The new building to house the College of Hawaiian Language promises to be both functional and extraordinarily beautiful, with profound symbolic and spiritual elements.
A bilingual blessing and groundbreaking was held on Saturday for permanent facilities for University of Hawai‘i at Hilo’s Ka Haka ‘Ula O Ke‘elikōlani College of Hawaiian Language.
The opening ceremonies were conducted in Hawaiian. A genealogical presentation acknowledged native speakers who assisted in Hawaiian language teaching at UH Hilo and Hawai‘i Community College dating back to 1960. Lydia Makuakane, the eldest living of those native speakers, led a procession to the groundbreaking site, where she turned the soil at the piko or central core of the parcel. The event concluded with remarks by representatives from the UH and elected officials.
“This building promises to be both functional and extraordinarily beautiful, with profound symbolic and spiritual elements,” said UH Hilo Chancellor Donald Straney. “It’s a building to match the quality of the programs offered by the College of Hawaiian Language.”
Gerald De Mello, director of university relations, said the project enjoyed widespread support, but it took a coordinated team effort to secure the funding.
“This was a major accomplishment since very few initiatives were funded this past session,” De Mello said. “Our Big Island delegation led by House Higher Education Chairman Jerry Chang in concert with his Senate counterpart Jill Tokuda really came through for us. We were also fortunate to have the strong support of UH President M.R.C. Greenwood and then-Governor Linda Lingle.”
Kalena Silva, director of the college, says the new building will not only address the college’s growing pains but lay a foundation for the future.
“With this building we can expand both our graduate and undergraduate programs, which are key to taking the college to the next level,” Silva explained. “We also look forward to raising our profile on the international stage by hosting gatherings with indigenous people who look at our programs as potential models for language revitalization in their communities.”
The building already has won critical acclaim by capturing the 2010 American Institute of Architects Honolulu Design Award in the category of “Commissioned Work to be Built.” The design by WCIT Architects of Honolulu features spectacular landscape, mountain and ocean views, and designs which reflect Native Hawaiian culture and the Big Island’s natural resources.
The college awarded UH Hilo’s first master’s and PhD degrees as it gained national prominence as a leader in indigenous language and cultural revitalization, added new programs like linguistics, and witnessed a surge in enrollment.
Photos of the event by Walter Dudoit.