North Shore Field School narrators: (back, left to right) Keith Awai, Gay Bisch-Timon, Herbert Chun; (front, left to right) Kanani Awai, Emmaline Causey, George Kekuawela ʻĀʻī, Mary Chun. Photo: Makoa Freitas

The past can only be preserved in the present, and in spring 2018, the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa North Shore Field School guided students in the recording of oral history to preserve the experiences of kūpuna in Waialua.

The field school, in a partnership with Kamehameha Schools, started in 2013 as an archaeology/anthropology program where students learned techniques in low impact archaeology at culturally significant sites on the North Shore of Oʻahu.

In spring 2018, the focus shifted to ethnography and the research of life stories, rather than artifacts. The first oral history ethnographic field school ran jointly through the departments of anthropology and ethnic studies, and worked with the Waialua Hawaiian Civic Club to connect kūpuna with students for the project. Malia Evans, who holds a master’s in applied archaeology from UH Mānoa, acted as co-instructor of the class, and Kaumakamanōkalanipō Anae served as graduate assistant.

The class of 16 was a mix of undergraduate and graduate students representing majors in anthropology, ethnic studies, Hawaiian studies and English. The kūpuna, who were called “narrators,” shared experiences in Waialua ranging from music to genealogy to ranching.

A sense of place and responsibility

Keith and Kanani Awai speaking with students during a recording session. Photo: Jesse Stephen

As part of the research process, the students took field trips around Waialua and worked with Kepa Maly, ethnographer and executive director of the Lānaʻi Culture and Heritage Center, who shared ideas on responsible oral history work.

“We wanted to make sure the students had the history of Waialua, to touch base with the historical sites,” said Associate Professor Ty Tengan, director of the field school.

“The approach we used placed importance on our narrators’ comfort and ease with the whole process, not just our own goals or interest,” said Kuʻulei Freed, an anthropology major graduating in spring 2018. “Because of that, the whole process and outcome was enjoyable for everyone.”

Freed served as the the field school’s undergraduate assistant and team leader for the group that interviewed Keith Awai and his mother Kanani who shared their memories of plantation life, the closeness of the community and their love of music.

“What was good was that it was new to them too,” said Keith Awai. “They were doing it for the first time, and we were being interviewed for the first time, so we just went with the flow.”

Narration, transcription and connection

Kupuna smiling with a ukulele

Kanani Awai at the hōʻike. Photo: Makoa Freitas

After the interviews, the students transcribed the recordings, worked through the editorial process and sought guidance from their narrators and each other as they compiled their research into Story Maps under the tutelage of archaeologist Jesse Stephen.

While the goal of the project was to record the stories to preserve the past, the students and narrators appreciated the opportunity to foster connections with each other in the present.

“Even though it was just for a few meetings, we became really close,” said Awai. “That was really nice.”

At the final hōʻike the students shared their Story Maps with their narrators, families and Waialua community. About 100 people attended the event, and students had the opportunity to thank the narrators and share a final meal with them.

Many of the students, and some of the narrators, plan to continue recording oral history and stay in touch with each other.

Said Freed, “we will still be keeping up with these kūpuna even after the class has officially ended.”

See the Story Maps

Story maps are best viewed on desktop or laptop computer.

People standing in front of the Waialua Court House

Members of the spring 2018 North Shore Field School. Photo: Makoa Freitas