Kumu Makanani soars with enthusiasm


New teacher Makanani Sala joins WCC’s Hawaiian Studies ‘ohana.

Makanani Salā, WCC’s new Hawaiian Studies (HWST 107) teacher, says that when she sees a student having an “aha” moment, that is the most rewarding feeling she can have. “It’s better when students can come to the answer on their own,” she explains.

To lead students to those moments, Makanani brings her own brand of passion for the culture. You can see it in her “beautiful eyes” (the Hawaiian translation of her name) when she talks about her field.

She loves teaching the Hawaiian culture, and her enthusiasm is contagious.

She says she would like to have monthly speakers, hula and Hawaiian music and wants to bring the community to WCC to hear from cultural practitioners. “There are so many knowledgeable people we can learn from,” she adds.

As a Hawaiian Studies teacher, Makanani’s goals are to “help the program grow, add classes, fill up classes, support what’s here and expand.”

She also brings an indigenous perspective of alternative learning styles. “Just don’t study in the classroom; go out and get your hands dirty. We look at the world in a holistic perspective. Everything is related.”

She uses music in her class to teach, or plants outside as a teaching aid.

“Indigenous cultures do it every day, which opens up doors and rounds out academic learning,” she explains. “Learning doesn’t only happen in the classroom. You have to get out and experience the world. Learn through your actions.”

Outside of class, Makanani does a one-minute segment every Friday at around 5:45 a.m. on KGMB-TV’s Hawaii News Now called “‘Ōlelo o Ka lā,” which means “word of the day.”

She introduces Hawaiian words, tells a little story and gives some background.

“It’s like a mini Hawaiian culture lesson and a quick piece of knowledge,” she says. She’ll also explain street names, like Ke‘eamoku and Kapi‘olani, and other famous people in Hawaiian history.

The program, now in its second year, is sponsored by ‘Ōlelo Community Television. Makanani hopes to expand it to two minutes, and now that she is here at WCC, she would like to involve her students.

Makanani grew up in Hālawa and went to Kamehameha Schools in the 7th grade. She graduated in 1999, and then enrolled at UH-Mānoa, where she received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Hawaiian Studies.

However, her academic path wasn’t as straightforward as it sounds. Makanani started out working with special education kids at August Ahrens Elementary School in Waipahu while she attended UH-Mānoa working towards a special education degree.

After three enjoyable years of working with the kids, she decided she wanted to do something else. The problem was she didn’t know what she wanted to do.

This really affected her schooling, and she says she began skipping classes, didn’t want to study and felt disenchanted.

Makanani spoke with her advisor who suggested she take some courses in Hawaiian Studies since she did well in Hawaiian language. Makanani was a little reluctant but decided to give it a try. She dove into her studies and quickly discovered she loved it. She started to get good grades, realizing that Hawaiian Studies was her passion.

During her graduate work, Makanani taught Hawaiian language at Sacred Hearts Academy and, from that experience, decided she wanted to teach at the college level. Her boss, Jonathan Osorio, mentored her, and she began to teach Hawaiian Studies 107 at UH-Mānoa. When the WCC teaching position for Hawaiian Studies opened up, Makanani applied and she got the job.

Makanani is married to Aaron Salā, who taught world music and Hawaiian music at WCC and now is a music instructor at UH-Mānoa. They have two boys, ages 5 and 2 ½, who she says keep her very busy.

Makanani enjoys hula; she has been dancing since she was 3 years old. She is now in her kumu’s graduate program to become a kumu hula.

Already a hoopa’a (a kumu who can teach what has been learned from the kumu hula), once she finishes the program in the next 18 months, she will be able to create her own material and pass it on to other students.

As for her other interests, she says she enjoys networking with others in the joy of cooking. “I love, love cooking,” she says, smiling.

Makanani wants Hawaiian Studies at WCC to get even bigger by expanding and supporting course offerings and increasing student participation.

“Learning is a process and a reciprocal relationship. If I don’t learn something from my students, then I may as well stay home,” Makanani says. “My classroom is a safe place to come and learn, to speak your mind and to learn from your mistakes.”

Makanani invites all students to come to Hale A’o. “Check it out. Just come sit, hang out and get to know the faculty and staff,” she encourages.

by Wayne Ricks, Ka ‘Ohana Staff Reporter