Hawaiian Studies

Hawaiian Studies at Punahou is designed to expose all students, Kindergarten – 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.

The Co-Directors of Hawaiian Studies work individually and collectively with faculty to incorporate elements of Hawaiian culture into their curriculum – from ‘ōlelo (language) to mele (songs) to protocol – as well as to refine and deepen the existing frameworks of courses with a Hawaiian focus. 

This integration of cultural value and understanding provides a grounding for Hawaiian language courses in a cultural and historical context, and teaches protocol to performing arts students. 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. 

Woven into the fabric of outdoor education and sustainability topics, place-based learning experiences develop students’ sense of belonging and stewardship for their natural, cultural and historical surroundings, with the Hawaiian value of mālama ‘aina.

Hawaiian values such as aloha (love), laulima (cooperation) and kupono (integrity) are woven into individual course curriculum, with an expressed value focus each month through chapel programming at all grade levels. 

Hawaiian language is introduced in grade 3, offered as a language choice in grades 7 – 12, and available as an after school immersion program in K – grade 5.

In third grade, Hawai‘i forms the baseline of the curriculum – from science and math to music and visual arts. The content covers the pre-arrival evolution of the islands, plants, animals and people. ‘ōlelo 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 lū‘au each spring semester, where all students participate in the creation of a traditional lū‘au celebration.

In the Academy, Hawaiian Culture I and II courses explore topics in ancient and modern history, and provide hands-on learning experiences, such as community service and tending the land.

The HĀ (Hawaiian Arts) after school program offers cultural immersion for all students in K – grade 12, teaching life skills and Hawaiian values through mele (songs), oli (chants), arts and crafts, and other explorations in the Hawaiian culture. Hula classes are also available for adult 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.