Kohala, Bit by Bit

July 17, 2011 - 10:09pm


Ancient Hawaiians relied on oral traditions to perpetuate their culture and history from generation to generation. Genealogies, legends, significant events, values, beliefs, and traditional practices were memorized by gifted storytellers and preserved in the oli (chant), hula (dance), and moolelo (stories).

Modern technology is now helping play a part in preserving moolelo about Kohala.

Digitalmoku.net, scheduled to be published online Saturday, strives to share the area's rich cultural history through three- to five-minute movies, photographs, stories, as well as interviews with local residents, archeologists and cultural practitioners.

"When we lose cultural knowledge, through the loss of our kupuna and their unrecorded stories, we become disconnected from the very source of who we are, a strand in our cultural DNA is broken," said Ann Marie Nalani Kirk, an award-winning filmmaker from Maunalua, Oahu, and co-founder of Digitalmoku.net. "By providing a voice for our kupuna through technology they and their stories will live on forever in the cyber world."

With a nearly $50,000 grant from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Kirk created the website with David Kawika Parker, who is respected in the Hawaiian community as an artist, author, teacher, lecturer, historian, genealogist, scholar and researcher. His experience in all things Hawaiian spans more than 50 years.

Kirk was honored last year by the Legislature for her media work, as well as for her community activism, in the areas of public rights of way to the ocean, the preservation and protection of sacred cultural and historical sites, and the protection of ocean and open wilderness areas.

Three years ago, she created maunalua.net, which records the history of the East Oahu region and shares it with the public. Her initial intention for starting the website was to help the public, particularly elected officials and developers, make appropriate decisions about land and ocean. She discovered most people were unaware of this area's cultural history. Kirk has helped change this.

Maunalua.net has more than 30,000 hits from around the world. It has shown there are multitudes of people who care and are "hungry" for this information, which possesses "real power," Kirk said.

Digitalmoku.net will be similar to maunalua.net. It's dedicated to educating the public about Kohala and why it's important to know its history, Kirk said.

"The goal of Digitalmoku.net is to use multi-media to give voice to our ancestors and Hawaiian culture and beliefs through technology via the Internet," she said. "This is free service and accessible to all people 24/7 worldwide by the simple click of a button on the Internet. This website is intended to give the people of Hawaii a deeper understanding of the importance of place."

Kohala is the first moku (land district) that has been selected because many can trace their roots back to this place. It is also one of the most important and influential places in Hawaii's history, Kirk said.

"The work Kawika Parker and I are doing for Kohala shares the knowledge and stories we have been collecting," she said. "What we do know is there are many variations of stories and history, and what we are sharing is from our perspective. There are many perspectives for our history in Kohala, and we honor them all."

Among the people and places Digitalmoku.net visitors will learned about first are: Collin Kaholo, who explains the history of Kapalama Heiau; Jean Matsuda, who shares her memories of Camp 17 and the history of Kohala Okinawan Club; Kealoha Sugiyama, who gives a tour of Mahukona Plantation Camp where he grew up; and Henry Dulan, who recalls what life was like at Halaula Plantation Camp. Collecting and formatting these stories was "a long, exciting and rewarding process," which began last summer, Kirk said.

A sneak peak of the website was held July 16 at the North Kohala Resource Center in Hawi.

Parker and Kirk want to add more districts in the future because each island has an unique moku, which they believe should be studied by locals and visitors alike. Kirk likened Digitalmoku.net to a digital sea of islands, where the guiding star to navigate your way is www and the computer is the canoe. With a simple click of a few buttons, she said all this information is available and easy to navigate.

"Knowing the websites are accessible world wide, Hawaiians living anywhere in the world can learn of their roots. Also, immigrant settlers in this area will also have their story told so their descendants can take pride of the sacrifice and courage of their early ancestors," she said. "The website will continue to grow as more information is gathered. There's no ending to this website as long as the community accepts it, likes it, wants to share and be a part of it."

For more information or to contribute to Digitalmoku.net, call Kirk at 371-3072 or email annmarie@hawaii.rr.com.