Hawaiian Studies

Hawaiian Studies at Punahou are designed to expose all students from kindergarten through grade 12 to core values and concepts in Hawaiian culture. These concepts include an understanding of the School’s deep roots in island history and the land itself – a gift from the Hawaiian ali`i that made possible Punahou’s founding nearly two centuries ago.

Curricular Integration

The Director of Hawaiian Studies works individually and collectively with faculty to incorporate elements of Hawaiian culture into their curriculum – from `olelo (language) to mele (songs) to protocol – as well as to refine and deepen the existing frameworks of courses with a Hawaiian focus. Examples include: bringing appropriate cultural protocol to the School’s K – 12 garden programs so that the learning experience includes the Hawaiian value of malama `aina; grounding Hawaiian language courses in a cultural and historical context; and teaching opening oli (chants) and protocol to performing arts students.

Hawaiian values such as aloha (love), laulima (cooperation) and kupono (integrity) are woven into individual course curriculum as well as through chapel programming for each grade level.


In addition to this decentralized integration of Hawaiian content across grade levels, there is a specific Hawaiian culture focus in the following program areas:

Third-grade Lu`au 

In third grade, Hawai`i forms the baseline of all curricular disciplines – from science and math to music and visual arts. The content covers the pre-arrival evolution of the islands, plants, animals and people. `Olelo Hawai`i (Hawaiian language) is taught as well as traditional customs and practices. The culminating events are Makahiki, which integrates Hawaiian games through physical education, and the Third-Grade Lu`au each spring semester, where all students participate in the creation of a traditional lu`au celebration.

Outdoor Education 

In seventh grade, an emphasis on place-based learning forms the backdrop of several day camps, including visits to Kualoa/Hakipu`u and the Reppun Farm in Waiahole. Led by the Outdoor Education staff, these experiences develop students’ sense of belonging and stewardship for their natural, cultural and historical surroundings.

Language and Culture 

Hawaiian language is offered from seventh through twelfth grade. Hawaiian Culture level I and II courses also give Academy students the opportunity to further explore topics ranging from ancient and modern history to hands-on learning experiences like community service and tending the land.

The annual May Day and Holoku program is one of the School’s most popular spring traditions, offering students from K – 12 the opportunity to learn and perform mele, oli and hula. All students from kindergarten through grade 5 participate in the May Day program; participation is optional for Middle School and Academy students.

Polynesian Voyaging Society’s Worldwide Voyage

Special initiatives offer the opportunity to incorporate overarching program themes into multiple areas of the School. One example is Punahou’s participation in the Polynesian Voyaging Society’s 2013 – 2017 Worldwide Voyage – coordinated through the Hawaiian Studies program together with the Gates Science Workshop – to provide faculty with mechanisms to incorporate relevant content around the voyage’s themes of culture, aloha and malama honua (caring for the earth) into their curriculum.

Kuaihelani Cross-School Connections

The digital recording of Hawaiian mele, especially mele significant to Punahou and Hawai‘i, was born out of a summer 2012 fellowship, Kuaihelani Cross-School Connections. The goal of the fellowship is to support, enhance and develop the Hawaiian program at Punahou School. See "Mele"


  • Founders Mo‘olelo Honors the School’s Hawaiian and Christian roots

    Posted September 12, 2017

    The Founders Play, written by faculty and acted by students, told the history of the founding of Punahou in celebration of its 175th anniversary. This year, the play was revived as the Founders Mo‘olelo (story) and performed by third, fourth and sixth-graders in Chapel services for grades K – 12.



Malia Ane
Director of Hawaiian Studies