Community efforts bring KAUPA mural, Kalihi spirit to life

Jamie Winpenny

KALIHI—A project that began as a brainstorm in a board meeting two years ago came to fruition in a massive, vibrant mural conceived and created by the community it represents. Nearly a hundred are responsible for bringing a bright new mural to life along Kalihi Stream.

The purpose of the collaborative street art is to beautify the community and educate its members about the ahupuaa’s heritage, its reality, and its potential.

The years-long efforts were led by Kalihi Ahupuaa Ulu Pono Ahahui (KAUPA), whose work in the community had been most attributed to educating people about the Kalihi watershed.

At a time when economic conditions see non-profits sustain ruinous losses in grant funding, KAUPA was able to keep its vision alive, despite the evaporation of available resources.

“It was kind of a painful process,” says KAUPA Executive Director Barbara Natale of the mural project. “But we got through it.”

Natale speaks of hurdles and delays in conducting workshops, gathering tools and materials, and finding the volunteers needed to get the work done. After the initial planning phase was completed, resources dried up and the project stalled.

A grant from the Hawaii Community Foundation eventually came through, and it was crucial in securing materials. But above all, Natale marvels at the perseverance of the people of Kalihi, and their desire to turn a graffiti-stained stretch of Kalihi Stream into a remarkable work of public art, vivid with color and symbolism.

“About 60 people volunteered,” says Natale. “And we had at least a dozen people who were there every step of the way.”

Among those who contributed to the mural project is a list of renowned Hawaii artists, including John “Prime” Hina, who recently completed another monumental mural project on the side of a warehouse near Honolulu Community College in Kalihi. Solomon Enos, Meleana Meyer, Harinani Orme, and Kahi Ching were also instrumental in the creation of the massive work of art.

In all, over 40 gallons of paint, 72 cans of aerosol paint, and hundreds upon hundreds of hours of work by dozens of individuals have resulted in the beautification of an area blighted by graffiti. Completed over one week, the 250-foot long mural depicts the mythology, history, and aspirations of a vital Hawaii community.

Natale speaks reverently of the images of kupuna and ceremonial drums, of references to the god Wakea and the sacred wind that blows through Kalihi Valley. “It’s just beautiful,” she says, smiling.

The Kalihi Stream mural at Kalihi Waena Elementary is a shining example of the ability of a relatively small community to galvanize around a vision for positive change. It has the power to serve as an inspiration to not only the people of Kalihi, but to all who face the challenges of diminishing resources.