Students explore Hawaii's rich culture


Ten students spent their spring break combining a visit to the beaches and all the beauty that Hawaii has to offer with an exploration into the claim that the state is a multicultural paradise.

Along with anthropology professor Dr. Sumi Colligan, the students studied the history of Hawaii's plantation economy and examined native Hawaiian linguistic and cultural revitalization processes that have emerged since the 1970s.

They traveled to two islands - Oahu and the Big Island. On Oahu, they stayed at the University of Hawaii-Manoa and met with one of several native Hawaiian scholars and activists, including a professor at the University's School of Native Hawaiian Studies, who spoke with them about native Hawaiian cultural perspectives.

"Learning about the indigenous people of the Hawaiian Islands, their sovereignty, and how its cultural and ethnic pride, and understanding differed in pre- and post-Colonial contact was really interesting," said Jayla Wingard '15 of Worcester, Mass.

Adam Tobin '14 of Northborough, Mass., particularly enjoyed "meeting people who genuinely care about the land and working in their beautiful taro fields." In addition, the opportunity to hear 40 preschool students at the Hawaiian Language School in Hilo sing to them in Hawaiian "melted all of our hearts."

For Wingard, learning how to speak the Native Hawaiian language was a highlight of the trip.

"It turns out I have a knack for it, and I ended up buying a book written about a Native American myth written in Hawaiian. We actually had a class that taught some of the basics of the native Hawaiian language," Wingard said. "When our teacher for the day learned we weren't taking any Hula classes she gave us an impromptu lesson on Hula, which was really fun."

"There is a distinct Hawaiian culture that is still alive and breathing, and it is regaining its strength and identity, despite the egregious American and capitalistic exploitation that has scarred the land," Tobin said. "Also, Hawaii is beautiful. There is such a rich variety of culture to learn from and experience.

In addition to working in one of the University's taro fields (right) and learning about the crop's significance to native Hawaiians, they toured various cultural sites on Oahu, including the Iolani Palace, the home of Hawaiian monarch; Japanese and Chinese Buddist temples; and an archaeological site that honors Lono, the god of agriculture and fertility.

On the Hilo side of the Big Island, they visited the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where they walked on an active volcano, and a petroglyph site with a form of native Hawaiian graffiti. On the Kona side, they went to several archaeological sites, including a large fish pond into which Hawaiians encouraged fish to flow in from the ocean.

Justina Jordano '15 of Mount Kisco, N.Y., said while it's important to learn about the intrinsic beauty and differences of other cultures through immersion, it's equally imperative to become educated about the realities and problems faced by various societies throughout the world.

"Sometimes, in a classroom, you don't fully conceptualize the reality of what you're learning," Tobin said, "and so going to Hawaii has turned my course material into true life experiences. I was able to make more profound connections by talking to the people, eating their food, playing their music, and exploring the ways in which they adapt to their world."