First-Years in Hawaii: Above the Clouds, Connected with Culture

Students enjoy the view high up on the Big Island of Hawai'i.
The group explores Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historic Site on Hawai'i island's northwestern coast.
Outer rock wall marking the birthplace of Kamehameha I. The wall, like Pu'ukohola Heiau, was built with no mortar of any kind.

January 9, 2014

Albion students across the Midwest weren’t the only ones shivering last weekend. Suellyn Henke’s first-year seminar students braved sub-freezing temperatures earlier this week in order to see the sunset and then stargaze some 9,000 feet above Hilo Bay in Hawaii. Their 10-day trip to Oahu and Hilo to start the new year is a firsthand experience with the culture, history and geography the students studied all fall semester in Education professor Suellyn Henke's first-year seminar, Mauka and Makai.

Seeing the sunset above the clouds “was what I was most looking forward to, because I heard such great things from people who went last year,” said Kit Maher ’17. “It was a spiritual feeling—to be connected with the land and also see millions of stars. That made me feel really small.”

The students also visited important sites in the life of Kamehameha I, who used both sword and statesmanship to bring all eight primary Hawaiian Islands under his rule in 1810. The students saw Kamehameha’s birthplace some 60 miles north of Kona, as well as Pu'ukohola Heiau, a temple Kamehameha built to Ku, the god of war. The massive stone structure is built of rocks transported 20 miles to the site by 10,000 warriors formed into a human chain.

Unlike his birthplace, the location of Kamehameha’s gravesite is unknown. Wanting to ensure that no one could usurp the power resident in Kamehameha’s bones, a confidant was chosen to bury the body in secret. This honor required his own murder after completing the task.

“It’s like going to Mount Vernon or Independence Hall when you’re studying the beginning of America,” said Chris Herweyer, ’17. “This part of American history isn’t publicized as I feel that it should be. I really like history and the fact that I didn’t know about this until taking this course has struck me.”

The seminar, according to the course description, emphasized "understanding, appreciation, and respect for the history and cultures of the peoples of Hawai'i," and provided "opportunities for students to reflect upon their own cultural moorings and belief systems." Henke, who has a Ph.D. in curriculum with an emphasis in cultural studies from Miami University's educational leadership program, taught at the University of Hawai'i-Hilo before coming to Albion in 2002.