Change Central Intermediate School Name To Keelikolani School - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Eomailani Kukahiko

Eomailani Kukahiko is a Native Hawaiian from Waimanalo, Oahu with four children. She is a faculty member in the Curriculum Studies Department at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where her work focuses on Hawaiian education.

Aloha e na hoa makamaka. As we celebrate Hawaiian language month, I share a story of inoa, Hawaiian names, by examining how the erasure of names — of both places and people — are tantamount to cultural genocide.

As children, one of the first things we learn is the importance of our names. Hawaiian names tell the stories of our people. Names are usually given by kupuna, or to honor kupuna. Sometimes names appear in a dream, inoa po, yet other times as a recording of a specific event.

The incongruence then, of learning their importance and subsequently going to school, where teachers (even well-meaning ones) will not be able to pronounce this cultural marker, sucks!

You can hope that this butchering will just be the one time, as they vow to learn, with the inevitable, “Did I say that right?” And no matter how they said it, a quick “Yup” ends the whole awkward encounter.

Didn’t we all laugh at the Key & Peele sketch where the substitute teacher fumbles “basic” names, then lashes out as students correct him? A-a-ron!

This has prompted many Hawaiians to truncate their names, Kapiolani reduced to Kapi, Kahiapo cut short to Kahi (thus de-identifying them as oldest siblings) and the most egregious, where learners have assumed names assigned by a teacher with little regard for their significance, i.e. changing Paliku to George, probably following the question, “No, what is your real name?”

As people with beautiful, yet possibly difficult names for the “other” to pronounce, this practice must end with us. With the rise of accessibility of Hawaiian language learning materials, this practice should be a thing of the past.

Central Intermediate School is a case in point. Those unfamiliar may think that this school is located in Anywhere, USA. In fact, it is built upon the aina of Akopua where once stood the grand home of Ruth Keanolani Kanahoahoa Keelikolani, Keoua Hale.

Keoua Hale is the former home of Princess Ruth Keelikolani and current site of the school now known as Central Intermediate School. 

This home of grandeur rivaled the more famous hale alii nearby, Iolani. Keelikolani School was acquired by the Board of Education after her passing in 1883. It was first known as Kula Kiekie o Honolulu, later moved and later problematically (in the opinion of many Hawaiians) renamed McKinley. Keelikolani School is currently identified as Central Intermediate School.

As an alumna of the school, my mother speaks proudly of her time here learning about Keelikolani. I myself learned about her when reconnecting with my language and culture. Ruth Keelikolani’s resolute nature and resilience are incomparable and an inspiration for all who learn Olelo Hawaii or about Hawaii’s history in general.

Stories told about Ruth include her refusal to speak English to others even though she was conversant, her pule to Pele and the subsequent cessation of the lava (pele) in 1881 sparing the town of Hilo, and one of her most consequential decisions — to bequeath all of her land holdings to her beloved kaikaina, Bernice Pauahi Bishop:

Ke haawi a ke hoolilo loa aku nei au no kuu kaiakaina i aloha nui ia ia Bernice Pauahi Bishop  kou mau waiwai apau loa, na waiwai paa, a me na waiwai lewa, mai Hawaii i Kauai, nona ia mau waiwai apau loa. (I give and bequeath forever to my beloved cousin (kaikaina) Bernice Pauahi Bishop, my entire Estate, both real and personal, from Hawaii to Kauai, all of said Estate to be hers.) (Excerpted from Keelikolani’s will.)

The renaming of Keelikolani School and subsequent neglect of Kaakopua (site of current Central Intermediate campus) are indicative of a far more serious problem. As a people whose majority is several generations removed from native speakers and disparately dispossessed of land, we have accepted these insidious changes and desecration of aina as commonplace.

And while the ownership of this land and operation of the school are under the charge of the Hawaii Department of Education, there needs to be a more concerted effort to malama the historical legacy of this place.

The DOE with its already anemic budget cannot be solely tasked with the upkeep and repair of this school, and so I implore you, should not the same prestige that attends other iconic and sacred ancestral places be accorded to the Kuaana of Pauahi?

Let us together, as we celebrate Hawaiian language month, and Keelikolani’s birthday on Tuesday, consider deeply the strength that emanates from names, speak our truth to power and begin the arduous task of setting things to right by rerenaming this school, Central Intermediate, back to Keelikolani School. It is time to remember her appropriately.

I invite all who have benefited from the legacy of Kamehameha Schools, through Keelikolani’s largesse, in this charge, na pua hoi a Pauahi, auhea oukou? Let the name of Ruth Keanolani Kanahoahoa Keelikolani resound in the halls of learning. E ola o ka lani!

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About the Author

Eomailani Kukahiko

Eomailani Kukahiko is a Native Hawaiian from Waimanalo, Oahu with four children. She is a faculty member in the Curriculum Studies Department at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where her work focuses on Hawaiian education.

Latest Comments (0)

I appreciate my Kumu EO for standing in her truth and using her leo. I am hoping the kula inoa will be rightly corrected as the truthful name. The name calls out to all ancestors. Their mana deserves recognition don't you think. I hope all schools will return to the beginning of each and every story. Mahalo EO for being so akamai. Mahalo also to your makuahine for bringing you up to speak your truth. Kekahi i kekahi.PohaikalaniTutu PohaiKealakehe Elementary SchoolKailua-Kona, Hawai`i island

Pohaikalani · 2 years ago

I'm of the opinion that all Public Schools should have Hawaiian names. You got historical named schools like Roosevelt, McKinley and Farringaton but all new schools have taken Hawaiian names, thats good!

Richard · 2 years ago

In my humble opinion it’s a very good idea to change Central Intermediate School name To Ke’elikolani School. When I was a child growing up in California, I remember my mother, a Kamehameha alumnus, would talk story about Princess Ruth’s love for her people and how she wanted Ka’iulani to be raised one day to be the Queen. Today this would be a fine tribute to our Princess Ruth Ke’elikolani. Just sayin…

maltbiek · 2 years ago

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