.

In what fertile soil did the root of all this development activity take hold? In the ground of aloha ʻāina, aloha ʻōlelo, and aloha for ancestral knowledge! From the earliest time to the present, language and culture form a path requiring constant attention from generation to generation, which must be a well-traveled path to endure. This arose as a central theme of a second set of 20 books spotlighting role models who integrate ancestral knowledge and Hawaiian language in modern career pathways. These books shine light on the themes of “kuleana” (grade K), the legacy of Hawaiian monarchs (grade one), the trait of “noelo” or deep delving (grade two), and cultural steadfastness (grade three).

Liholiho’s message – that no one has the right to deny the cultural heritage of another – is as relevant today as when he first proclaimed it. This enduring legacy is embodied by the many path-keepers and trailblazers featured in the second set of Kūkulu Kumuhana books. A broad range of careers are now being transformed by new generations who, like ʻoumuamua (advance scouts), are carrying ancestral knowledge, ʻōlelo, and Hawaiian worldviews into their work and clearing the way for others to follow. They seem to represent the main idea of the new book, He ʻOnipaʻa i ka Meheu.

Photo: Lokelani Brandt
Lokelani Brandt is a graduate of Ke Kula ‘o Nawahīokalaniʻōpuʻu. A role model for younger students, Brandt integrates and advances Hawaiian language and culture in her chosen career of archaeology.

It is not only the kuleana of ancestors to tend and perpetuate cultural and language pathways. Every generation must take up this kuleana to keep the paths clear through the deep pursuit of knowledge, preserving and persisting until language and traditional ways flourish in the contexts of an everchanging world. In this tradition, the alahele (path) becomes an alahula (frequented and well-known), and the way is opened for those who will follow after and continue to tend to the enduring legacy of ʻōlelo and ʻike Hawaiʻi.

Many of the fruits of this project will be available following full distribution to immersion schools and immersion families in March 2022. Our website and e-commerce store is at

Kekaianiani Irwin taught at the Hawaiian immersion schools of Pāʻia, Pūʻōhala, and Samuel M. Kamakau for 12 years. In 2005, he joined the development team at the Hale Kuamoʻo Hawaiian Language Center of Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikōlani College of Hawaiian Language in Hilo.