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Hawaiian Culture Virtual Field Trip For Kids

This virtual field trip exploring Hawaiian culture will take your children on a deeper dive into the music, dance, language, and ancient practices of Hawaii plus so much more. A wonderful addition to a homeschool unit or as part of a fun global education at home.

a collage of traditional Hawaiian instruments on top and hula performers on the bottom

What is Hawaiian culture?

You may be familiar with some of Hawaiian culture. Maybe you have seen hula, heard some Hawaiian music and perhaps attended a luau. This virtual field trip will guide you as you learn more about what makes Hawaii so unique.

You can also listen to the podcast interview Exploring Hawaiian Culture with Relle Lum for even more insights especially about the Spirit of Aloha.

Overview of Hawaiian Culture from the Polynesian Cultural Center

Music

The Makaha Sons are a popular Hawaiian performing group that has been around since the 1970s. Their aim is focused on sharing traditional Hawaiian music with the world. One of their most well known members was Israel Kamakawiwoʻole who was famous for his rendition of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”.  

The group member’s have changed over the years and now my uncle, Kimo Artis, is one of the members! Here is a video from one of their more recent performances. The song is called “Ke Alaula” which means The Dawning.

This playlist on Spotify by Hawaii Magazine is a fun mix of both traditional and modern Hawaiian music. 

Ukulele

5 Things you probably didn’t know about the ukulele  

https://americanhistory.si.edu/blog/5-things-you-probably-didnt-know-about-%E2%80%98ukulele

Slack Key

Slack key is a style unique to Hawaii where the strings are purposely kept loose that allows for sounds that are not possible otherwise.  This is a style that I grew up listening to my father and uncles play and it will always be one of my favorites.

In this video with Leedward Kaapana he not only plays some beautiful music but also explains a little bit about how slack key works. 

A little more history about slack key: https://americanhistory.si.edu/blog/2013/05/talking-and-playing-hawaiian-slack-key-guitar-with-dennis-kamakahi.html 

Traditional instruments

https://kaimi.org/education/instruments/

A musical journey to Hawaii where you can create your own instrument and a music activity for kids.

http://www.tinytappingtoes.com/early-learning-with-music/a-musical-journey-to-hawaii

Hula

Most people know that Hawaii is famous for the hula. Hula literally means dance and there are two styles, ancient, called Hula Kahiko, and modern, Hula Auana. Both styles are popularly performed today. 

Hula Kahiko is the form of dance done before contact with the Western world. Dances were accompanied by chants, various percussion instruments.  In ancient times, the dances were predominantly performed by men, but today both men and women dance.

Read more about the history of hula here: https://www.discover-oahu.com/History-Of-Hula.html#:~:text=Hula%20Kahiko%20was%20danced%20by,was%20danced%20exclusively%20by%20men. 

Here are two short videos about the hula, one from the women’s perspective and one about the men’s.  

Learn Hula

iHula Hawaii is a great Youtube channel for kids to learn hula basics.  You can dance along with Lynn to “He Mele No Lilo” from the movie Lilo and Stitch.

Merrie Monarch

There is a competition every year in Hawaii called the Merrie Monarch where both solo performers and groups compete in various categories. The competition is in tribute to the legacy of King David Kalakaua and his vision for the perpetuation of Hawaii culture  including the arts, language and traditions.

This video shows the winners from the 2019 Merrie Monarch competition for both the Kahiko and Auana styles in the men’s and women’s categories. You can get a feel for the differences in music, dance, and clothing between the ancient and modern styles.

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Languages

There are several official languages in Hawaii- English, ‘Olelo Hawaiian, and Pidgin.

After Hawaii was annexed in 1898 by the United States, ‘Olelo Hawaiian was officially banned from schools and government although it was still allowed to be spoken otherwise. It did not become an official language until 1978 and many programs were created in the 1980s to teach the language.

Studies show that it takes one generation to lose a language and three generations to bring it back.  The Hawaiian language is considered to be in the middle of the second generation.

Pidgin

Pidgin, an English based Creole language, became an official language in 2015. Pidgin developed on the plantations as Native Hawaiian workers interacted with English speaking and other immigrants from places like Portugal, China, the Philippines, and Japan.

History of Hawaiian Pidgin

‘Olelo Hawaiian

Learn to Speak Hawaiian youtube channel

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCw7geNV3O33rY0XfU277STQ

Learn to speak Hawaiian for beginners https://youtu.be/SB9Rly1HmQw

Hawaiian Words and Phrases with Moana’s Auli’i Cravalho

Other Ancient Cultural Practices

Wayfinding

If you have seen the movie Moana, you know that Polynesians were wayfinders. I put together a separate field trip to dive deeper into the history of wayfinding and also connect it with STEM activities. Here is the wayfinding virtual field trip.

Leis

It is a tradition to give a lei as a show of friendship, love, or to celebrate or honor someone like for graduations or weddings.

History and making of leis

How to make a haku style ti leaf lei

Clothing

When you have seen hula portrayed on TV or in movies you might think of a grass skirt and a coconut bra. However, the grass skirts are traditional in Tahiti while ti leaf skirts are traditional in Hawaii.  

Making a ti leaf skirt

Making of Kapa Cloth

Other practices

Stone Carving

Fishing and eating like Ancient Hawaiians

The Spirit of Sustainability

The Hawaiian Islands are home to one of the most diverse ecological systems in the world as well as rare and unique plant life. 

Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono is the Hawaiian state motto.  Most commonly translated as “the life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.” Ancient Hawaiian culture valued a strong relationship with the land and its resources where you give as much as you take from the land.

You can learn more about this spirit of sustainability with the resources below.

For elementary children

Explore the valley protecting Hawaii’s Ancient plants

Hawaii’s Plant Extinction Crisis

For older elementary children and above

Learn more about specific native plants in Hawaii and some of their cultural significance. 

Nowhere else on earth: Indigenous Plants of Hawaii

For high school age and above

Lesson from a thousand years of island sustainability 

Children’s books

Here are some children books that are written about Hawaii. I tried to find as many native authors as I could and all of these authors or illustrators are from the islands.

Hula Lullaby Read Aloud

Buy Hula Lulluby here: https://amzn.to/3kv83lw

Food

Modern Hawaiian food is representative of the blend of cultures that exist on the island. You’ll see lots of Asian influence plus plenty of fish and tropical fruits.

Here are some recipes to try:

You can also get the Foodie Passport to Hawai’i kit which has delicious recipes and a helpful breakdown for kids: https://gumroad.com/a/320345203/XJPDU

Additional resources

Here are a few other virtual tours for further exploring.

Kamehameha School virtual field trips 

https://sites.google.com/view/vft

Virtual tour of the Iolani Palace

https://www.onlyinyourstate.com/hawaii/iolani-palace-virtual-tours-hi/

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