UH Hilo Mele Mural unveiled: “Amazing!”

The colorful mural, part of a statewide project, depicts cultural elements, historical places, and significant stories of Hilo.

Story and photos by Kara Nelson.

A group of students stand in from of the Mele Mural, a colorful motif of Hawaiian themes.
The core hui of university students who worked on the project gathers for a photo at the unveiling of the UH Hilo Mele Mural. Photos by Kara Nelson.

After a week of preparation followed by a week of painting, the Mele Mural at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo was unveiled March 19 in the late afternoon at Hale Kauanoe residence hall. The project was brought to fruition thanks to the hard work and dedication of Estria Miyashiro, creative director at the Estria Foundation, a core hui (group) of university students running the project, and other students and volunteers who participated.

“I think just seeing the whole picture definitely came together — definitely told our story of Hilo,” said Ulu Ornellas, a junior at UH Hilo majoring in Hawaiian studies and agriculture who was part of the core hui of students who headed the project. “I think it was pretty amazing how much of us different people came together to make this. Now we all closer friends, so it’s definitely a good community builder — getting to connect and network, and just learn more about Hilo. I think it looks amazing!”

Mele Murals is a five-year, statewide youth project of the non-profit Estria Foundation that started in late 2013, where local artists, youth, and other members of communities spanning the eight major islands of Hawaiʻi are creating a series of large-scale outdoor murals focusing on Hawaiian lyrics and mele (song) that explore moʻolelo ʻaina (stories of place) and cultural and historical heritage.

For background on the UH Hilo Mele Mural project, see:

The core hui on the project was comprised of university students James Akau, Cindy Among-Serrao, Kāʻeo Awana, Jordan Concannon, Alexandria Gutmanis-Burian, ʻElika Jardin, Manoa Johansen, Kamalani Johnson, Bree Kalima, Hiʻilei Kamau, Ashlen Kinilau, Kaʻoi Kualiʻi, Kuʻulei Martin-Kalamau, Makana Matsuyama, Kauanoe Mitchell, Uluwehi Ornellas, Bronson Palupe, David Russel, and Kaimana Wilson.

In addition to the hui, other contributors to the mural were students from Youth Challenge, E Maka‘ala Elementary School, Laupāhoehoe Community Public Charter School, the UH Hilo Pre-Pharmacy Club, and UH Hilo residence halls.

In his remarks at the unveiling, Miyashiro noted the help of the lead artists, the painters, and the schools and businesses involved with Mele Murals, as well as their journey, especially the meditation they did to decide what to paint. “(The process) is very exciting, especially when somebody says something like, ‘Oh, I have this idea’ or five, six people go, ‘I have that idea too!’” he said, calling them “chicken skin” moments.

The mural is on a high wall on a residence hall and depicts colorful Hawaiian images of mountains, ocean, lava, birds, and plants.
The UH Hilo Mele Mural

The Unveiling

The UH Hilo Mele Mural, covered in black plastic at the start of the ceremony, was unveiled to applause and exclamations of “Wow!” The mural was then blessed in Hawaiian by Manaiakalani Kalua, kumu hula at Hawai‘i Community College.

Several core hui members spoke.

Kuʻulei Martin-Kalamau, said, “This definitely has been a journey, both spiritually and emotionally. It was really a blessing and really fun for us to collaborate together as a hui in putting all these different elements together.” They tied cultural elements with historical places attached to significant stories, she said.

Kamalani Johnson explained that the mural is named “Konikoni Ana I Ka Iwi Hilo.” He said konikoni means “to reverberate.” The concept of iwi hilo is “the very core of one’s being,” Johnson said, meaning it relates to the connection with one’s ancestors, the “deepest part of one’s identity.”

Johnson continued, “So when someone feels something — the fact when you konikoni all the way to the iwi hilo, that’s the deepest part that you can feel something. And so when we relate to our ancestors, that’s the exact way that we relate to them — it’s not in a shallow way, and that’s the way you’re able to know something’s really pa‘au (rare) in your na‘ao (gut or mind/heart).

Johnson explained the Hawaiian lyrics and mele that accompanies the mural is A Hilo Au E, which reflects the process of creating the mural, the huakaʻi (trip) exploring parts of Hilo, and the process Liholiho (King Kamehameha) also took. The mele is dedicated to Liholiho.

Kaua Mitchell explained the mural further. While in meditation, many hui members saw some of the same things, such as the number three, which is reflected in the mural. The top of the mural shows the heavens, the triangles also representing Maunakea and Mauna Loa. Pu‘uhuluhulu is represented by the light. “A very neat thing we learned is that Pu‘u Huluhulu is the center of everything, from east, north, west and south — it’s the core.” She also highlighted the importance of the ocean and Kanaloa, the water god, and the representations of past, present, and future.

