Marama Fenua: A cultural exchange of light and language


Tahitian teacher Richard Deane hopes to foster relationships between schools in Tahiti and Hawai‘i, citing the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage's goal to inspire communities to rethink and engage.

​​​​It's a chilly Friday morning in Palolo Valley. A light rain sprinkles over the students of Ke Kula Kaiapuni ʻo Ānuenue who are gathered for their morning assembly of chant and announcements on the basketball court.

Just as the clouds begin to clear, Tahitian students from Ta'aone High School arrive with the sunshine bringing a gift of song.

Richard Deane, a teacher at Ta'aone High School, has wanted this cultural exchange with Tahitian and Hawaiian students to take place since his participation at Wa'a Talks in April 2015 at Punahou School. Waʻa Talks, a teacher-to-teacher forum created in 2014 to engage teachers in the Polynesian Voyaging Society's Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage, has achieved what it set out to do – inspire teachers.

He said he was encouraged by what he learned about the values and lessons behind the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage — a journey to inspire communities to care for​ the Earth.

"Language is the heartbeat of any culture. Our students speak French and Tahitian, and we are also trying to teach them English," said Deane. "While here at Ānuenue School, the Hawaiʻi students have inspired my students with their use of Hawaiian as the medium of instruction, all day. My students now want to add Hawaiian to their list of languages spoken. I am thrilled with this outcome!"

A group of 26 students and four teachers traveled here for two weeks, participating in a variety of activities from school visits, to canoe surfing, to performing at the Polynesian Cultural Center. Every experience allowed them to practice their English and learn more about a culture that has so many similarities to their own. For most, this was the first time they traveled outside of French Polynesia. ​

"The students are so excited and impressed. They have seen the marama, or light, and I have witnessed this change in the short time we have been here," added Deane. "Our shy students have come out of their shell and are constantly asking me, 'How do you say this in English?' in order to communicate with new friends they made during this trip."

The visit to Ānuenue School was also a glimpse into Tahitian culture for the Hawaiian immersion students. Deane taught a class on Tahitian language and students performed a traditional dance for the entire student body. However, the most impactful activity was student-led tours around the campus, which gave each group a chance to get to know one another, and talk about similarities and differences between their cultures.

In one of the groups, a stop at the school's lo'i turned out to be quite humorous.

"Kukui? I have never seen this tree before in person. We have a teacher named Kukui," exclaimed one of the Ta'aone ​ students as they gathered around to take a picture to send back to their teacher.

The exchange created a bond between the groups of students.

"There are so many connections between Tahitian and Hawaiian culture. Our migration stories speak of our ancestors coming from Kahiki, which many people believe to be the southern islands that constitute French Polynesia today," said Manuwai Peters, a resource teacher who helped coordinate this trip. "This visit is like a homecoming of sorts and helps us rekindle this connection between our cultures and the students of our respective public school systems."

One of those similarities that attest to an ancestral connection is the language. While some words may not be exactly the same, a change in a letter or a slightly different meaning, the underlying emotion of the word is the same.

"Marama means the light for us, it is the light for the students. Honua is fenua, meaning island or earth," shared Deane. "We need to mālama, marama fenua, care for the light of the earth. This experience for everyone is a big step in connecting and sharing these values." 


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