hawaiian values-based lessons

Each quarter we focus on one of our core Hawaiian values. A variety of lessons based on the theme have been developed as a resource for our teachers, schools, and mentoring program participants to supplement the hands-on learning that occurs on-site.


As a main staple of the Hawaiian people, kalo is considered sacred and treated with great respect. To lay the foundation for the year, students are introduced to the mindset and importance of respect and how it relates to all aspects of their lives.

Nani ke kalo, beautiful the taro, is our foundational lesson at Hoʻokuaʻāina that sets the tone for everything that takes place at Kapalai. As the main staple and elder sibling of the Hawaiian people, kalo (taro) was considered sacred. Hence, when working with or preparing kalo to be eaten, great respect must be given and demonstrated. 

We see this in the moʻolelo of Hāloa, one of the Hawaiian creation stories. In it, Wākea and Hoʻohōkūkalani have a child. When it comes time for that child to be born, they find that he, unfortunately, is without life, so they bury the baby outside of the hale. In their mourning, they are consoled when they find that out of the area that the child was buried, came forth the first kalo plant, which they name Hāloanakalaukapalili. Hoʻohōkūkalani becomes pregnant again, this time giving birth to a healthy baby boy, who they also name Hāloa, after his kuaʻana (elder brother). Hāloa the kaikaina (younger brother) becomes the first aliʻi and the progenitor of the Hawaiian people, establishing in the Hawaiian world the familial connection of all Hawaiians to kalo. In the moʻolelo, we are reminded of our kuleana (responsibility, privilege) as kānaka (people) to mālama (care for) kalo, who in turn will feed, care for, and nourish us. 

Everyone’s life has purpose and meaning, therefore, loving, caring for, and respecting oneself is essential to being able to respect anything else. For us at Hoʻokuaʻāina, the phrase “nani ke kalo” reminds us to carry ourselves with great respect. Visitors are challenged to contemplate thoughts about themselves and shift their perspective, if needed, to consider the great value of their own life. All participants are to use the expression “nani ke kalo” as a reminder that they are sacred and must carry themselves accordingly. In addition, this expression is to be used to encourage others, who may not be thinking, speaking, or acting in such a way. After recognizing the value and importance of our own lives, we are then able to respect and care for ʻāina and for others in our families, classes, and community.




An exploration into the Hawaiian concept of well-being grounded in a relationship with akua, kānaka, ʻāina & kai. Students are challenged to be intentional and purposeful in fostering those relationships to benefit themselves and thrive in a state of lōkahi.

huli ka lima i lalo, ola

Huli ka lima i lalo means to turn the hand down. When our hands are turned down, they are working, they are productive, and they are stewarding that which is in front of them. This ‘ōlelo noʻeau invokes the image of hands planted in the lepo (dirt, earth) as they care for ʻāina. These hands are not just turned up waiting for something to happen or waiting for others to step in. They are taking initiative, they are planting and connecting, serving, helping, and stewarding well the kuleana (responsibility, privilege) they are given. They are caring well for ʻāina as well as for other kanaka, and it is from that place of both connection and action, that there is ola (life and health). 

Through our cultivation of ʻāina, we as kanaka (people) have the privilege as well as the responsibility of helping ʻāina to thrive. It is not a hands-off approach, as we sometimes hear. The goal is not to remove people from ʻāina indefinitely. From a Hawaiian perspective, the health and wellbeing of both ʻāina and kanaka are tied and kanaka has a kuleana to mālama (care for) this relationship. When ʻāina is sick, we become sick, and when it is thriving, we also thrive; and vice versa. We see this in the cultivation of kalo. Kalo needs to be planted and tended to in order to thrive. While it can grow on its own, it responds best to the care of kanaka. This relationship, in and of itself, is lifegiving to both people and ʻāina, and, when cultivated well, the result is good, healthy, healing ʻai (food, taro) that nourishes us in mind, body, and spirit.




Students are encouraged to grow in their understanding and practice of being community-minded by working on a collective task. They will realize their connection to the larger whole and the power they have to impact and positively contribute to their community.

he waʻa he moku, he moku he waʻa

Imagine you are preparing to sail thousands of miles away. What would you take with you? What skills and resources will you need to complete your journey successfully? How are you preparing? 

