Program perpetuating the Hawaiian ways of manhood

KAHULUI – More than a dozen Native Hawaiian Maui boys began their three-year journey of self-discovery and maturation Wednesday night at Hale Nanea.

The Kali’i Project, which got under way this month, will train at least 17 male youths in traditional Native Hawaiian values and proper conduct.

“We’re addressing the three components of the human learning process: physical, intellectual and emotional or spiritual,” said head trainer, or “olohe,” of the program, Kyle Nakanelua.

Two weeks ago, the boys made the commitment to the program in a ceremony called “Ka I Mua” or “to be cast into the company of men,” which requires them to meet once a week and once a month overnight for training.

In their first year, youths will endure the physical fitness portion of the project and learn disciplines such as the hune ka nalo (girding on of the loincloth), the kalii (catching of the spear) and the aha awa (form of speaking).

George Kaimiola, office manager and project assistant of the program, said many of the male youths are referred from groups, such as the Positive Outreach Intervention project, Queen Lili’uokalani Children’s Center and Child Protective Services.

Although the ages of the current participants range from 10 to 16, Kaimiola said they are focusing on recruiting more boys in the older range, freshmen and sophomores in high school.

“We want to guide them from freshman to senior year and hopefully give them enough tools to carry on and take on the world and responsibilities,” he said.

The program had been operating informally for nearly two decades before officially organizing this year. Kaimiola’s son, Keoki, was a member of the earlier group and was helped by the program after dropping out of high school.

“In those years, I was getting in trouble, talking back and being a punky little kid,” said Keoki Kaimiola, 22. “My dad kept asking me to come to the program, but I kept saying no, and then one day he said, ‘Son, if you go to the meeting tonight and you don’t like it, I’ll never bother you again about it.’ ”

After the meeting, Kaimiola was inspired and became a regular member of the program. He received his GED, or high school equivalency diploma, at 17 and currently has aspirations to attend college.

“I wanted to learn about my culture and history,” he said. “All the older guys were motivating me and pushing me, and everybody was so eager to help me out. . . . Younger kids are going to learn that there’s more out there than getting into trouble. They’re going to see that you’ve got to grow up pretty fast.”

Nakanelua informally guided the program for about 20 years, before it received a grant from the Administration for Native Americans last year. Ka Meheu ‘Ohu O Ka Honu, a nonprofit that seeks to retain and perpetuate traditional Hawaiian values, is the sponsoring organization.

He said one of the reasons he started the program was to answer the voices in a book titled, “Native Men Remade: Gender and Nation in Contemporary Hawai’i,” which was written by one of the program’s former members, Ty P. Kawika Tengan. In the book, Native Hawaiians from 20 to 70 years old spoke about the lack of tradition in their lives, said Nakanelua.

“We believed there was a great void in the understanding of all the traditions of our ancestors,” he said. “Woodcarving, stone carving, culinary arts, traditions for preparing foods and what those foods are. Our ancestors had their own way of martial training, and we felt that wasn’t addressed, as well. It was dormant for a long time and some of us reactivated it.”

Over the course of the three-year program, the boys will learn nine disciplines, including the proper manner for conducting an ‘awa ceremony, said George Kaimiola. This ceremony requires the member to “stand before God and men, and make a proclamation about what he did in the past and what he is going to do in the future,” he said.

The Kali’i Project also will teach the boys chants and dances for an annual Native Hawaiian event on the Big Island in August.

Program organizers hope to increase their members to about 35 soon but realize that the commitment may not be everyone’s “cup of tea” or ” ‘awa.”

They are open to accepting any male youth who embraces the Native Hawaiian culture but have lost their way.

“The preparatory steps (of this program) will enable the individuals to take life head-on,” said Nakanelua. “The built-in, career support mechanisms will assist them in planning their future. Nobody plans to fail but a lot of people fail to plan.”

For more information about the program, call George Kaimiola at 269-1063 or send email to

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at