Manulani Aluli-Meyer returns to UH Hilo to teach two new courses on Hawaiian health and culture

Manulani Aluli-Meyer, former UH Hilo associate professor of education and world scholar-practitioner of Hawaiian and indigenous epistemology, will teach a course on Hawaiian health and well-being and another on cultural competencies.

By Susan Enright.

Manulani Aluli-Meyer, Benita Tahuri, and Waylyn Tahuri-Whaipakanga.
Manulani Aluli-Meyer (center) stands with sisters Benita Tahuri (left) and Waylyn Tahuri-Whaipakanga (right), students who were part of the first He Waka Hiringa cohort at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa. 2013. Courtesy photo.

Manulani Aluli-Meyer, former associate professor of education at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo and world scholar-practitioner of Hawaiian and indigenous epistemology, returns to UH Hilo this spring semester to teach two new and innovative courses. Aluli-Meyer will teach a course on Hawaiian health and well-being and another on cultural competencies. The classes are especially relevant to haumana (students) wishing to immerse themselves in the richness of Hawaiian culture, lifestyle, and social responsibility.

“These two courses are about mauli ola (wellness),” says Aluli-Meyer. “They will look deeply at issues that affect the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of our humanity from a Hawaiian worldview. I am more interested in contextual understanding of wellness that begins with the personal and goes into the collective.”

“Manu” Aluli-Meyer is the fifth daughter of Emma Aluli and Harry Meyer and grew up on the shores of Kailua beach on the island of O‘ahu. She received her master of science in physical education from University of Northern Colorado in 1985 and her doctor of education from Harvard in 1998. Her thesis was on “Native Hawaiian Epistemology: Contemporary Narratives” and she earned her doctorate while learning how to articulate aspects of Hawaiian epistemology through land, people, history and dreams. She received the 1995 Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations Award for “outstanding contributions to intercultural and race relations at Harvard University.”

Since then, Aluli-Meyer has built a career working on innovative educational concepts based in indigenous epistemology. Her teaching, research, community service, and academic publications all have strong emphasis on community outreach and collective learning. She has given more than 50 lectures and keynote speeches since 2008, mostly in Aotearoa, New Zealand, Canada and Hawai‘i on the topic of indigenous epistemology and its implications for research, education, intelligence, and society.

“Each talk was situated in unique settings (such as) marae (Māori meeting place), universities, community, museums, research symposiums, public buildings, classrooms, hotels or outdoor cultural settings, and pulled forward distinct ideas contextualized within the kaupapa and audience,” she explains. “The practice of oracy within this field (of indigenous epistemology) is vital to the growing clarity, coherence and function of ideas. Ma ka hana ka ‘ike, we understand through experience, and thus I am an on-going learner.”

Aluli-Meyer was an assistant and then associate professor of education (tenured) at UH Hilo from 1998 to 2010. She then went on to pursue work in Wai‘anae on O‘ahu for a year where she served as director of indigenous education at MA‘O Farms (MA‘O is the acronym for Mala ‘Ai Opio, which translates to “the youth garden”), creating linkages with native food security movements, food sovereignty issues and with cultural education practices throughout Hawai‘i, the Pacific, Aotearoa, Canada, Australia and America.

In conjunction with that work, she was asked to New Zealand to develop a unique master’s program on applied indigenous knowledge, called He Waka Hiringa, for the largest Māori university, Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, a school of 35,000 students (see video).

“This institution is the largest cultural tertiary movement in the world and my job was to design its first master’s degree,” she explains. “We just finished our first cohort and I have to say I am transformed. Māori see Hawaiians as their tuakana (or) kua‘ana, their elder sibling, and so my time there was potent and energizing.”

He Waka Hiringa was accredited by the New Zealand Qualifying Authority, and it brought together the finest cultural practitioners of that country. Aluli-Meyer was there for five years. “I had a blast!” she says.

Returning to UH Hilo to teach two new courses

And now the world scholar and practitioner of Hawaiian and indigenous epistemology returns to UH Hilo to teach two new courses created through a collaboration with the UH Hilo Department of Kinesiology and Exercise Sciences, the Kīpuka Native Hawaiian Student Center, and Gail Makuakāne-Lundin, interim vice chancellor for student affairs.

“These two brand new and innovative classes developed by Dr. Meyer will hugely support our efforts to further indigenize our program and apply a strong place-based educational approach,” says Harald Barkhoff, professor and chair of kinesiology and exercise sciences who calls Aluli-Meyer the “Visiting Hawaiian Scholar.”

Aluli-Meyer’s course on health and well-being will introduce haumana (students) to the ideas, values and practices that make up health and wellness within a Hawaiian world-view. Using historical and current views, the syllabus promises students will explore several topics, including the Mahele, post-colonial traumatic stress, ho‘oponopono (the practice of reconciliation and forgiveness), deconstructing whiteness, reconstructing ancestral patterns, food systems, and much more.

These topics will culminate in class projects, Hō‘iike/Mauli Ola. Students will learn the many facets of Hawaiian health and wellness, including Hawaiian health and wellness from a physical, mental, and spiritual overview, as well as recognizing the effects of American occupation on Hawaiian health and wellness.

Class community is emphasized, and the course is dedicated to the practice and coherence of knowledge within students’ own lives and within the life of their ‘ohana (family) and communities. The course’s reflective principles are aromatawai: reflection of your own thinking; arotika: reflection of your own participation; and arotaumata: reflection of everyone’s participation, thinking and work, according to the course syllabus.

In Aluli-Meyer’s other course, on cultural competencies, objectives include gaining the ability to understand the role of specific cultural practices and values in health and well-being, practicing the integration of cultural practices within health and well-being, learning about spirituality within health and well-being, and learning how to apply Hawaiian, indigenous and personal perspectives in health promotion.

The course also uses the same reflective principles of aromatawai, arotika, and arotaumata. The final Hō‘iike/Mauli Ola projects will be on cultural competency topics.

In addition to teaching the two courses at UH Hilo, Aluli-Meyer also is working with UH West O‘ahu on linking community efforts in food security with their freshman learning communities, and with Keiki O Ka ‘Āina in Kalihi on their indigenous evaluation systems.


Aluli-Meyer’s book, Ho‘oulu: Our Time of Becoming, Hawaiian Epistemology and Early Writings, is in its second printing.

The Courses

Special Topic: Hawaiian Health & Well Being
5:00 – 8:00 p.m. (and some weekends TBA)
University Classroom Building, Rm #331
KES 394
3 Credits
CRN: 13111

Special Topic: Cultural Competencies
5:00 – 8:00 p.m. (with some weekends TBA)
University Classroom Building, Rm #112
KES 394
3 Credits
CRN: 13110

For more information, contact Harald Barkhoff.


About the writer of this story: Susan Enright is a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.