Mana`o: Wehe Kū Ceremony at UH Mānoa

Wehe Kū Ceremony at UH Mānoa by Kimiko LaHaela Walter

My family for three generations has been raised up on Hawaiian soil. As Japanese-Americans, however, there was always a distance from indigenous Hawaiian culture--a wonderful culture that I never had the joy of coming into contact with in my youth. From Kodak Hula Shows at the Waikiki Shell to the occasional lūʻau out at Germain’s on the west side, my perception of Hawaiian culture was as distorted as the mid-20th century tourist industry wanted it to be. It wasn’t until I took a Hawaiian cultural studies class in college that I was re-introduced to Hawaiʻi--with my rose-colored glasses removed. I dove into the works of Haunani-Kay Trask and the cultural revitalization during the Hawaiian Renaissance. I reveled in the notion of Hawaiian sovereignty and the self-realization of Native Hawaiians. It has since been my prerogative to connect with and uplift indigenous Hawaiian culture, kānaka maoli and ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi in the most authentic and respectful way I can.

Fast forward to April 8, 2019. The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa hosted a modified Wehe Kū Ceremony, honoring the transition to the season of Kū and offering support to the Kiaʻi Mauna, protectors of Mauna a Wākea. I had the honor of making kī lei with kānaka friends I’ve met through other activism and political channels. When the ceremony began, I trembled with solemn admiration as the powerful oli of Lanakila Mangauil and Hāwane Rios and the beating of the pahu reverberated through my being. I wept with joy as I witnessed the students, the generation I believe can and will liberate Hawaiʻi, dancing hula and chanting with all mana heavenward. I relished joining hands at closing protocol with Kumu Hina leading us all in mele. It was a part of Hawaiian culture and spirituality that I have never experienced before and I can say with conviction, it was one of the most beautiful ceremonies I have ever witnessed. It was not performative. It was not a spectacle to behold. What it was was an offering ceremony steeped in spiritual and cultural traditions that left me weeping, with chicken skin the entire time. It was a privilege to be in the audience. This is the Hawaiʻi I have been yearning for my entire life. I stand behind the Kiaʻi, for the protection of the mauna and the ʻāina, and the sovereign rights of the native Hawaiian people.

Cheryl Burghardt