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Na ‘Aikane o Maui turning abandoned center into traditional arts academy

By Staff | Jul 7, 2011

From left, Vicki McCarthy, Uilani Kapu and Richard McCarthy stand outside the center.

LAHAINA — The former Malu-ulu-o-lele Cultural Center located in the heart of the Lahaina Historic District at 562A Front St. has a rich history of serving the West Side community.

Aunty Patty Nishiyama recalled, “It was a soup kitchen for plantation workers and their families during the ILWU historic strike against the Pioneer Mill.”

It’s hosted multiple nonprofit organizations, like Na Kupuna O Maui, Lahaina Open Space Society and West Maui Cultural Council. The state-owned facility has served as a senior day care facility, temporary home of the Boys and Girls Club of West Maui, art gallery, dance studio and concert and meeting hall.

“Once the Boys and Girls Club got out of the building, this place was left unoccupied for, I’d say, maybe (the past) year or year-and-a-half,” explained Keeaumoku Kapu.

Kapu is the cultural consultant of Na ‘Aikane o Maui, a 501(c)3 organization and the new tenant of the 10,500-square-foot facility.

Kapu serves as chairman of the Maui/Lanai Islands Burial Council; chair for the Native Hawaiian Historic Preservation Council, an advisory panel to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ Board of Trustees; and as a member of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council “as a traditional cultural consultant and a community organizer,” he said.

The chief officers of Na ‘Aikane o Maui are Buddy Dapitan, president; and Uilani Kapu and Deann Kaina, vice presidents.

The lease with the state for the two-story structure was signed in late April.

The group is seeking to revive the abandoned facility with lofty goals, grants and plenty of elbow grease.

Open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, it has a good start as a resource and networking gathering place.

In the office, the walls are lined with shelves filled with reference books, archival records, old pictures, environmental impact statements, county ordinances, Historic District rules and regulations, native testimonials and maps.

“Research facilities is one of the main key components that we provide,” the cultural consultant said.

“If families want to do research, if they are having problems with their land titles and stuff like that, we got the Hawaii Digest and a lot of information on Kingdom Law. If they really, really want to go into the past, we have everything that is digitized. We can do research from 1846 all the way to today,” Keeaumoku explained

“We’re going to have ten computers hooked up,” Uilani added. “The ten computers will be available for everybody to use in the resource center. We’re going to input maps of every island, every single district,” she added.

“Not everybody is equipped with a computer at home,” Uilani continued, “especially our local people; they don’t have the money for that, so we’re providing a place for them to come.”

Uilani is passionate about documenting kupuna.

“We have films; we have regular cassette tapes from all over. They can watch them. That’s what we’re encouraging for everyone to do. To do it in their own homes — do a research of their own tutu before they pass. We felt it important for our future to be able to see our kupuna. We need to hear from them. We have Aunty Primrose, Aunty Tilly, Uncle Moon, Uncle Sonny and Uncle Williama — we have all of them on video,” she said.

Keeaumoku is busy organizing workshops.

The first is a three-week, 48-hour tapa making learning experience from the crafting of the tapa beaters and stamps to finished product. The cost is $120.

“The second workshop we got coming up is in July on marshal disciplines. For a lot of our men and by invitation only, it teaches them not only the marshal physical discipline, but it also teaches them how to be orators, how to come out in the community and to represent yourself as a community network person.”

The guest list of presenters at this seminar is impressive, including Billy Richards, Judge Thomas J. Kaulukukui and Dr. Jerry Walker, to name a few.

Community meetings are planned monthly on the third Thursday. The July meeting will focus on shoreline access issues with Daniel Ornellas from the State Department of Land and Natural Resources in attendance to answer questions about this “diminishing pubic resource,” Keeaumoku said.

At the last monthly meeting, a representative from the fishery management council was the presenter.

The center is open to students in the afternoon.

“We’ve already talked with the tennis court coach (next door at the Shigesh Wakida Tennis Center). He asked if the kids can come in and do their homework before tennis, and we okayed it. We see it advancing more for our teens, our youths,” Uilani noted.

Traditional arts and crafts will be on display, taught and for sale.

The facility will be open to the public, residents and tourists alike.

Keeaumoku described his educational goals for the center: “It will be really, really encouraging to get a lot of the kupuna back over here when we start our traditional arts academy. We get Aunty Flo Makekau to come and teach feathers. We can get a lot of traditional practitioners like Sam Ka’ai coming in and doing talks and presentations. I made a huge relationship with a lot of the parties during the International Festival of Canoes — having them come inside here and doing discussions on celestial navigation, even getting into carving. Everything… like doing my weaving classes, teaching people how to make opai traps or mahiole (Hawaiian helmets).

“We want to turn this into an area for the general community to come to learn about Polynesia past, present and future,” he continued.

“This place is going to be loved by the people,” Kapu predicted.