How to Find a Hawaiian Mentor

How to Find a Hawaiian Mentor


A friend reached out to me on IG this past week with a great question. She shared how much she wanted to learn advanced lei making and asked,

"Do you have any advice on how to go about this?"

It reminded me of a similar question that I had 7 years ago when I wanted to learn Hawaiian with my husband. I didn't know anyone personally who spoke and I was really lost about where to turn to for help. I felt ashamed that I didn't know and unworthy to approach people who had the knowledge I craved.

I asked myself, "How do I start learning Hawaiian?"

Now what I did at the time with my husband was start to learn at home. We read books, listened to recordings, watched videos, wrote in our journals, and talked to each other as much as we could until we were semi-conversational. Then Malu went out into the community and starting talking to as many people as he could find in Hawaiian.

When I say "Malu went out into the community." I don't mean he walked the streets of Kailua, knocking on doors and calling out to the cars as they drove by. I mean when we were out and about in the community he put himself out there. At church, school, work, community service, when he heard that someone there spoke Hawaiian - he walked straight up to that person and started talking to them in the broken Hawaiian he knew. I would follow, and listen or jump in when I could.

What this did for our family was prepare us to walk through the right door when it appeared. It was like perfecting our elevator pitch (even though that's not what we were thinking at the time). With each person we met, we shared what we were doing, how we were doing it, and why until one day one of those people said to Malu, "come work for me and learn Hawaiian while you do." It was the right door and Malu leaped at the opportunity. It wasn't a high paying job, but the value of learning from that mentor was priceless.

From this point in our story the process really just got repeated. We put ourselves out there and not everyone was interested in helping, but every once in a while we would find someone to help move our progress along. At the same time we also didn't stop doing the things that we could do on our own. We continued to practice at home, read, write, and listen.

We also started to give back as I think is a natural human response to kindness and generosity. As people shared with us and helped us, we wanted to do the same for others. And if you believe in karma or something like that - I think the more we helped others, the more others were willing to continue helping us.


So let me summarize this for you into steps if you need some power points to take away. If you are wanting to learn Hawaiian, lei making, lauhala weaving, hula, laau lapaau, try going about it in these steps:

  1. Learn what you can from books, classes at school, your family, your friends, trusted online sources.
  2. Be alert when you're out and about in the community and look for those people and those connections to make
  3. When you find these people - share what you've learned, show how your passionate about learning, explain how you want to learn more, but don't be pushy and don't be rude. From our experience the people who became our mentors offered some form of help.
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 over and over again as you continue to learn and grow.
  5. Start helping others around you who are just starting.


    Now for some caveats (and I do hope I can think of all of them, but if I don't be sure to bring them up in the comments and I'll edit this post as we go)...

      • Don't claim expert status for things that you're not an expert in. I've been learning for years and from many experts and I don't use that word to describe myself. Don't learn for a month or even a year and then go on tiktok to "show off" your skills. If you want to share then share it from the perspective of a student. Before claiming to really "know" something you should have either done it 10,000 times or heard it from 10,000 people. Those numbers are just examples, but hopefully you get the point.
      • Be aware of your intentions and your words. I've had people reach out to me wanting "to help" when really what they want is "to learn". True, there may be a part of them that wants to be helpful, but what's honestly helpful to me is at home childcare, cooking, and cleaning and that's not what they're looking to do. I usually say no to these offers because it's more work to teach you how to do those things you're interested in learning than it is for me to do them myself and at the end of the day. At the end of the day you can walk away with that knowledge and leave me back where I started so be up front about it and if that's what you want to do - just ask for a handout. I'm not in the place now, but I definitely would be willing to mentor people in the future and I think there are others (actual experts) who feel the same way.
      • Somethings are not to be shared on social media and publicly. Some things are sacred and you should always be respectful and aware of that with whatever you are learning.


        Okay that's it! I'm not even going to spell check this thing cause I need to get it out and grab my baby who just woke up from his nap. Let me know if it needs edits or what your thoughts are.


        Na'u no,


        Back to blog


        I love reading your blog posts and appreciate you!!

        Leilani Kaalekahi

        “I felt ashamed that I didn’t know and unworthy to approach people who had the knowledge I craved.”

        Hō, that really says it all for me. I appreciate what you and Malu do for the community. I have followed you over the years and have benefited from the lessons you share. Thanks to technology, stories and teachings are available for those who have access and the skills to navigate through your contributions as well as the many resources you share with us.

        This kupuna struggles with the lessons (no can remember as good as before), but keeps plugging along. Perhaps when I’m not so tongue-twisted with olelo, I will be able to experience your mentorship at a community event.

        Mahalo nui.


        Absolutely love reading your blog posts. You inspire me all the time and I’m always excited when your emails popup.


        Mahalo nui loa for this blog! What you have expressed was very much needed and needed in writing; to be put out there! As a kanaka, I have shared the same sentiments as you. I pray that everyone reads this, shares this and continue to hold themselves accountable on how they move forward. i la maika’i!

        Jody Frederick

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