Perpetuating Hawaiian Culture

Hale Halawai Ohana O Hanalei, where native ways are shared with young and old, kamaaina and malihini, is a promise to the community fulfilled by its founders and those who carry on

Hale Halawai Ohana O Hanalei (HHOOH) community center exudes the aloha spirit.

“I wish that feeling could rule our world,” says Carol Ann Washburn, HHOOH’s executive director, regarding the kind, gentle nature of the native culture that permeates the nonprofit.

The organization has done its best to share that Hawaiian essence since Washburn helped found HHOOH with kumu hula Naomi Leilani Maka Yokotake 20 years ago.

“There was a need to have a place where people could come and gather,” says Yokotake.

Hale Halawai Ohana O Hanalei, which means “a place for the coming together of the family of Hanalei,” was created to help facilitate the instruction of Hawaiiana not only for visitors but also for kamaaina.

“This is the host culture, and people who were coming in and visiting needed to be aware of that fact,” says Yokotake.

Washburn agrees and adds that it also was established for residents – especially new members of the community – to gain knowledge of the Hawaiian way of life.

“So that they can understand that the Hawaiian values are so valuable,” she says.

The group’s initial activities included classes in hula, Hawaiian language, lauhala weaving, quilting and ukulele. In addition, a chorus was created, as well as regular dances, concerts and family fun nights.

“It was interesting to see community members being so interested in learning,” says Washburn.

Other founding members who made HHOOH possible are Kapeka Chandler, Scott Robeson, Gaylord Wilcox, Mel Dohrman, Susan Clair and Jack Kahalo Hashimoto. Each person had the dream to inspire people to learn about Hawaiian culture and made a continuous effort to ensure that the same activities still abound at the center, which to this day is located adjacent to the soccer field in Hanalei.

One of the most notable events still offered by HHOOH is the keiki exploration program, hosted by Yokotake, which enhances children’s knowledge of the island. The program brings an opportunity to kids from the North Shore to explore other parts of the island as well as teach them about the different resources each visited area naturally offers.

“Some of the kids have never been to Kokee,” says. “You know how it is. You live in a place and you never go beyond a certain point.”

Keiki age 5 to 12 get the chance to visit Hanapepe, Salt Pond and other attractions during the annual five weeks of summer.

“They enjoy that outdoor learning environment, which they are very much a part of,” says Yokotake.

The hope is to promote compassion for the natural environment so that keiki will want to continue caring for it into the future.

“Naomi has really built the program based on Hawaiian values,” says Washburn.

This year’s theme was Malama Kaiaulu, or caring for the community. Keiki followed the practice of kokua aku, kokua mai – helping others and they will, in turn, help you. Children not only visited places around the island, they also were involved in activities such as helping kupuna, creating art projects and planting flowers.

Some 30 volunteers are needed for the program each summer. Wicki Van De Veer, president of the organization’s board, originally became involved with HHOOH as one of those volunteers by teaching drawing and painting to the children.

“One of the beautiful things about it is that our community has many different cultural threads in it, and through teaching all the kids the native Hawaiian values and living those as much as we know how brings the community and that generation together in a really good way,” says Van De Veer. “That’s one of our main visions is to build a unity among the people who do live here.

“And it’s fun,” she adds.

The nonprofit also is home to the Saturday Hanalei Farmers Market, where up to 50 local vendors sell fresh produce and food as well as traditional crafts and contemporary products on a weekly basis.

“When we look back at our original design and purpose and objectives for the center, we were able to accomplish every single goal that we have kept for ourselves,” says Yokotake, who is proud that so many have done so much voluntarily to help keep the organization in motion. “We just intuitively did it. It flowed naturally, and it’s amazing to go back and see how much was done.”

Washburn agrees. “If we said we were going to do something, we did it,” she says.

And because of their dedicated efforts, HHOOH community center is still a North Shore home where everyone is welcome.

Visit halehalawai.org for more information.

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