Coming into this DukeEngage experience, I knew my time here on Kaua’i would be at least somewhat transformative, teaching me things I never could have imagined. I knew that the people of this island would teach me about their culture and the aina in ways I never could have dreamed, and yet, as true as these statements turned out to be, they lacked a certain specificity as to where the majority of this information would be coming from. As much as I learned from the aunties, uncles, and kupuna of the island, most of my new knowledge has come from the North Shore’s youngest hui, the keiki.
Without knowing it, these kids have taught me more about the importance of culture, traditions, and the aina than anyone else during the entirety of my tenure here. I spent five weeks of my summer as an alaka’i for papa ‘ekolu, or the third grade hui, and every single day with those ten keiki was – as cliche as it sounds – a new adventure. On the very first day of program, two of my kids immediately caught three prawn up mauka, in Waipa stream, and then proceeded to tell me that they were going to feed them to their pet tilapia as they shoved the freshly dead shellfish into their bags. On many other occasions, while working to huki kalo in the lo’i, my keiki were quickly distracted by the abundance of bright pink apple snail eggs – which are invasive – on the kalo as they ran around collecting as many as they could so they could pulverize them into some sort of aerobic neon slime. The keiki taught me new things about the aina every single day, and after spending a day talking story with Uncle Moku, I was able to see this knowledge within the broader scope of this island’s communal culture. All this know-how about the land that these kids possess, has been passed on from generation to generation, along with knowledge of the oli, mele, mo’olelo (chant, song, story), and the culture as a whole. The keiki know the same things that their ancestors knew hundreds of years ago about how to malama aina as the kids must complete the same kuleana as everyone before them.
I have spent time reflecting on how any of this is paralleled in the kids I know from home, which mainly consists of those that attend the Florence A. DeGeorge Boys and Girls Club, a place that I was a member of for years. I do not think most of them even know that food comes from the ground or the major differences between native and invasive species, however, I have come to realize that it is all a matter of opportunity and experience. There are simply different circumstances that kids must know about and adapt to in South Florida as opposed to the very specific circumstances that keiki face on the North Shore of Kaua’i. The keiki here simply remind me of how special this land and culture is, and to never compare it with my own experiences growing up.