Pualani Kanakaole Kanahele given honorary degree

University of Hawaii Board of Regents honor respected kumu hula and Hawaiian living national treasure

University of Hawaiʻi
Carolyn Tanaka, (808) 956-9803
External Affairs & University Relations
Jim Manke, (808) 956-6099
Chancellor's Office
Posted: Nov 22, 2005

The University of Hawaiʻi Board of Regents has awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree to Pualani Kanakaʻole Kanahele, Kumu Hula of Halau o Kekuhi, who is regarded as a loea (expert) of Hawaiian cultural practices and a living national treasure.

"Mrs. Kanahele is widely recognized throughout the State as a scholar, educator and practitioner of Hawaiian culture," said Kitty Lagareta, Chairperson of the UH Board of Regents. "She is an accomplished writer; a music, stage and film producer; a dedicated community leader; and a renowned kumu hula."

Added Regent Jim Haynes, "As a Native Hawaiian, I am especially proud that my fellow regents unanimously voted to confer this honorary degree upon Pua Kanahele. She truly embodies the spirit, intellect and courage that exemplify a recipient of the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters."

The degree will be presented to Kanahele at the fall 2005 commencement ceremony to be held on the UH Mānoa campus on December 18, 2005, followed by a recognition ceremony at the Hawaiʻi Community College Campus.

"It is appropriate that we recognize someone of this stature in our community with the highest honor the university can confer," said UH Mānoa Chancellor Denise Eby Konan. "We will look forward to welcoming Pua Kanahele to Mānoa in December, and will seek future opportunities for her to share her wealth of knowledge with our community of scholars."

"We are honoring a person who I and many consider a national treasure. The awarding of this degree to Pua Kanahele is recognition of the enormous contribution of our host culture and a giant step for Native Hawaiians and all indigenous people," said Hawaiʻi Community College Chancellor Rockne Freitas.

Born and raised in Keaukaha on the Big Island, Kanahele was raised in the traditions of her ancestors, a tradition that expected excellence in the understanding of oral traditions, life systems, Hawaiian mythic realities and the natural world. She has been highly influential in the resurgence of Hawaiian practices and interest in all things Hawaiian. As one of two daughters of the late hula and chant master, Edith Kanakaʻole, she along with her sister, Nalani, are kumu hula of the world-renowned classical Hawaiian cultural dance and dance group, Halau o Kekuhi. Halau o Kekuhi transmits oral traditions sustained through seven generations of matrilineal descent and continues this unbroken link through Kanahele and her sister.

In 1995, Kanahele co-wrote and directed the first opera-length stage hula drama called "Holo Mai Pele," based on the Hawaiian literary saga of Pele and Hiʻiaka. She went on to co-direct the film version for the Public Broadcast Station's (PBS) Great Performance series. This production won a CINE Award-Golden Eagle for excellence in film production in 2001. Kanahele also co-wrote and directed another stage production, "Kamehameha Paiʻea," which toured the West Coast and Alaska.

Besides her widely acclaimed stage productions, has authored many audio books and articles for prestigious publications, including Harvard University Press. "Puka Kamaʻehu," a compact disk recording was nominated in the Hawaiian Music Category for the 2005 Grammy Awards.

Kanahele is also a much sought-after speaker, panelist and expert cultural consultant. In 1994, she was invited by the Dalai Lama to speak on the subject of world peace, and in 2004 was the keynote speaker for the Western Association of Architects. She was also the Hawaiʻi representative for the UNESCO advisory committee on native cultures and intellectual property rights in 1999.