As you launch out and begin your journey into the open ocean, the reality sets in that everything you and your crew need to sustain yourself is on board. You are surrounded by hundreds of miles of ocean in all directions.

In Hawaiian, the name for the area on the waʻa (voyaging canoe) where people typically stand is sometimes known as the honua. Honua also means land or earth, which gives us incredible insight into the Hawaiian way of thinking about voyaging as well as island life. The navigators sailing between Hawaiʻi and Tahiti stand on the same honua as their ʻohana whose feet are planted in the loʻi of Kailua. Both practice incredible skill, both have a vision for what they cannot yet physically see, and both are incredibly aware of their reliance on ʻāina and on that outside of themselves.

This ʻōlelo noʻeau reminds us of our dependence on the finite resources available on an island as well as our dependence on one another. When we are voyaging long distances on a waʻa, there is a heightened awareness of the amount and quality of the resources on board, and everyone has the kuleana to steward them well. A failure to do so can be dangerous and even fatal. 

In addition, we are acutely aware of who is on our waʻa with us and where we are going. When encountering situations that can change in an instant and that will have serious consequences, it is important to know who we are traveling with, what they bring to the table, and how our skills and strengths complement one another, in spite of our shortcomings. We need to consistently bring our best selves forward and work to maintain clear lines of communication.

While the conveniences of life today may paint a very different picture, life on an island, and perhaps on the earth, is not all that different from that on a waʻa. Our present climate crisis and concerns over water quality and access to healthy food remind us of our urgent need to step into our kuleana as kānaka who truly mālama (care for) ʻāina. This ʻōlelo noʻeau helps us to remember that where we stand on the honua today is not all that different from standing on the honua of the waʻa in the middle of the ocean. Our kuleana does not change. Perhaps by remembering this, we will be able to work together as a community to steer our waʻa in a direction that brings life and abundance for generations to come.




Hawaiians measured wealth and abundance by the amount of food and resources that could be produced and shared. Students celebrate the abundance of the ʻāina by preparing and eating the kalo they helped cultivate throughout the year literally enjoying the “fruits of their labor.”

na ke kanaka mahiʻai ka imu ō nui

Na ke kanaka mahiʻai ka imu ō nui, the well filled imu belongs to the one who tills the soil, asks us to consider what does it mean to be wealthy? How do we quantify wealth? One might argue that the way a society quantifies wealth speaks to what it truly values. In Hawaiian, the word for wealth and riches is waiwai. Here we see the word wai (freshwater) repeated twice, emphasizing its importance. Water brings life to both land and people. This partnership allows land to be cultivated, in turn producing food that nourishes body, mind, and spirit. 

This process requires time, commitment, vision, and a lot of hard work. It takes around a year for kalo (taro) to grow to maturity. Within that time, you may need to cultivate and fertilize the soil, build up the kuāuna (banks), pull weeds, cut grass, rebuild mounds, clear out and maintain the ʻauwai (irrigated ditches/waterways), pull some more weeds, and then, after months of tending, you are ready to huki ʻai (pull the kalo). 

In Hawaiʻi, as in many cultures around the world, food is enjoyed communally and is often a way we express our aloha for one another. Being able to not only sustain yourself but also present your loved ones with ʻai (food, taro) that you poured your own hard work and dedication into growing is seen as a mark of wealth.

This ʻōlelo noʻeau reminds us that celebrating abundance comes as a result of hard work.

It might take months, or perhaps years, of hana (work) to grow enough food to fill an imu (underground oven). However, that commitment to everyday tasks means that in the end, one is able to share and enjoy what was produced through seasons of labor. This is waiwai.

As we savor the things we are enjoying in this season, let us also reflect on and appreciate the times of challenge and perseverance it took us to get here. 

By that same token, let us also remember that if we are ʻono (craving) for poi today, we should have been thinking about it a year ago. What do we want to be able to enjoy in the future and are there ways we need to begin preparing today?