Melissa Costa, the Ocean, and an ‘Aotearoa Goal

Aloha, I am a Hawaiian Studies student at Hawaiʻi Community College. Over the summer I took oceanography classes at University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo in an effort to learn more about the ocean that I love so much.  The appealing aspect of the courses that were offered was the fact that they were a blend of traditional Hawaiian and modern scientific concepts.  I likely would have been too intimidated to take an oceanography class if the Hawaiian component was not offered.  Once I understood how native thinking, protocols, and knowledge were integrated I felt more motivated to push my personal educational boundaries.  I learned concepts such as bathymetry, charting, sediment sampling, and plankton identification.  We also learned chants that pertained to waʻa (canoes) and traditional ʻike (knowledge) and how key information is locked into them.  By the end of the summer, everyone in the class had progressed and bonded over the love of the ocean.

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E Hana I Ka Wa’a Students

As a participant of the MARE 298 – E Hana I Ka Waʻa class that was offered in conjunction with MARE 201L Oceanography Lab, I had the opportunity to work with an amazing and diverse group of students and teachers from Hawaiʻi and the U.S. mainland. Over the course of several weeks, we learned about oceanography through a contemporary lens as well as through a native Hawaiian perspective.

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Calculating Ocean Current from the Makani ‘Aha.

We utilized the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo vessel Makani ‘Aha to conduct research and collect data in the mornings.

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It takes teamwork to the the wa’a in the ocean.

In the afternoon, we would go out in the University Canoe Club waʻa kaukahi (single hull canoes) to perform some of the same experiments in shoreline areas.

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Learning how to rig the sailing canoe.

We were also very fortunate to be able to use a sailing waʻa kaulua (double hulled canoe) “Hoʻokena” that belongs to Kaleo Pilago and his ʻohana to learn more about navigation, winds, rains, and currents in Hilo Bay.

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Sailing the Ho’okena in Hilo Bay

As a final project, we were split into groups and assigned a geographic area within Hilo Bay to research.  We each performed data collection using the waʻa kaukahi and researched the history and significance of our place.

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Presentation Day

Finally, we all presented our projects to the teachers, students, faculty, and community at Mokupāpapa Discovery Center.  This experience was one that could not have been possible without the support of the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo, the Keaholoa STEM Scholars Program, the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP), and of course our teachers, Hōkū Pihana and Kaleo Pilago along with our student assistants, boat crew, and our families.

Our group, Nā Waʻa Mauō, will be traveling to ‘Aotearoa (New Zealand) on March 2 to participate in the He Manawa Whenua Indigenous Research Conference that is being held in Hamilton, New Zealand.  We will present our experience to other indigenous peoples and show them how we have incorporated native Hawaiian practices into a modern program and how doing such enhances the overall academic experience.

I humbly ask that you take this opportunity to invest in furthering the education and growth of indigenous students by contributing to our GoFundMe or by stopping by our fundraiser car wash to be held at Just Cruisin Coffee in Hilo on Saturday, February 19th between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. at which time donations will also be accepted.  Mahalo nui loa!

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