Last week, Monica “Ka’imipono” Kaiwi–Department Head of English at the Kamehameha Schools Kapalama campus–presented at U of Hawai’i’s English department colloquium series. Her presentation focused on her school’s initiative to integrate Native Hawaiian literature into their curriculum. She talked about the history and changing demographic of the English department from when she began teaching in the late eighties to her current tenure as department head. She also discussed her department’s strategy to contextualize and teach Native Hawaiian literature and literature about Hawai’i.
We were happy that there was a strong turnout from the English Department, the College of Education, as well as from Kamehameha School. We see this event as hopefully leading to future collaborations with Kamehameha’s English department. We also plan to have future events featuring other educators who teach Pacific literature & Pacific Studies in different contexts to share their strategies, curriculum, struggles, and joys.
One important truth that was echoed throughout the presentation and the discussion that followed is the importance of teaching Pacific literature at all levels of education here in the Pacific. I thank Richard Hamasaki for so eloquently articulating this truth during the discussion. There’s a long way to go before that happens, but I’m very excited to be a small part of this movement.
To introduce the event, I read this little reflection that I wrote:
We started Native Voices Reading & Lecture Series to create another space to creatively and critically address issues relating to indigenous peoples. Education is an important subject in this regard, whether we are examining the history of colonial boarding schools or looking at contemporary attempts to create indigenous pedagogies and indigenize the academy.
In “Towards a New Oceania,” Albert Wendt described education as “the most vital strand” in the development of independent Pacific nations. Conversely, he warned about how colonial education “[cuts] us away from the roots of our cultures.”
Pacific literature not only re-connects us to the roots of our cultures, but it is also a vital strand in our sovereignty movements. Echoing Haunani-Kay Trask: literature and politics are a “confluence of creativities.”
Teaching Pacific literature, then, is a vital task. We hope today’s colloquium will lead to an ongoing conversation about teaching Pacific literature in various institutions and contexts, and we hope that we can continue to collaborate with Ka’imi & the Kamehameha Schools on future events. We also hope that this will be a good space for us–as current and future educators–to share our experiences, strategies, struggles, and joys.
Epeli Hau’ofa once asked: “What kind of teaching is it to stand in front of young people from your own region, people you claim as your own, who have come to university with high hopes for the future, and you tell them that our countries are hopeless?”
Not teaching Pacific literature is like telling our students that our countries are voiceless. But when we teach the literature of our own region, we tell our students that our stories matter, that our stories will be remembered, that our stories give us hope.