Storytelling Reimagined In Molokai MuralsStorytelling is a waning art. It could be that there are just fewer people telling the stories, or maybe fewer people who remember and know to listen.
“Mo‘olelo aren’t just fairy tales or story books,” says Maile Naehu, director of the Molokai Nui A Hina project. “They actually have deep lessons in them.
“This is why the wind blows this way in this area, this is why the rain reacts this way, and this why the mullet aren’t spawning.”
And 48 such stories and lessons made it into this month’s display at The ARTS at Marks Garage: an eight-panel mural painted by students, kupuna and professional artists on Molokai.
Naehu, a Molokai-based arts teacher, explains that it began last year, after she had dinner with artist Meleanna Meyer, who suggested the two collaborate on a new project.
“When she threw it out there, I was like, ah, I gotta take this opportunity. I might not ever have this opportunity again, especially on Molokai, with such a small community and being able to work with master artists at that level,” Naehu notes. “Right there on the spot, I told her, ‘Let’s do it.'”
Thirteen months later, Naehu had rounded up funding and a cadre of professional artists — Meyer, Solomon Enos, Kahi Ching, Harinane Orme and Al Lagunero — along with 16 students ages 11-18 and several area kupuna, including Opu‘ulani Albino.
After a weekend tour of cultural sites around Molokai, the group reconvened and spent a week in March holed up at Keawanui Fishpond, living off the land and devoting themselves to painting.
The pros walked the students through the creation process, and the days involved everything from deer hunting to impromptu mud art.
“Some of the kids would stay up all night because Solomon wanted to paint at night,” Naehu remembers, “and we left that freedom there. When you feel like picking up a brush, pick up a brush.”
The finished product pays tribute to four ideas of Molokai: “most sacred prayer,” “abundant land,” “the great child of Hina” and “better than the best.” Within those themes, the students wove aspects of smaller mo‘olelo, as well as Molokai’s signature red-dirt color palette.
“It worked out really magical,” Naehu says.
While the murals are at Marks for the month, their official home is Molokai High School’s library, where the community can easily view them.
“The response was just overwhelming,” Naehu remembers. “A lot of my generation or the generation above — the elders — were just in tears and really moved because they had heard these stories (as children), and it just wasn’t being told anymore.”
It’s no coincidence that all the student participants can now tell the mo‘olelo they illustrated.
There may be new life in this waning art yet.
Molokai Nui A Hina will be on display at The ARTS at Marks Garage through July 31. A special reception will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday (July 9) in conjunction with Chinatown’s DiscoverArt event, featuring the artists and students. For more information, visit artsatmarks.com.