For more than two decades Kahu Kaleo Patterson has been actively involved in bringing traditional Makahiki practices and ceremonies to Native Hawaiian paʻahao (incarcerated persons).
Initially, his work was focused on Hawaiian paʻahao separated from their ʻohana and ʻāina in prisons on the continent. At the time, the Native American Church (a faith tradition that combines Indigenous thought and rituals with Christianity) was establishing programs in the prisons for Native American paʻahao – including providing support to Native Hawaiian paʻahao wishing to observe Makahiki.
When some of these paʻahao were transferred in 2004 from an Oklahoma prison back to Hawaiʻi to the Oʻahu Community Correctional Center (OCCC), they wanted to continue to observe Makahiki and submitted a formal request to do so. Their request was approved and Patterson was contacted to help with the first approved Makahiki visit and ceremony at a Hawaiʻi prison.
The Makahiki program was well received and soon expanded to the Hālawa and Waiawa Correctional Facilities. For years, Patterson has quietly continued this work.
“At Waiawa and Hālawa we regularly had 40-50 paʻahao attend open and closing ceremonies,” said Patterson. Classes were smaller due to the capacity of the prisons to accommodate large groups, and the capacity of Patterson and his team to offer multiple large group sessions.
Patterson is an ordained minister, the vicar at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Wahiawā, and the prison chaplain for the Episcopal Diocese of Hawaiʻi. He is also president of the Pacific Justice and Reconciliation Center, an affiliate organization of the Association of Hawaiian Evangelical Churches of the UCC. In this capacity, Patterson leads the Native Hawaiian Religion Initiative – a program that has become very important to the rehabilitation and spiritual wellbeing of paʻahao here in Hawaiʻi and on the continent.
The Makahiki program that Patterson has developed includes weekly classes that utilize culture-based restorative and activity-driven therapeutic programs, Makahiki season opening and closing ceremonies, and observation of the summer solstice. It combines Hawaiian spiritual traditions with education and training in the history, practices and traditions of Makahiki, along with related pule, oli and hula.
Similar to the Native American Church, Patterson has helped to establish a Native Hawaiian Church in Hawaiʻi’s prison system which incorporates ʻike from both the Bible and the Kumulipo. The Kumulipo is the renowned Hawaiian creation chant that was translated into English by Queen Liliʻuokalani while under house arrest in ʻIolani Palace following the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Indeed, the example of Liliʻuokalani is highlighted in the program, because of her ability to forgive the men who unjustly imprisoned her.
Patterson said that while the prison Makahiki program is a partnership with Ke Ola Mamo Native Hawaiian Health Care System and the Episcopal Diocese of Hawaiʻi, “our recognition is with the Native Hawaiian Church which was created to accommodate the need to have a religious organization recognized by the community and prisons whose mission it is to promote and preserve the history, culture, and the spiritual beliefs and traditions of Native Hawaiians and Makahiki.”
Patterson’s heart to meet the needs of paʻahao has been a lifelong mission. “I grew up in Mākaha and had friends who became incarcerated,” he said. “As a youth leader at Kaumakapili Church, I ran a youth prison project that involved programs at the Hawaiʻi Youth Facility. I was also a very active volunteer with Teen Challenge. Later when I went to seminary in Maine, I did a chaplaincy in the Penobscot County Jail and Thomason Prison.”
The prison Makahiki program in Hawaiʻi was shut down in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Patterson is now in the process of re-establishing the program. In November, he and his team conducted Makahiki introductory classes and opening ceremony protocols at Waiawa and at the Women’s Community Correctional Center (WCCC) in Kailua, and will offer the same at Hālawa in mid-December.
Patterson has also been busy training new volunteers on Makahiki protocols and he and his team are attending safety and security and COVID-19 training with the Department of Public Safety.
“Now is the time to rebuild, look at better practices, look at the new world, and get more involved – not just in reforming the prison and criminal justice systems, but creating and building something new, something more committed to rehabilitation and restorative justice,” said Patterson.
“The time is also here for many of us kūpuna to begin recruiting and training the next generation of cultural practitioners and spiritual leaders to engage in prison ministry and the tremendous benefit and transformative elements of the Makahiki season of peace.”
Kahu Kaleo Patterson is sending a kāhea to cultural practitioners with a heart for our Native Hawaiian paʻahao to join him and others in bringing Makahiki to the prison system. If you are interested please contact Kahu Patterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.