Perpetuating culture amidst adversity

By Mare Haimona-Riki

A university has been created at the base of Mauna Kea, with the purpose of maintaining and perpetuating culture. The name of the university is "Puuhonua ‘o Pu’uhuluhulu." 

Although, the community have been there for almost 40 days now, the university is continuing their courses on a daily basis. 

Two of the leaders of the program, Ilima Long and Presley Ah Mook Sang spoke exclusively to 'Te Ao' on the development of the educational system.


The idea came shortly after 33 kupuna (elders) were arrested, in which brought a massive influx of supporters and at the same time, a decrease in law enforcement.

“So we had a stand-down of law enforcement and a huge swell of people here. We had practitioners, professors, all kinds of experts, so we thought, lets start free classes for everybody,” says Long. 

The classes themselves are set up in a daily schedule from morning to afternoon, daily.

They cover a range of subjects, including (but not limited to) Indigenous science methods, Hawaiian History, Arts and crafts, social entrepreneurship, traditional medicine, oli and mele (chant and music) horticulture, micro-biology.

“Anything you can possibly think of,” says Ah Mook Sang.

Kupuna (elders) teaching a class, on a cold and rainy day. Source: file

The Purpose

“The real motivation is to provide education…. We are here because of education and we have a long ways to go. A lot of people are moved from the courage of the ku’upuna or the kia’i

Despite the number of notable people/performers that come to the mauna, including Jason Mamoa, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Jack Johnson, and Damian Marley, they're are constantly reminding each other of the reason they are there.

"To protect the mauna," they yell in unison.

In the beginning, we had a few dozen in each class, people didn't really know what it was, but now we easily have a couple hundred at each depending on the day," says Ah Mook Sang

Effects on other Islands/communities

Since they have started their university, other communities from different Islands have also followed suit, namely in Molokai and Maui. 

“We have had some people on the island of Moloka’i that started a small little university, and also on the island of Kuai as well,” says Ah Mook Sank. 

Ilima Long identifies the intentional contrast between the university they have created and the "University of Hawaii," saying:

The University of Hawai'i calls itself a “Hawaiian place of learning”, of course, there is a huge contradiction to that since they are at the epicentre of moving TMT forward.  So we call this “an actual place of Hawaiian learning."