Ann Marie Nalani Kirk is in the final stretch of her Pacific Islands studies MA program. Prior to joining the program she was actively engaged in work as a producer and director for the Tele-school Branch of the Hawai‘i State Department of Education and also active in the community. In 2008, Ann Marie launched a website,, featuring the unique history of the Maunalua Bay area on kūpuna (elders) and other people who are particularly knowledgeable about the environment and history of the area. In the following interview with the editor, Ann Marie talks about the site and her experiences in the MA program.

Before you started on your master’s, you had been out of school for a while and were heavily immersed in filming projects. What led you back to school and the MA program?

I had been doing a number of projects with Pacific themes through the years: from art and music to language, history, and archeology. I found the more projects I became involved in regarding the Pacific, the more questions I had, and the more I wanted to learn. I also wanted to make sure I was properly representing the stories of the people and cultures I was telling—an MA in Pacific Islands studies was the right fit for me.

In addition, one day I would like to teach digital storytelling at the college level. I would like to guide those who want to tell stories that reflect who they are and their Pacific culture. I feel having an MA in Pacific Islands studies makes sense for what I would like to do.

What do you think was the most valuable part, for you, of being in the MA program?

I know I should say it was a particular book I read, a film I saw, or class I took, but—honestly, for me—the most valuable part of the CPIS MA program was the incredible relationships I developed with other CPIS students from all over the Pacific and the continental US. Many times our student discussions would start in the academic classroom setting, but then they would spill over to Mānoa Gardens, where we would sit for hours discussing topics related to the Pacific and the specific areas we call home. AND, of course, through laughing, sharing beers (‘awa and sodas too) and, while talking story, we all got to know each other, and we became close friends.

It became extremely important for me to know what my friends in CPIS thought about particular issues in the Pacific, in their homelands, in their hometowns. Their thoughts, their voices, informed me about what our future can be in the Pacific, because they are the ones who will be creating positive change in the coming years. It’s a privilege for me to call my CPIS cohort my friends. I’m excited to see the work they will be doing in the future.

The site is so rich. How did you get involved in that, and what has it been like to work on the site?

Mahalo for your kind words about the website. I had been working on community issues like the establishment of public rights-of-way for East O‘ahu and the protection of cultural and historical sites in our area. What I discovered is that the larger community, and elected officials who make decisions about the future of our community, had really no idea of the long and deep cultural history of East O‘ahu and the importance of knowing and honoring that history for future generations by making appropriate decisions about our land and ocean areas. Should we really be allowing development over known cultural sites, as has been done in the past? Should we allow people to block access to the ocean when there is a long history of community use of the ocean in our area? And why do people speak of the developer Henry J Kaiser “creating” the Hawai‘i Kai community in East O‘ahu 40 years ago, not recognizing or being aware that Hawaiians have been living in the Maunalua community for over 1,000 years?

I had been collecting stories about Maunalua through the years as a hobby and then as a way of teaching others about the importance of the establishment of public rights-of-way to the ocean. Now, this information had a greater purpose: to educate the larger community about the place they live and why it is important to know its history—the history of Maunalua.

I thought, what would be the easiest and most effective way to get this information together so people could learn about East O‘ahu? My answer was the Internet. In my [MA] portfolio project I write about a digital sea of islands, where the guiding star to navigate your way is www. The Internet provided a place where I could put photographs; film; interviews with community members, cultural practitioners, archeologists, and historians; Hawaiian newspapers; and historical documents about Maunalua. With the click of just a few buttons, all this information about East O‘ahu is available and easy to navigate.

What I was doing with for the community fit in perfectly with my CPIS MA focus on digital storytelling. For the website I did numerous interviews with people, research online and in libraries, and research through community members’ private photos and documents—it was an enormous amount of work, but extremely rewarding. On the website there is currently over an hour and a half of movies. Many more movies will be posted at the website in the future.

Through the process of creating the website I began to see Maunalua through the eyes of my ancestors. I could see through the modern development, and begin to see the fishponds, heiau (places of worship) sites, house sites, and the people who once lived here. My visual landscape of Maunalua is forever changed, and I am so grateful for that—the past and present coexist in my vision.

It has been an incredible journey to put the Maunalua website together. I had no idea how much I would learn about Maunalua and how much people would want to share and be a part of the site. Kūpuna (elders) who thought people didn’t care about their stories and the history they know of East O‘ahu now know there are multitudes of people who care. It’s really exciting capturing the history from ku¯puna who want to share their stories with me.

The website, at, has been online for over a year now, and has had over 25,000 hits from around the world. I have been overwhelmed by the community response to the website and, more importantly, my goal to have people learn the history of Maunalua is a reality.

The motto I created for is Learn–Remember–Share. It’s simple and clear. I feel a huge responsibility to Maunalua to make sure I properly represent and share its stories. I also feel an enormous amount of aloha for Maunalua. It is a special place for me, the place I call home.

Where do you go from here? What projects will you be involved in?

I just finished a film on my grandfather Colonel Oliver H Kupau. It’s titled Homealani, and it will have its premiere on 13 December 2009 in Honolulu, at the Kamehameha Schools Kapālama campus. I’m really excited for people to come and see it. It’s a very personal film, but I hope people who see it will see the story of my grandfather speaks to many Hawaiians of his time who had to learn how to navigate and find balance living in a both a Hawaiian world and the Western world. It’s something many Hawaiians today are still trying to figure out how to do.

I am also in the beginning process of working with the Hawaiian Language Immersion office of the Hawai‘i Department of Education to produce a 9-part television series on Hawaiian-language newspapers from the 1800s and early 1900s. High school students in the immersion program will research the newspapers and create projects about what they’ve discovered. I think it’s going to be a really great series. It will be on in 2010.

I’m also in pre-production for a series I did a number of years ago entitled “Eazy Tunes.” It’s a really popular series, and I have a chance now to create new programs for it. “Eazy Tunes” is a television music show featuring island entertainers teaching students and community members how to play guitar. It’s a lot of fun to do and will be on air in 2010 as well.

I've been working on a few writing projects, one of which is a book about Maunalua, with the president of the Maunalua Fishpond Heritage Center, Chris Cramer. We don't have a target date for when it will be out, but I’m thinking definitely in the next few years.

AND continues on—the little website that could! I am currently collecting stories in Waimānalo, since parts of Maunalua were once part of Waimānalo. The Waimānalo community is so appreciative they are becoming part of the website, and, like the Maunalua community, they have been wonderful to work with. At this point, I actually have more information off the website than I have on it. I am just trying to find the time to work on it. Funny—a hobby became a community project, became my CPIS MA, and has returned to a hobby gone wild! And it is a hobby I know will continue to be a part of my life for many, many more years to come.