A Hawaiian Cultural Center


Source: August 2004 Ka Wai Ola o OHA Column

`Ano`ai kakou…  It seems like almost every community in the state has its own cultural center except us.

The Okinawans have two of them.  The Maui Okinawa Cultural Center and the Hawaii Okinawa Center in Waipahu serve as a lively gathering place for the Okinawan community.

The Filipino Community Center in Waipahu was built to perpetuate and preserve Filipino culture.  The Japanese Cultural Center in Moiliili aspires to create a deeper knowledge of Japanese heritage.  The local Korean community is in the process of building a cultural center of their own where future generations can learn about their heritage and history.

So just why is every community so eager to build a community center? 

The Filipino community wanted a special place where they could feel comfortable participating in social and recreational activities.

The Japanese community wanted a place where future generations could look back and be fully conscious of their roots.  They also wanted a convenient and hospitable gathering place for the study, display, demonstration and interchange of such arts, culture, history, and language.

The Korean community wants a meeting place for the Korean community and a museum to preserve their history.

The Hawaii Okinawa Center provides meeting facilities, a library, an exhibit room and the office space.  They also have a 1,200-seat capacity auditorium and banquet hall, which provide a natural setting for cultural shows, performances, banquets, conferences, and receptions.

OHA’s constitutional mandate is to better the conditions of Native Hawaiians by protecting their entitlement rights, land, culture, language, and perpetuating their lifestyle and environmental resources.  An authentic Hawaiian Cultural Center should clearly be one of OHA’s top priorities.

So where is the Hawaiian Cultural Center?  The issue has been approached many times by many organizations but nothing has ever materialized.  Hawaiians have unique needs and concerns and yet we are simply lumped together with the general population and expected to assimilate.  This borders on the criminal.  We are the host culture, the same culture that is sold to the tourists. 

Shame on us for not creating a place of our own.  Other Polynesian cultures have already built focal points for their communities.

The Māori of Aotearoa/New Zealand have the Marae, a sacred open meeting area, and communal meeting house.  The Marae is a place with the greatest mana, the place of greatest spirituality; the place that heightens people’s dignity, and the place in which Māori customs are given ultimate expression.  It is the home of traditional Māori community life where official functions celebrations, weddings, christenings, tribal reunions, funerals take place.

Tahitians have open air sanctuaries also known as Marae.  All important events of a secular nature such as peace treaties, celebrations of war, or voyage preparations were held at the Marae.

So what would a Hawaiian Cultural Center look like?  In addition to serving to preserve, protect and perpetuate our unique traditions, customs, spiritual values and practices, the Center can also provide a place for: 

  • Large gatherings;
  • A market place where Hawaiian-made products and merchandise can be sold;
  • After school and weekend programs for our keiki and kupuna;
  • Learning Hawaiian history, language, cultural practices, music, crafts, the environment, seafaring, healing arts, martial arts; and
  • Archive Library and Genealogy Research Center.

OHA could be instrumental in getting the State to donate some land for a Center or negotiate a 99-year lease with the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.  Perhaps even a private company could donate some land.  The Filipino Cultural Center is built on land donated by AMFAC.  The goal of the center should be to eventually become self-sustaining, perhaps by becoming a major world-class visitor destination where anyone can experience, study and practice our living Hawaiian culture.

Sounds like wishful thinking?  Think again.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way.  I mua e Hawai’i nei…