Bronson Palupe explained that many different concepts are in the mural, including the concept of dualities, such as the sun and moon, day and night, and mauka (mountain) to makai (ocean). There’s the lava destroying and creating land, and the water bringing life. “Hilo was represented by its prominent features.”

The doorway shows water with a large mo‘o or lizard on a rock with sharp wicked teeth.
The doorway to the fire exit has been transformed into the cave of Hina, Maui’s mother, with the mo‘o (lizard) Kuna, who blocks the cave with a huge boulder. Click to enlarge.

Elika Jardin elaborated on the third part of wall on the side of the mural, the doorway to the fire exit is a cave, showing the cave of Hina, Maui’s mother, and the mo‘o (lizard) Kuna, who blocks her cave with a huge boulder to try killing her. Maui saves Hina, and goes after Mo‘okuna. The story is tied to the Wailuku River and Boiling Pots, where Mo‘okuna is killed by Maui.

Jardin further explained that the black figure depicted, the bird catcher, is tied to Kāwili Street. The punana (bird’s nest) was depicted to represent the revitalization that’s happening with “our ʻōlelo — our language — and our children.” Jardin said that the College of Hawaiian Language acts as a punana for its students: “We are nurtured here — we are growing — and we are sent off when we’re ready to become manu (birds). And so we try to represent the college in that way.”

Detail of mural with forest birds and a nest of eggs in the limb of a tree.
The image of a black figure, the bird catcher, standing on a winding road, is tied to Kāwili Street, the main entrance to UH Hilo. The punana (bird’s nest) represents the ʻōlelo (Hawaiian language) revitalization program at UH Hilo. Student Elika Jardin says that the College of Hawaiian Language acts as a punana for its students.

The plaque

The following is the wording found on the UH Hilo Mele Mural plaque.

Konikoni Ana I Ka Iwi Hilo

He kiʻi kēia e hoʻohanohano ana i nā moʻolelo i pana ʻia ai nā wahi o nā Hilo ʻekolu ʻo ia hoʻi ʻo Hilo One, Hilo Hanakahi, a me Hilo Palikū. No kānaka, he ala ka moʻolelo a me ka inoa e ola ai ka ʻike; he ala pū hoʻi ia e hilo pū ʻia ai ʻo ka mana. Ma kona inoa kuʻuna iho nō, ʻo ka waiho kāhela a ke one he hiʻohiʻona i ola ai ka inoa o Hilo One. ʻO ke kūnihi o ko Hilo Palikū mau pali ka mea i ola ai ʻo kona inoa. A ʻo Hilo Hanakahi, ʻo ka hana nui a ke kaulana ʻāina ʻo Hanakahi ka mea i kaulana loa ai ʻo ia a i hoʻopili ʻia ai kona inoa me ka moku nona kona kapa ʻia ʻana. ʻO nā hiʻohiʻona i hoʻohanohano ʻia, he mea ia i paʻa ko lākou moʻolelo mai o kikilo loa mai a hiki mai nō i kēia lā e neʻe aku nei.

Resonating to the Very Core

This mural celebrates the histories of our three Hilo – Hilo One, Hilo Hanakahi, and Hilo Palikū. For Hawaiians, stories and names are ways in which wisdom is preserved; it is also a way that ancestral mana is perpetuated for generations. In its own name, Hilo One captures an image of expansive sand, a noticeable characteristic of that area. Sheer, sharp cliffs depict the very nature of the name, Hilo Palikū. Hilo Hanakahi commemorates the wondrous deeds of chief Hanakahi, for whom this region is named. The intricate stories depicted herein are embedded into the landscape of Hilo and have persisted from generation to generation.

Student Core Hui

James Akau, Cindy Among-Serrao, Kāʻeo Awana, Jordan Concannon, Alexandria Gutmanis-Burian, ʻElika Jardin, Manoa Johansen, Kamalani Johnson, Bree Kalima, Hiʻilei Kamau, Ashlen Kinilau, Kaʻoi Kualiʻi, Kuʻulei Martin-Kalamau, Makana Matsuyama, Kauanoe Mitchell, Uluwehi Ornellas, Bronson Palupe, David Russel, and Kaimana Wilson.

Lead Artists

Kanoa Castro, Beethoven Sausal, Jesse “DAK.1NE” Velasquez, and Estria.

Special Mahalo

UH Hilo Office of the Chancellor, UH Hilo Hoʻokahua Project, UH Hilo Kīpuka Native Hawaiian Student Center, UH Hilo University Housing, UH Hilo Hale Kanilehua Living Learning Community, Mahea Akau, and Montana Cans.

© World Rights Reserved. 2015. The Estria Foundation. info@estria.org


About the author and photographer of this story: Kara Nelson is a senior at UH Hilo double majoring in English and Communication. She is an intern in the Office of the Chancellor and a writer for UH Hilo Stories.

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