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Andrews, Alva (on native education)

Hōkū Akana
June 2012

A welcome change from the icy rains that hit Oʻahu in March, the warm April winds beckon us onto the lānai. Shaded by a huge mango tree, we take in the breaktaking view of the lush valley of Waimānalo at the foot of Koʻolaupoko. Lomi master and Hawaiian elder Uncle Alva Andrews looks on as his alakaʻi administers lomi lomi to a patient on the table. Uncle Alva sat with Kaʻiwakīloumoku to talk story about his experiences in education for Hawaiians in the past and present.

HA: Uncle, could you tell us a little bit about your background?

AA: Sure, I grew up in the original Damien Tract that went from Elliot Street to Lagoon Drive. Damien tract was originally leased to the military to build houses for the military. After World War II, the houses were used to house plantation, low income, and immigrant workers to live for $200 a year. I grew up there, attending schools in the area from Kololoa to Āliamanu Elementary, and then Radford High School. On one of the larger 2-acre parcels of land, our tūtū grew every kind of flower there was to make lei for the harbors. When they shut off the water in the area, the families moved out and I believe that Damien Estates traded the land with the State in return for tax forgiveness on back taxes.

HA: Wow! I learned something new! What happened when the families moved out of the area?

AA: The Honolulu Airport was built once families left the area. If you go to Gate 10 on the Continental departure/arrival area, you’d be literally standing in my tūtū’s living room. Once the airport was built, my tūtū ran one of the first lei stands at the airport, her name was Esther Andrews. Her namesake lei stand, Esther’s, is still there today as they have found that in keeping the names, they are also able to build on generations of families that have known the name and used the business.

HA: No way! Such an iconic concept, and your tūtū helped to start that! Uncle, what were your general experiences in education for Hawaiian children growing up?

AA: When I was younger, my education began at home within the ‘ohana. They taught me respect, discipline, ethical and moral values which prepared me for my teachers at school. In school, the average classes of thirty to forty kids were seated in a circle around the teacher. So it was understood that it is the teacher’s responsibility to teach, and the student’s responsibility to learn.

HA: Was there a place for cultural identity/appropriateness in the classroom when you attended school?

AA: Yes, a protocol of respect happened every day. To start with, the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag and then prayer, created a protocol for students to pay homage to our governing body, the soldiers who died, and our God; this allowed students to clear their minds and leave their distractions at the door, to get ready for learning during the day. Most of this protocol has been removed from the public school system, but I feel that it is so necessary to teach kids appropriate behavior and respect for cultural ethics: what is good and bad behavior.

HA: How do you see it as similar or different to education today?

AA: I worked with Alu Like as a cultural counselor servicing the students in the Public School System and at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility in Kailua with the kids who were in jail. This program provided hands-on opportunities to work with cultural mentors who were community people that came from the Sunset Beach area to Waimānalo. Within 7 years we had shown success in higher rates of graduation and lower rates of repeat offenses yet program funding was cut. I feel that it worked well because it included cultural intellect in general education; creating a place for hoʻoponopono for the child within the legal (court) and education systems that they had to deal with.

Our Hawaiian people have always learned best, hands-on; when I was young, if a teacher saw that a student was going to fall asleep, they got the class up to go outside. Education was framed so that it could engage all levels of education instead of placing them in a category and giving students a reason and expectation to fail. My teachers pushed each and every one of us to be good at something, to be the best that we could; but there was also no early dismissal on Wednesdays or training days, we were engaged every day. I understand that not everyone can go to college; I, myself, barely made it out of high school, but that doesn’t mean that these kids are not going to be successful. To me, mainstream teachers in my time made a compromise to include cultural intellect, gave it value and it was important, so students found it valuable and important. After high school, my dad gave me a chance to learn forklift and back hoe driving that gave me my first jobs; I returned to my first teachers, my family; and in my day, that’s who laid the foundation to educate children.

Today, families need both parents to support them. Gone are the days that dad went to work, while mom stayed home to cook and care for the keiki. Today, I’d like to see kāne take a more active role in raising their families. Get off the TV and pay attention to their families: help get the kids to ‘auʻau and maybe help to make dinner here and there! For our males especially, but for all keiki, without strong cultural role models that live a culturally Hawaiian lifestyle, our kids take on the persona of other native people that they see on TV, on the internet, and in media. This is why I can’t believe that young Hawaiians come into the classroom wearing hats and beach wear; in my time, you couldn’t wear those types of clothes to school. Now, I’m not saying that they have to wear a strict uniform, but tank tops, slippers, and short shorts are not appropriate for learning. How can you learn, when you are thinking of the beach? Even worse, what is considered acceptable responses, nicknames, or behaviors are being modeled after the African American, which is valuable, but not Hawaiian. Without strong cultural role models, our keiki are becoming confused at who they are and modeling after another cultural persona. This is another reason why including cultural knowledge into mainstream education is so important for our kids.

HA: So today, do you believe that parents should still take that important role in education for children?

AA: The home environment is important for a child to be fed well, with social and emotional support. Culturally speaking, parents are also responsible for teaching a child control and discipline. As a child, my parents kept me involved in some sort of martial arts to keep me busy. That experience taught me discipline which led me to lua and brought me to my craft of lomi lomi. I learned the foundation for my craft at home between ages 5 and 14, at a time when my tūtū could heal a person by just looking at them with her eyes. Now, as I teach my students, we use hoʻoponopono to settle a person’s naʻau before working on their physical bodies. I tell my students, to leave all their distractions at the door. Yet, we take the time to be still, connect, sit and talk before doing any lomi to make sure that their minds, hearts and thoughts are in the right place. People have come to me offering large amounts of money to ask for 1 or 2 hour training sessions in lomi, but without the cultural knowledge of hoʻoponopono it is only massage; and when patients leave, they say that something different has happened. They say that they have had lomi before, but never like this. I tell them, you had a massage but you didn’t have lomi. At the end of the day, cultural ways are very spiritual; if we separate it out, without the spiritual process, the problem will never be fixed: the student will not learn, and the pain will not go away.

HA: So, Uncle, you believe that there is room for this cultural knowledge in education?

AA: There is always time to make room; my teachers always believed in including rather than excluding, based on the ‘ohana, our people do not discard a child who cannot fit our expectations. We pay attention to what the child is good at and push them towards success in that area; our kūpuna did that and I like to continue that in my own teaching here!