Women’s History Month: Celebrating three strong Native Hawaiian women who have a place of honor in the history of the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo.
As we enter Women’s History Month, I would like to acknowledge three strong women who have a place of honor in the history of the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo with their enduring faith in the Hawaiian people and furtherance of Hawaiian language and culture. These women, each well educated with a passion to educate generations to come with a grounding in the language and culture of this place, show the way forward for the university.
Ruth Ke‘elikōlani Keanolani Kanāhoahoa
On February 9, I was honored to attend the commemoration of the birthday of Ruth Ke‘elikōlani Keanolani Kanāhoahoa (February 9, 1826 – May 24, 1883), for whom our Ka Haka ‘Ula O Ke‘elikōlani, College of Hawaiian Language, is named. As I listened to the various mele and stories, I was struck by her strength and resilience and her deep caring for her people. Over the course of her life, she suffered tremendous loss and persevered through numerous challenges, making her a strong role model for our students, who often confront difficulties on the way to their degrees.
Ke‘elikōlani was a member of the Kamehameha family, the founding dynasty of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi, and served as Royal Governor of the Island of Hawaiʻi. As primary heir to the Kamehameha family, she became a landholder of what would become the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Estate.
Most notably, Ke‘elikōlani was a staunch defender of ancient Hawaiian traditions and customs. While she understood English and spoke it well, she used the Hawaiian language exclusively, requiring English-speakers to use a translator. She preferred to live as a noble woman of antiquity. While her royal estates were filled with elegant palaces and mansions built for her family, she chose to live in a large traditional stone-raised grass house she referred to as Haleʻōlelo. Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikolani, College of Hawaiian Language, is named in her honor and the college’s building, Haleʻōlelo, is named in honor of her traditional home.
We also benefit from the role model Queen Lili‘uokalani, the last sovereign monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom. An inspiring and caring leader, her empathy for and assistance to the victims of the smallpox epidemic of 1881 and those suffering from Hansen’s disease, including her advocacy for a hospital at Kaka‘ako, provide meaningful examples for us during the current pandemic.
Lydia Liliʻu Loloku Walania Kamakaʻeha was named Liliʻuokalani, heir to the Hawaiian Kingdom, by her brother King David Kalākaua. She was the only queen regnant and the last sovereign monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom, ruling from January 29, 1891, until the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom to the United States on January 17, 1893. The Queen was beloved by the people and during the overthrow they were ready to go to battle for her, but because U.S. military ships were ready to engage at a moment’s notice, she yielded her authority so the population would not be wiped out.
While most people are more familiar with the Queen’s trust, it was her foresight and strength to prevent bloodshed (and her knowledge of United States and international law) that the islands’ population of Native Hawaiians is at its strength today. And it is upon this foundation—the people—that the revitalization of Hawaiian language and culture is built.
Another strong woman with whom UH Hilo has affiliation is Edith Kanaka‘ole, in honor of whom one of our buildings on campus is named. Kumu hula, former faculty member, musician, she laid a foundation for much of our Hawaiian oriented curriculum. Ms. Kanakaʻole was an instructor at Hawai‘i Community College (1971–79) and UH Hilo (1973–79), where she pioneered courses and seminars in ethnobotany, chant, mythology, genealogy, land ownership, ‘ohana, Polynesian history, and the Hawaiian oral arts. She trained in oli chanting and choreographed hulas for many of her chants. She was the president of a local Hilo Hawaiian language organization, Hui Hoʻoulu ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, and founder of Hālau Hula O Kekuhi.
On campus, the Edith Kanakaʻole Hall was named in her honor. It is through Ms. Kanakaʻole’s support that our UH Hilo Bachelor of Arts in Hawaiian Studies was developed to be taught through Hawaiian language, integrating Hawaiian language and Hawaiian studies into one major that has since grown from a degree program, to a department, and currently Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikolani, College of Hawaiian Language.
More role models
In addition to these three historic women, there are, of course, many female role models on our campus and in our community, remarkable people who have demonstrated resilience, grace under pressure, care for our community, expertise and accomplishment in their fields. Research shows that college students of all genders need role models and they will do even better if those role models are people to whom they can relate.
One of the most important groups of role models for our students is our alumni. Students see the successes of those who come before them and are inspired to stay the course and finish their degrees. Last month was the launch of our new alumni newsletter, Pilina, which celebrates our alumni and shares their stories. I’m excited to see future stories of success as our current students follow in the path of their many role models who have lifted up our community.
Bonnie D. IrwinComments closed