From Molokaʻi, For Molokaʻi


Having just earned her doctorate, Executive Director Pūlama Lima of Ka Ipu Makani sets her sights on continuing to serve the Molokaʻi community

Pūlama Lima, Ph.D., studies the past to help build a better future for her cherished Molokaʻi community.

In May, the Kamehameha Schools graduate became the first Molokaʻi resident to ever be presented with the unique recognition of being “hooded” with a doctoral degree at a special University of Hawaiʻi commencement ceremony held every four years at the Molokaʻi Education Center, which is a part of UH Maui College.

Photo: Pūlama Lima
Dr. Pūlama Lima is executive director of nonprofit Ka Ipu Makani Cultural Heritage Center on Molokaʻi.

The event celebrates Molokaʻi residents who have earned a certificate or degree from any UH campus between Fall 2001 and Spring 2004. Lima, one of 42 students honored, earned her doctorate in anthropology from UH Mānoa. She also holds master’s in applied archeology and a double major bachelor’s in Hawaiian studies and anthropology from UH Hilo.

“Pūlama obtaining her Ph.D. is a major accomplishment on so many levels,” said Associate Professor Kekuewa Kikiloi, Ph.D., of the Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies at the Hawaiʻinuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge at UH Mānoa. Kikiloi served on Lima’s dissertation committee.

“Ever since I met her, she’s been determined and set on her goal to get her doctorate. She is one of the few Hawaiians to ever obtain this level of education and expertise in this field. Her thesis was an amazing example of aloha ʻāina, or love of homeland, helping to reconstruct the traditional history of the place she loves – the island of Molokaʻi – through oral traditions, genealogies, and archaeology.”

Lima said her inspiration for higher education is embedded in the history of her island home. She said in ancient times, kahuna from neighbor islands would send their best kahuna to Molokaʻi to train under the island’s kahuna in fields such as architecture, navigation and healing.

“Molokaʻi was known for our kahuna, and in the moʻolelo of Molokaʻi our kahuna are described as experts. Acknowledging that history of our kūpuna and that we are a part of that legacy has always been inspirational,” Lima said.

“I’ve always wanted to reinvigorate our community, to remind them that we come from a legacy of experts, we come from a legacy of the best of the best. I’ve always wanted to perpetuate that narrative and integrate that into our community.”

Lima said the value of education was imparted to her by her mother, Vashti Lima, who was a waitress for nearly 40 years and, as a single parent, put her three daughters through college.

“She was a hustler, she was always working and she did that to provide for us and to give us opportunity. The value of hard work was always recognized, and she instilled that value within me and my sisters,” Lima said.

“It was really the value of excellence. An A grade was not enough, you needed an A+, and when you arrived at some type of peak, then whatʻs the next mountain that you’re trying to climb? Her teaching was always to succeed, and we needed to do that to benefit our family and our community.”

Lima certainly works hard.

She has worked as an archeologist in both the private and federal sectors including the Kalaupapa National Historic Park and commutes semi-regularly to Oʻahu for her day job where she is the curator for archaeology at the Bishop Museum. When she’s not working or studying, she and husband Nahulu Maioho – another noted Hawaiian scholar – are busy rearing three young children.

But she is most passionate about her work with the community nonprofit Ka Ipu Makani Cultural Heritage Center, which she founded in 2015 and where she serves as executive director. Ka Ipu Makani services the entire Molokaʻi population, addressing the lack of cultural resource management and heritage preservation on the island.

“In essence, our mission is to foster an awareness of community stewardship over our culture and natural resources on Molokaʻi. We have three programs, culture and ʻāina-based education, heritage preservation, and restoration and stewardship,” Lima said.

“We provide all types of opportunities for community members to get engaged in cultural and natural resource management, and even more so stewardship. The question is, how do we care for our own place, and do it through a lens that is appropriate to place, but also in consistency and alignment with the way that our kūpuna practiced preservation, management and stewardship?”

Ka Ipu Makani recently received a $100,000 grant from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to support its Moaʻe Digital Repository, an online searchable repository of Molokaʻi cultural and historical records which was launched in February.

Lima said the educational resource project is being done in partnership with the Molokaʻi Library Services cadre and includes items like the digitization of Molokaʻi High School yearbooks going back to the 1940s and issues of the old Ka Leo O Molokaʻi newspaper which ran from 1950-1955. The repository also includes reports, maps and photos from various Molokaʻi library institutions as well as oral histories collected from Molokaʻi kūpuna.

OHA Grants Manager Keʻala Neumann said that Lima has a compelling vision for the perpetuation of ʻike Hawaiʻi for the people of Molokaʻi.

“Pūlama Lima is an exceptionally gifted and talented Native Hawaiian scholar, wholeheartedly dedicated to her lāhui, with a special commitment to the kānaka of Molokaʻi. Through her work, she not only seeks the ʻike of the past but also ensures its relevance for current and future generations. Her efforts through the Ka Ipu Makani Cultural Heritage Center exemplify just that,” Neumann said.

Lima said being raised on Molokaʻi was part of the reason she was drawn to study the past through her archeological work.

“Growing up on Molokaʻi, because we were blessed with the lack of development, it saved a lot of our sites, and it saved a lot of things from being destroyed. We were privileged and fortunate enough to grow up in these spaces and to have seen and experienced these places and it was always intriguing to me,” she said.

“We need kānaka in this field in order to preserve and protect our wahi kupuna (ancestral Hawaiian sites) and our iwi kūpuna more importantly. We also need to perpetuate our narratives, and have our stories told through a kānaka lens – not by somebody else saying that ʻthis is your history.’ As Hawaiians, we should have the authority and we should have the mana to tell those stories.”

Though she studies the past, the future is always on Lima’s mind.

“My biggest future goal for Molokaʻi is with the Ka Ipu Makani Cultural Heritage Center and establishing a physical space on Molokaʻi that is centered in heritage preservation. We need to provide a physical space to do that type of work. Whether it’s an archive, a museum, a cultural heritage center, that is my ultimate goal, even if it’s not going to be me that actualizes it,” she said.

“I’ve been mentoring and training the next generation to say if this doesn’t happen in my years, and this is something you guys value, here’s the starting point after the work that I’ve done. A lot of the work that I’m doing now has been guiding in that direction. We need to return the ʻike and knowledge back to Molokaʻi.”