Lining the wall outside of Anna Panoho’s office in the Kaua‘i Museum are portraits of na pua ali‘i o Kaua‘i — the ruling chiefs of Kaua‘i. The North Shore residents who sat for artist Laka Morton’s portraits are o‘hana to Panoho.
“I moved here when I was 17,” said the museum’s newly appointed educational director. “These are my family, so it makes it very hard to work because I have to behave.”
When Panoho moved to Kaua‘i 30 years ago, she was hanaied by a number of North Shore residents.
She refers to her humble beginnings with her adopted families as maka‘ainana — or common people.
And it is with them she feels she learned the true nature of Kaua‘i culture. This truth is what she hopes to impart on the community through programming that invites maka‘ainana into the museum.
“I want local people to come in and feel at home in their own museum,” she said. “I want them to share their history, memories or genealogy — whatever makes them comfortable.”
Some of the programming Panoho hopes to integrate will shine new light on Kaua‘i’s history.
“No more O‘ahu explanation of Kaua‘i,” she said. “We need to get back to Kaua‘i’s explanation of Kaua‘i so we can present the uniqueness of Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau.”
One way she hopes to expand into the community is by having organizations that are doing something culturally accurate to use the museum as a venue for fundraisers.
“I also want to utilize Kaua‘i Community College students in the Hawaiian Studies program and the hospitality industry program,” she said. “I’d like to partner kupuna with the students so they can learn from each other.”
She describes her own education as traditional Hawaiian where stories were passed down orally.
“I am one of those people with not a lot of formal education,” she said. “All of my knowledge fits in my pinkie finger — I am a life-long learner.”
Almost everything Panoho knows of Kaua‘i came from what she described as backyard knowledge that comes from spending time with aunties and uncles.
“Not all knowledge comes from a halau,” she said, quoting Mary Kawena Pukui. “I was taught the old way.”
She described hula as the center of learning with off-shoots of equal importance being instrument makers, those with traditional plant knowledge and growers of tapa.
Panoho plans to do community outreach into the tourist industry with the intention of disseminating culturally accurate information.
“I want to bring corporate managers from the resorts to the museum,” she said. “I want the tourist industry to know they are getting the real story.”
Panoho hopes to collaborate with the Kaua‘i Historical Society.
“We are two halves of the same papaya,” she said. “I want to bring the two entities together.”