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Ka Lamakū: A Program rooted in Hawaiian Customs and Work

Laura Koonce, Vice President of Mission & HR and Ministry Lead, Saint Louis School, Honolulu, HI, shares this student-written article about Saint Louis School's aina-based teaching.

Hawaiian article by Kelso Kamauliola Coloma

English translation by Thor Mersberg

The Ka Lamakū program, led by Kumu Kaipo Leopoldino, educates young Saint Louis men on Hawaiian cultural practices.

Beginning in 2009, the Ka Lamakū program was created by Kumu Leilani Puchalski to foster Hawaiian leadership skills by creating a bond of brotherhood through the Hawaiian arts.

Ka Lamakū students “learn more protocols, learn how to make cultural implements, Hana Noʻeau (Art), and the last thing is we teach the young men how to dye their kīhei and print their kīhei using traditional methods,” explains Leopoldino.

Saint Louis students who have met the preliminary requirements, which are three years of Hui O Nā ʻŌpio and three years of ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, are accepted into the Ka Lamakū program. While under the direction of Puchalski, acceptance into the Ka Lamakū program included two years of Hawaiian language and two years of Hui.

Under Leopoldino’s direction, the enrollment requirements were elevated. I added a year to each, so three years of Hawaiian language and three years of Hui O Nā ʻŌpio,” he explains. “In addition to that, we added more requirements in the Ka Lamakū cumulative course.” These additional courses included making Lei hulu Pahu drums, dying kīhei, and serving as alakaʻi or leader to lower level ʻōlelo students enrolled in a Hawaiian language course. One of the highlights for Ka Lamakū students is to compose a chant. “We use our Hawaiian names and use it as an acronym to make our Oli (chant) that we can use at graduation,” shares Branden Cote, a senior and student in the Ka Lamakū Program.

Due to the Pandemic in 2020, the Ka Lamakū course had one of the lowest student enrollments in its history. “Some of the young men didn’t want to do Hui [and] Hawaiian 3 over Zoom because it wasn’t required…,” adds Leopoldino, but this year is one of the first classes to come back from the Pandemic. They’re the largest ones we’ve come across in the past four years.” With fewer restrictions put on the Ka Lamakū course during the Pandemic, Leopoldino is now able to take the Ka Lamakū class on more excursions and trips. “This is going to be the first Ka Lamakū… cohort that’s going to be able to do that huakaʻi (trip) due to Covid.”

One aspect of the course that Leopoldino enjoys is that it physically describes the young men in his class as “very tactile learners,” allowing them to fully engage in class activities. “The physical aspect of making a drum or their ʻulīʻulī (Gourd rattle)…,” he adds, “it’s a skill that’s being passed on, and they’re always excited to learn those different things.” Maui Iokepa Guerrero, an alumnus from the Class of [2022] and graduate of the Ka Lamakū program, is one of many who had a positive experience while participating in the program.“The Ka Lamakū program helped me by allowing me to do more hands-on learning with the land and learning how to make different instruments for Hula,” says Guerrero.

Not only does the Ka Lamakū program involve engaging in hands-on learning, but it also includes a special ceremony for Ka Lamakū graduates. Known as the Aha Ho’omoloakīhei, the Ka Lamakū graduates are presented with a Lei Hulu (Feather lei) and Kīhei (Cape) that they make throughout the year. In this ceremony, each Ka Lamakū graduate showcases everything they’ve learned throughout the school year, including Hula and Oli. The students also have the option to wear their Lei hulu and kīhei at their Saint Louis School graduation ceremony, which differentiates them from the traditional white tuxedo worn by the graduates and puts the Hawaiian culture and the Ka Lamakū program in the spotlight it deserves.

Pictured below from left to right: 1) Students create a pahu drum as part of the program; 2) Students use lauhala to make rope for their uli’uli project.3) Kelso Kamauliola Coloma, and 4)Thor Mersberg, student writers of Saint Louis School and staff writers of "The Collegian."

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1 Comment

Dear Laura, thanks very much for sharing this program with the rest of us. Hawaiian culture is so rich and respects nature so much!

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