Reconnecting to Our Kūpuna Through Papakilo


OHA’s Digital Archive Specialist Kale Hannahs talks with Hina Puamohala Kneubuhl to learn how she uses Papakilo to research designs for Hawaiian fashion company Kealopiko.

HK: My name is Hina Puamohala Kneubuhl, I come from the island of Maui and about 14 years ago I started a clothing company called Kealopiko with two of my very dear friends.

OHA: One of the unique things about Kealopiko is the mixture of ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi and images. How do you make that all work?

HK: Whatever we’re feeling at the time is what we choose to design. That could be something in our immediate experience or something that we’ve loved for years. Then Ane (Bakutis) and Jamie (Makasobe) think about the imagery and I do the research – and my main research tool is OHA’s Papakilo Database. I think the most important thing is that, as Kānaka, we are trying to reconstruct an understanding of the way that our kūpuna saw the world. They created this body of knowledge, namely in the Hawaiian Language Newspapers. Papakilo has increased my access tremendously and once I learned how to hop around and use it, oh boy, the whole world blew open!

OHA: Mai makaʻu? Don’t be afraid?

HK: Mai makaʻu! Just jump in and go for it! I think any student of ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi that doesn’t dive in is doing themselves a disservice. It’s where the ʻike of our kūpuna lives. One of my favorite things that I’ve researched was this koʻi that eventually came to Kamehameha called ʻolopū. I saw it when we were doing the ʻIʻi translation project. It talked about it being a special koʻi that’s ceremonially touched to a tree before the tree is felled and brought down to make an image for the heiau. There was something about it that just caught my attention and I started looking for a term in the newspapers and all of these things came out. I was able to create a chain of understanding of where this koʻi was likely born, who made it, how it came down through time, and how it got to Kamehameha. It was just something that I’ve never heard about anywhere else.

OHA: It warms my heart to hear success stories like that. Any last thoughts?

HK: Weʻve been in a state of ʻike deprivation for generations. We’ve been disconnected from the ʻike of our kūpuna and when you reconnect yourself, through things like Papakilo, it is the most healing, the most empowering thing that we can do as Hawaiians. The other thing is, as a makuahine raising keiki, if I want to teach real ʻike Hawaiʻi, the best way for me to access the ʻike of my kūpuna is on Papakilo. Every Thursday night we sit down, light candles, turn off all the electric lights in the house, and we just kūkākūkā. We talk about old genealogies, and Haumea, her cycles, where she shows up, and I try to construct this picture for them. If I can pass that ʻike on to them, that is hugely valuable. I hope that the access only increases and grows. Please continue to use and support Papakilo, support it into the future for the pono of our keiki, moʻopuna, no ka lāhui nō.

To read Kneubuhl’s story about the koʻi that she researched on Papakilo, go to:

Illustration: DNA

Born and raised in Kula, Maui, Hina Kneubuhl holds BA degrees in botany and ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi and an MA in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi. She is one of the founders of Kealopiko, has worked in rare plant management, and has taught ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi at UH Mānoa and in the community. Her work re-indexing the Bishop Museum’s oral history collection and her use of the Ka Leo Hawaiʻi archive in her master’s project are the fire in her passion for the spoken language of our kūpuna. Since 2015, she has been training under Dr. Puakea Nogelmeier at Awaiāulu to translate historical documents and Hawaiian language newspapers. She is a body surfer, kapa maker, and mother of two currently living in Aotearoa.