What David Malo Means to Me

In the Future, every student will get to be David Malo for fifteen minutes. For the low price of admission, every pupil, regardless of race, culture, gender, and age, will climb through the portal into David Malo’s educated Hawai`ian brain. In the multi-cultural theme park called David Malo Land, you will spend your youth in the courts of Chief Kuakini and become an expert in the history, traditions, myths, and unwritten literature of old Hawai’i by mastering the hula. You will then leave the court and your birthplace of Kona on the Big Isle of Hawai’i to move to Lahaina, Maui where you will meet the American missionary, Reverend William Richards, and become the first pupil at Lahainaluna School. Here you will author one of the first books using the newly created Hawai`ian written language. But you, the educated Hawai`ian, will also convert to Christianity. And at the end of your David Malo journey, you will be shown the exit and given a souvenir book mark that reads, IF LAHAINALUNA IS EDEN, THEN DAVID MALO IS ADAM.

David Malo is our father. He is the first gene pair of the indigenous student DNA. In the beginning, he was the word, and the word was possibility. I revel in the wondrous possibilities of David Malo. It is good to embrace your heritage in the presence of his spirit, because I hope he had moments of tradition in what must have been an intellectual life. This much is true: David Malo documented the traditions and meanings of the hula in the book, Mo`olelo Hawai`i. At the time, there already existed ways that he could have recounted Hawai`ian traditions, but I suspect that David Malo chose to do so in writing, and not in hula, because he had chosen to embrace the new traditions that he was being educated in. If that is true, then certain historians would argue that the documenting of Hawai`ian tradition in writing diminished the importance of the hula, Hawai`i’s traditional method of documentation. I don’t know much about documentation, but I know enough about our history to recognize that the more educated human beings become, the more highly human beings extol that education. In that sense, education might be a barbaric process, enriching and enlightening to be sure, but prejudiced and intolerant as well, and possibly a hindrance for the advance, however constructive and destructive, of all civilizations.

After all, Lahainaluna School’s story has never been just the triumphant tale of the handful of Hawai`ian students that made up its first graduating class, no matter what the educators might need to believe. David Malo was not a foresaker of tradition either, no matter what the Kupuna and I might want to believe. The story of Lahainaluna School is also the story of education in Hawai`i and of the many students, from both Lahaina town and from across Hawai`i and Polynesia, who have come there to learn. Considering the public school system and the rich traditions of Hawai`i, I imagine those students were given a new lens under which to examine and pass judgments upon their world with. And it is most certainly the story of Keali`i Reichel, who, after graduating from Lahainaluna, was convicted of theft and sentenced to the community service that would spark in him a determination to embrace traditional Hawai`ian culture and become its most prominent promoter. Lahainaluna School is exactly the kind of Pidgin-English-speaking, No Child Left Behind-failing, anti-haole environment that should rightly be celebrated by anti-U.S. government traditionalists and castigated by educators.

In the end, I wonder if education might somehow not be so magical. After all, it has been nearly 200 years since Hawai`ians were given the opportunity of education, yet Hawai`ians suffer from some of the highest drug-use, poverty, and crime rates in the country. In 1887, the exclusively Hawai`ian Kamehameha Schools were founded and each year, the school offers millions of dollars in college financial aid for Hawai`ians, yet the school’s prospectus pledges that instruction would only be given in English, less it loose its recognition by the government. I remain stunned by these contradictions, by the successive generations of social, political, and artistic mutations that can be so Hawai`ian and foreign. How did we get from there to here? These islands gave life to the first newspaper West of the Rocky Mountains and the annual Merry Monarch hula festival, to the astronomical observatory atop Haleakala and the Hokule`a’s modern-day canoe voyage to Tahiti navigated only by stars, to college prep academies and Hawai`ian language immersion charter schools, to sacred sites and sugar refineries, to `oli chants and Elvis’ “Blue Hawai`i”.

As a Hawai`ian student, I want to hate my education and its contradictions. I want to believe that David Malo hated his education and its contradictions. But Hawai`i’s education system exists, in whole and in part, because David Malo came to Lahainaluna and wrote Mo`olelo Hawai`i. In the school that came to be called Lahainaluna High School, he acted as diplomat between the missionary educators and the Hawai`ians he in turn educated. Why wouldn’t he teach his Hawai`ian pupils to preserve their heritage and ways of learning because it is just as good as this new form of education from the missionaries? David Malo is a contradiction. Here in school, I exist, in whole and in part, because my mother moved me from my birthplace of Kona on the Big Isle of Hawai`i to be educated, like her and the many previous generations in my family, at Lahainaluna, so as not to break the tradition. I am a contradiction; I am David Malo.

{This is my take on the poem “What Sacagawea Means to Me” by Sherman Alexie}


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