Pioneer of UH Manoa Hawaiian Studies Program honored posthumously with Regents Medal of Distinction

University of Hawaiʻi
Carolyn Tanaka, (808) 956-9803
Mia Noguchi, (808) 956-9095
External Affairs & University Relations
Posted: Mar 16, 2006

PEARL CITY, Oʻahu — At its monthly meeting held today at Leeward Community College, the University of Hawaiʻi Board of Regents honored Abraham St. Chad Kikiakoi Kalilioku Piʻianaiʻa for his outstanding contributions to the University of Hawaiʻi and the state by posthumously awarding him with the Regents Medal of Distinction.

During his long and distinguished career, Piʻianaiʻa, who passed away in February 2003, was an exemplary educator, an accomplished seafaring voyager, and a well respected kupuna, preserving and protecting the Hawaiian language and culture for present and future generations. He was appointed the inaugural director for the Hawaiian Studies Program in 1979, and because of his pioneering effort, Hawaiian Studies became a permanent program in 1985, and the Center for Hawaiian Studies was created with the establishment of the School of Hawaiian, Asian and Pacific Studies in 1987.

UH Mānoa Interim Chancellor Denise Konan said, "Abraham Piʻianaiʻa has left a lasting legacy imprinted in the minds and hearts of faculty and students at Mānoa. We can directly attribute our vision to become a Hawaiian place of learning to his groundbreaking efforts."

Learning from a young age about sea travel and navigation, Piʻianaiʻa was also a seafarer. One of his key achievements was his work in supporting voyaging endeavors using Polynesian navigational tools within the values and understandings of Polynesian cosmology and culture. When the Polynesian voyaging revival began, he served as mentor and historian to the crew members, as well as lead adviser in protocol matters during interactions with Polynesians, Pacific Islanders, and even Native Americans.

In letters supporting Piʻianaiʻa‘s nomination, friends and colleagues point to his efforts in advancing opportunities for Native Hawaiians, both academically and culturally through the Polynesian voyaging revival.

"Throughout his life, he exemplified the spirit and practice of ʻE Hoʻopili Mai,‘ of bringing together people in and around Hawaiʻi with knowledge and wisdom," said Kiyoshi Ikeda, UH Mānoa emeritus professor of sociology. "He leaves an outstanding legacy in oceanography, ethnography, and studies of islands and archipelagoes."

"Polynesian voyaging owes a debt of gratitude to Abraham Piʻianaiʻa for his mentoring and leadership in the early pioneering days of the voyaging movement," said Nainoa Thompson, president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society. "He was the most influential mentor we had to bridge us to Hawaiian history and culture to set the foundation of voyaging to explore safely and make a meaningful contribution to the Hawaiian people."

Piʻianaiʻa also served the state through numerous community service endeavors, sitting on various local and national boards and holding several leadership positions in government, such as chair of the Hawaiian Homes Commission and director of the State Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

His list of honors includes Outstanding Alumnus awards from the University of Hawaiʻi and Kamehameha Schools, selection as a Living Treasure of Hawaiʻi in 1999, and the Ke Aliʻi Pauahi Legacy Award in 2004 from the Order of Ke Aliʻi Pauahi Foundation of the Kamehameha Schools.