Kumu Honua Mauli Ola: An Indigenous Educational Philosophy

Kumu Honua Mauli Ola Book Cover

The Kumu Honua Mauli Ola Educational Philosophy Statement was prepared in 1998 by a group of Hawaiian-speaking educators to document and to clarify the basis of schooling through Hawaiian. To ensure a wide representation of perspectives, the group was comprised of three generations of native and second language speakers of Hawaiian. These individuals came from all levels of teaching from preschool through university. Early in group retreats, held over several weekends and conducted through the Hawaiian language, the group agreed that although language revitalization is essential, it is but one of several major, interrelated elements. Documented in Hawaiian, the statement abounds with language and terms rich in Hawaiian cultural meaning and nuances not easily explained in English and beyond the scope of this publication. Without question, a full understanding of the statement can only be obtained from the original Hawaiian. Nonetheless, because we believe that it provides a philosophical template for the present and future direction of Hawaiian language medium education and contains universal elements that may be useful in other cultural and educational contexts, we present the following summary.

The Four Aspects of a Person's Mauli

At the core of the philosophy’s foundation lies the mauli Hawaiʻi, the unique life force which is cultivated by, emanates from, and distinguishes a person who self-identifies as a Hawaiian. If tended properly, this mauli, like a well-tended fire, can burn brightly. If not, like a neglected fire, it can die out. Four major elements of an individual’s life-giving mauli are identified in relationship to the parts of the body where they are tended:

Ka ʻAoʻao Piliʻuhane – the spiritual element, that is, the spirit with which we are all born and which is seated in the head, the most sacred part of the body, that recognizes right from wrong, good from bad, and that creates a relationship with everything in the universe, both seen and unseen.

Ka ʻAoʻao ʻŌlelo – the language element found in the ears, the mouth, and the tongue. Language can be used in many different ways and may be soft, rough, gentle, harsh, forthright, or secretive, but perhaps its greatest strength lies in its ability to transmit mauli to future generations.

four aspects of one's mauli

Ka ʻAoʻao Lawena – the physical behavior element found in the limbs of the body, in gestures, in the way one stands, in the way one moves the feet when walking, in a facial expression, in a smile. This element of one’s mauli is usually learned through unconscious imitation at a young age, and thus, is easily recognized and appreciated by those who share the same mauli.

Ka ʻAoʻao ʻIke Kuʻuna – the traditional knowledge element seated in the intestines, where knowledge and emotions lie, and that is expressed in traditional values and practices like the hula, poetry, and prayer. Such practices have creative aspects and, like language, can reflect misrepresentations. Thus, the true power in traditional knowledge lies in authentic practices carried out by mature people who recognize their cultural responsibility to others who share their mauli.

The Connecting Centers of the Mauli

In addition to the four elements of the mauli, which are tended within an individual’s body, there are three elements of mauli shared by a group of people that connect them to the divine, to preceding generations, and to generations to come. Found in the three centers of the body, they are the:

Piko ʻĪ – the fontanel at the top of our heads when we are babies and through which we became physically connected to the spiritual beliefs of our people.

Piko ʻŌ – the navel, attached to the umbilical cord and placenta, that connects us to our ancestors, and is closest to the naʻau, the seat of our knowledge and emotions.

Piko ʻĀ – the reproductive organs which create future generations, and by extension, represent all we create and establish.

The Places Where Our Mauli is Expressed

Mauli cannot survive if there are not also honua – places where we freely express our mauli. Life can be seen as having three basic honua as follows.

  1. Honua ʻIewe – the highly protected placenta representing the close ties of family and kinship that are the foundation of one’s mauli.
  2. Honua Kīpuka – the garden-like area where a lava flow has left a patch of uncovered forest representing the ties of community, an extended protected environment in which one develops the mauli brought from the family.
  3. Honua Ao Holoʻokoʻa – the entire world, which is where an adult who has been raised with a strong mauli expresses and shares the distinctiveness of that mauli with others from diverse backgrounds.

Download a pdf copy of the Kumu Honua Mauli Ola.