MAUNAKEA — As protesters wait at the base of the Maunakea Access Road each day, a network of volunteers works to ensure their needs are met.
At the nearby Pu‘uhonua o Pu‘u Huluhulu across from the access road, attendees can receive food, medical attention — and, as of this week, even education.
With an estimated 1,000 protesters visiting the protest site every day, there are people of all walks of life in attendance, including dozens of teachers and professors.
One of those, Presley Ke‘alaanuhea Ah Mook Sang, decided to use her expertise and those of her fellows to form a makeshift university, the Pu‘uhuluhulu University, whose slogan proclaims it “an actual place of Native Hawaiian learning.”
Ah Mook Sang, an instructor of Hawaiian language at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said she wanted to use the wealth of knowledge available on the mauna to better educate the protesters — who call themselves kia‘i, or protectors of the mountain — about Native Hawaiian culture.
Each day, 20 lessons are prepared for anybody to attend, with the day’s schedule written on a sign outside the “university,” which is itself just a few simple tents within a clearing. Five hourlong classes are presented at four times a day, with each one attracting at least a dozen students Tuesday morning.
Ah Mook Sang — who is semi-jokingly called “the chancellor” of the Pu‘uhuluhulu University, although she said she never chose that title — said she prepares the lesson plans herself the night before based on the schedules of the teachers and their preferred subjects. Lessons on Tuesday included several on language, one on Hawaiian lomi lomi massage, one on “mahu ahia” and more.
“And if someone doesn’t show up, then I’ll come in and do something myself about Hawaiian language,” Ah Mook Sang said.
Initially, Ah Mook Sang said she relied on her personal network of contacts to put together Sunday’s lesson plan. But by Tuesday, she had accumulated “lists and lists” of possible teachers who would be willing to present a lesson, including several of the kupuna who were the focal point of the protest’s early days.
“As the space evolved up here, we realized we might be here for a while,” said teacher Kahele Dukelow, who, like Ah Mook Sang, arrived at the protest space the Saturday before the state closed the Maunakea Access Road. “So we envisioned a place where we could continue to teach people while they stay here.”
“As soon as I came in on Sunday, they put me right to work,” laughed Laiana Kanoa-Wong, a Hawaiian cultural specialist at Kamehameha Schools who taught a lesson on Hawaiian holidays Tuesday.
Kanoa-Wong said that by teaching Hawaiians about the historical practices and traditions of their ancestors, he is “arming them with knowledge and love” in their mission to protect Maunakea.
Dukelow said she hopes to teach a lesson every other day until the school year begins in mid-August. After that, Dukelow said she is unsure what she will do — she teaches Hawaiian studies and Hawaiian language at UH-Maui.
Ah Mook Sang faces the same dilemma, as she will have to return to Oahu to teach conventional classes. However, she said, there are enough educators involved now that the Pu‘uhuluhulu University can continue without her.
Lessons will continue every day, weather permitting — inclement weather canceled lessons Monday — and will be open to all, adults and keiki alike, Ah Mook Sang said. Even those not on the mauna will be able to attend, as many of the lessons will be livestreamed.
Email Michael Brestovansky at firstname.lastname@example.org.