HOMETOWN LEGENDS and ISLAND COWGIRLS are two films that are preserving ʻike Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian Knowledge) from nā kupuna (elders) themselves. It is tradition for nā kupuna to pass down knowledge to the younger generations by ma ka hana ka ʻike, learning by doing. In these films, the audience watches as nā kupuna reminisce on their own lives, share their manaʻo (thoughts), and show themselves doing a specific cultural practice and tradition. Many of these traditions were passed down to them from their kupuna.

HOMETOWN LEGENDS is a feature documentary by Kānaka Maoli filmmakers Nainoa Langer and Kolby Akamu Moser. The documentary follows several Kūpuna in Moku o Keawe (Hawaiʻi island) as they share their ʻike and manaʻo of traditional skills they have honed, for many of them, since they were keiki. Specifically, Robert Sonny Keakealani, Jr who is a Paniolo/Cowboy in Waimea, John Keoni Aweau Turalde who is a pahu drum maker in Keaukaha, Willy Kaupiko who is a lawaiʻa/fisherman from Miloliʻi, Manny Veincent who is a paddler in Waimea, and Shirley Kauhaihao who is a weaver from Kealia.

I have had the privilege of seeing this film for the first time in Spring 2023 during the Lāhui Research Conference put on by Native Hawaiian Student Services in the East-West Center at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa campus. As part of this, I got the opportunity to talk story with Nainoa, Kolby, and Aunty Shirley. They talked of the importance of preserving the ʻike of our kupuna in such a medium as film in the hopes it inspires the next generations of Kūpuna, AKA the keiki (children) today. The filmmakers also expressed interest in creating more of these films to be able to preserve and share more ʻike Hawaiʻi from kūpuna themselves. Hometown Legends is reminding Kānaka Maoli audiences that education doesn’t just come from a textbook. Traditionally, our people were oral and ʻike has always come from a living source. We must look to and talk to our kūpuna, our elders and ancestors, to keep our culture and traditions alive.

ISLAND COWGIRLS is a documentary from filmmakers Alison Week and Liz Barney. This film follows two Hawaiian Paniolo/cowboy ʻohana on the island of Hawaiʻi. A central theme of this film was that of the pilina (valuable connection) built between these ʻohana and the ʻāina/land. It was very evident that both these ʻohana had the profound Hawaiian understanding of aloha ʻāina, which means much more than just “love the land.” Aloha ʻāina is the complex understanding of loving and caring for the ʻāina the way you love and care for your ʻohana. It is the understanding that the ʻāina is your ʻohana. Seeing the way in which these two ʻohana have taken on the difficult kuleana (responsibility) of being paniolo… it is so beautiful to witness that on-screen.

Though both ʻohana talk about many hardships they face such as leases ending for their ʻāina, parents worrying about the kūlana (burden) and kuleana (responsibility) they are passing down to their own keiki, the threat of invasive species creating fire hazards for their ranch… both ʻohana still carry so much hope. Both ʻohana are doing as much as they can to care for the land and are reminding everyone that they’re doing a damn good job doing so. These ʻohana are the legacy of their kūpuna who took care of these ʻāina before them. It is the intention of the ʻohana living today to pass the same ʻike down to the next generations and for them to care for the same ʻāina in the future.

In both of these beautiful documentaries, the question “he aha ka hoʻoilina?” seems to be answered. What is a legacy? A legacy is seeing that the future generations have put to practice what they learned from us. A legacy is seeing that we, now, are doing what was taught to us by our kūpuna. A legacy is seeing that the lands our kūpuna once lived and thrived on are now being lived on by us and our keiki. A legacy is the cycle of passing down ʻike and making those who came before us, those who are living today, and those yet to come proud of each other. A legacy is seeing the joy of Kānaka Maoli while they mālama (care for) their culture and homeland.

Find out more about HOMETOWN LEGENDS at their official website. Watch ISLAND COWGIRLS, streaming on demand, at PBSHawaii.org.

Pualalea Panaewa is a Kanaka ʻŌiwi (Native Hawaiian) filmmaker, actor, and organizer. Being born and raised in Waiʻanae, Oʻahu, heavily immersed in Hawaiian history and culture. She is passionate about preserving nā moʻolelo o Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian histories & stories) through film for Native Hawaiian audiences and beyond.  They are dedicated to combating the misrepresentation of Hawaiʻi in the media. Pualalea currently attends the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, where they study Digital Cinema in The School of Cinematic Arts with a focus on Indigenous filmmaking.

The HIFF ONLINE CREATIVES & CRITICS IMMERSIVE (HOCCI) program supports sustainable film criticism in Hawai‘i through mentorship and paid career opportunities. The mission of HOCCI is to broaden diversity in film criticism across the Pacific region and use influencer branding strategies to spark career opportunities in Hawai’i, not be hampered by oceans, state borders and distance, because geography is no longer a barrier. The 2023 HOCCI is supported by Critical Minded, a grant-making and learning initiative that supports cultural critics of color in the United States.

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