The Halawa School

A personal connection to a historic place

By Catherine Aki

When my grandfather died, my grandmother went on a cruise to Hawaii with her sister. The visit prompted her to tell us about her family and how they almost moved to Hawaii during the Depression.  She told us, “You could have been raised in Hawaii.” At the time I was in my teens so the details of the story have faded with time. Later in life I would learn that I had family who already lived in Hawaii.

More recently, I read through a 1936 Star Bulletin article about the 50th year Halawa School Anniversary. The school had originally been built with three rooms, in 1886, by a man named Henry Van Gieson. The school was so popular that students came from as far away as Kaunakakai through Kamalo, Kaluaaha, Waialua, Honouli, and Wailau even though those communities had schools of their own. After ten years Van Gieson left.

The succession of teachers after that were Mr. Wilson, Mr. Wagner, Peter Pascal, Simeon Kalua, Miss Emma Kane, Mathew Kane and David Kalaau who taught for more that 24 years. At the time of the anniversary, Edwin Kaupu was the principal.  The invocation of the ceremony was given by Rev. Issac D.  Iaea.  In attendance were various school delegates and about 100 alumni.  Mr. Van Gieson had already passed on and his wife was too sick to represent him, so two of his children and a granddaughter came instead.  The granddaughter’s name was Inez Hawkins who, coincidentally, was my grandmother’s first cousin.

It was such a surprise to realize that my family had a connection not only to Hawaii and Molokai, but actually to Halawa. Although it is just a single thread, it is still a multi-generational link – something that many of the non-native land owners do not have.  I had the story in my possession for years without realizing there was any relevancy, but it has been a “treat” to find it after all this time.

On Molokai, I am sure people are chuckling about how weak my thread is, and that is to be expected. But that is because this is an island where people still live where their ancestor’s bones have rested for at least 1000 years.

Yet, I hear stories about people coming from the outside expecting Molokai to change without realizing how connected indigenous people are to place. On a single parcel of land the same family may have lived for 75 to 100 generations. It has not been bought and sold but instead lived on forever in Hawaiian time. For most westerners, we cannot fathom this because land is such a commodity.

A while back I spent a lot of time in Halawa and I used to feel different things in the valley. I used to wonder what kind of learning environment could again be created which would utilize a more “traditional” family type teaching. Maybe it was just daydreaming or maybe it was a realization of Halawa’s long educational legacy.  The school, built in 1886, lasted until about 1956 or so. 

And it continues to make me smile that the first teacher in Halawa had a granddaughter who was my grandmother’s first cousin.

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