kahuli aku

when i went to the university, one of the jobs i had was a researcher. each day i put in about 3-4 hours for this job, cooped up in hamilton, researching different topics that i could make curriculum on for the new class of kaiapuni students who were now going to be in 7th grade. everyone had the elementary curriculum down, but what about the intermediate and beyond? no one knew yet. but we did know that something had to be started, or the kids going to 7th grade will not have any resources.

so my task was to go research these topics and create curriculum for the teachers and provide resources for the students. i loved this job. it was just right for me–helped feed my geeky nature to research and learn more, and in a subject area i was very interested in. i’d spend so much time in the microfiche area, just browsing all the different newspapers. i’d be up on the 5th floor, having to wear those white gloves to look at the rare books. sometimes i even got to go to the bishop museum library and research there. if it wasn’t for the stipulation that you had to be a student of the university…i’d probably still be at that job! it was just so perfect, quenching my thirst for knowledge and helping the next generation learn.

one of the topics i had to research was the kolea. i knew nothing of the kolea–what it looked like, what it sounded like, where it hung out. but i studied…and decided i didn’t like that little bird. especially as i read the ‘olelo no’eau surrounding the kolea, i saw how it was compared to greedy people who came here, made themselves rich off the land and the people…then left with all their wealth, leaving nothing for the things they used to make themselves that money. now this was in 1993, the centennial “anniversary” of the overthrow, the kahuli. lots of controversies at that time, and i was in that program that caused a lot of that controversy. so i detested the bird that came here from another land, ate until it was fat, then left again, leaving nothing here to show it had ever came by.

years later, i find myself a teacher. as we were walking back from recess one day, one of my kids asked me about a bird that was picking at our garden box. i looked at it and recognized it from my earlier research–a kolea! i told my student it was a kolea, but he wanted to know more. he said it’s always around, which i never realized, though i did remember from my research that the kolea does always go back to the same area everytime it makes its trip here. so i figured, well, since i did all that research anyway, i’d teach them about kolea, since this one boy was curious, and i figured i could tie in migration and geography and adaptations. so i taught the class about the kolea. the kids, of course, had many questions. they gave me daily updates about the kolea. soon, we found out there were actually 2 of them that would stay at the lawn in front of our classroom. they were so excited about seeing the kolea that i thought, okay, i’ll teach them that little chant i found in the research i did.

    kahuli aku, kahuli mai
    kahuli lei ‘ula, lei a kolea
    kolea, kolea, ki’i i ka wai
    wai a kolea, wai a kolea…

we did a little hula with it, too. one day, we saw the kolea right outside our steps. i told the class to gather and chant the chant we just learned to the kolea. so the kids gathered around, and started chanting, doing the hula motions, as they repeated the lines.

that darn little bird actually stopped pecking at the grass and stopped and looked. he stayed there the whole time the kids were chanting, just looking at us. when they finished their chant, the bird actually bowed his head twice, before flying off.

now, he could’ve just thought we were a bunch of loonies, singing to him, and wondering what the heck? before flying off. but my kids and i were excited. “wow, did you see how he looked at us the whole time?” “he didn’t even move!” “i think he liked our song!” i told them, i think so, too, and he even bowed in appreciation to all of you for doing that. maybe i was putting ideas in the kids’ heads, but they were so proud. any time we spotted the kolea, we would stop and sing to him. and he would always stop to look at us, and always bowed his head twice when we were done, before going off to do his normal birdly duties. i hated to admit it, but this little bird was growing on me.

slowly we saw him change. the kids had always thought it was a different bird, but i explained that he was getting ready to fly back home and start a family, so he was changing his feathers so he’d look good going back home. we saw him get darker and fatter, until we no longer saw him, in early may. my kids were crushed, but i assured them that he’d be back next year–the very same bird–and we can sing to him again. they always felt better about that. but i understood what they were feeling–it was like we adopted him, we grew to love him, but he was going home, now. who knew if he would be back the next year? i had gotten attached to him, and started to actually care about this little kolea. it was heartbreaking to know he’d be going, but reassuring to know that he’d be back. he’d better be back!

and he always did come back.

every single year, i’ve taught my kids about the kolea. and every single year, i taught them that chant … “kahuli aku, kahuli mai…” and everytime we did the chant to that little birdie, he’d always stop to look at us, and bow his head twice when we were done.

it’s been 10 years since i had my own kahuli in my thoughts about the kolea. we now have 3 that come to our lawn, but i don’t know that the original one is one of them–i don’t think their lifespan is that long. but i like to think he went home and told his offspring about these crazies who sing to him every time he goes there, and they came by to check us out. now we have 3 guests, and i often wonder if they are the offspring of the original one? because they are just as appreciative in hearing the chant.

i still delight in seeing the kolea, and because of my excitement in seeing them (there’s 2 that hang out at the library, 2 more that hang out in the park, and 1 that roams the big, empty field), my son has also picked up on the love for the kolea. i even noticed there’s one that comes near his sitter’s house! we were sad when they disappeared at the end of april, even though i told him they’d be leaving soon, because they had donned their black plumes which means they are ready to leave. we waited all summer for them to return. i had told my son that they come at the end of september, and we’ve been searching for them since, always looking at the normal spots that we’d see them. but nothing.

until this past weekend.

i was at a funeral, of all places. i happened to look out the window–and there was a kolea! a scrawny, skinny little birdie, running along outside. i almost yelped out in happiness. they have returned!

i still haven’t seen the ones that visit our school. but this afternoon, while driving home, my son and i looked at the park as we drove past and saw our 2 friends! they’re here! yay! my son even told me, “let’s sing the song, mom!” so at the stop light, we sat there and sang to our friends. and we kept singing all the way home. what a happy day.

i ran into that student who first asked about the kolea back in june. he had just finished his sophomore year, and was going to be a junior. we talked for a while, and one of the things he wanted to know was if the kolea still visits the school. yes, i told him, and there’s now 3! he was so excited. i thanked him because if it weren’t for him, i’d probably still detest the bird. but, as all students do, they helped me learn new things and find things to appreciate. that’s probably the best thing of this horrid job we do.

so i’ll keep an eye out for our school kolea, and be ready to teach a whole new group of kids about this amazing little traveler. and i’m excited for all the new things that they will teach me.

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3 Comments »

  1. Katie Said:

    Thank you for all your information on the kolea! I found your story through a search relating to the song you mention (my students are singing it), and I know my students will love learning more about these birds!

  2. Lia Said:

    ‘a’ole pilikia. any info you want on this bird, just ask! i probably researched what you’re looking for and know the answer 🙂 so just email or comment and i can probably point you to other resources. mahalo for reading!

  3. Jenna Said:

    The information was helpful for me because I am currently doing a project on the Kolea. Would you mind doing an interview (online, phone, or in person), so if you could e-mail me back at Jennaokazaki@yahoo.com, that would be very helpful to complete this project.


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