The Third-Grade Lū‘au, a 40-Year Tradition

Rachel Breitweser ’03

March 23, 2016

“Dig the pig!” “Dig the pig!” The third-graders’ elated chants filled the halls of the Winne Units as the dirt topping the imu was shoveled away.

The mouthwatering aroma of steamed pork, laulau and other traditional fare signified the culmination of weeks of anticipation for the Class of 2025, teachers, staff and parents participating in the Third-Grade Lū‘au, a tradition and essential event in the grade's yearlong study of Hawaiian culture and history.

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Each day leading up to the big affair on Friday, March 18, was full of prep work. Students used traditional methods and tools, like ‘opihi shells and bamboo knives, to complete each task and demonstrated ancient Hawaiians of values of aloha, kuleana (responsibility) and laulima (cooperation).

Monday, students unearthed sweet potato and corms of kalo from the Winne gardens and made woven hala leaf headbands for themselves. Tuesday, the children husked, cracked and scraped coconuts for luscious haupia and learned to intertwine the palm’s fronds together to form a sturdy plate. Wednesday, students transformed kalo into pa‘i‘ai, using traditional pounding techniques, and on Thursday, little hands were busy wrapping chicken in kalo leaf bundles for laulau. These were just some highlights of the many activities.

After all the hard work, students were ecstatic about enjoying the fruits of their labors. Afatia ‘25 declared: “I’m excited to eat kulolo,” a sticky sweet mix of pa‘i‘ai, coconut milk and sugar. “I’m looking forward to the games,” said classmate Aidan ‘25.

Students were all smiles as they sat down to enjoy Friday’s feast. Mats and decorations of flowers and ti leaves completed the look and feel of the Lū‘au. After eating, students had a great time trying their hand at traditional makahiki games, like ae‘o (stilt walking), ‘ulu maika (stone bowling) and a huki huki (tug-of-war).

“It’s really fun for the kids,” said Tai Crouch who started the Third-Grade Lū‘au 40 years ago. “This is such a wonderful experience for the students,” echoed BJ Namba, a third-grade teacher who helps coordinate the event.

Although Friday marked the conclusion of this year’s event, it’s a day that won't soon be forgotten. “It’s been a very sentimental and a special time,” said Namba, reflecting on the fact that this will be the final year the Lū‘au will take place in the Winne Units. So integral to the third-grade curriculum, the Lū‘au has helped shaped the learning environment into what it is today.

To commemorate Winne, special flags were hung around its halls. On the evening the imu was loaded, longtime volunteers stayed late into the night, playing guitar and ukulele, dancing hula and reminiscing about the wonderful years spent there.

“It’s really sad,” said Namba. “But we know that we can build the same sense of community and love in our new buildings.”

In the future, the Third-Grade Lū‘au will take place in the new grades 2 – 5 neighborhood, which has been intentionally designed to incorporate island-based Hawaiian themes and is inspired by the ahupua‘a concept.

A Hawaiian hale, large enough to house an entire grade level, and adjoining imu will form the new setting for cultural activities such as the Lū‘au. Students will cultivate canoe plants like taro and sweet potato on a series of irrigated terraces on the slope between the hale and the waters of Ka Punahou.

The themes that form the curricular anchor for third-graders will be a shared experience for all students in the state-of-the-art neighborhood. The new features promise to ensure the continuation and expansion of the important four-decades-long tradition.

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