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A Unique Program in West Oʻahu Leads Boys on a Path to Manhood

A Unique Program in West Oʻahu Leads Boys on a Path to Manhood 


In a recent culinary workshop led by men leaders of Liliʻuokalani Trust, several teenage boys questioned the need for cooking skills — a role associated with their mothers. The leaders explained to the boys that in traditional Hawaiian culture, kāne (men) had the kuleana (responsibility) to nourish and cook for their families.

It was a pivotal moment for the boys, and one of many breakthroughs in ʻŌpūaliʻi Hekili, a Trust program that guides boys toward success. ʻŌpualiʻi Hekili integrates Hawaiian cultural practices, with vocational training and life-skills coaching.

“We teach our ʻōpio kāne (youth boys), so that they can understand their roles as Hawaiian men,” says Pōkiʻi Magallanes, a Youth Development Specialist at the Trust.

Magallanes oversees the ʻŌpūaliʻi Hekili program with three other Teammates at the Trust. They are: Kainoa Aila, Youth Development Specialist; Makalauna Feliciano, Advisor of Practice Development and Cultural Practitioner; and Moon Kauakahi, a Youth Development Specialist, also known as “Uncle Moon.”

The boys, mostly ages 12 to 18, hail from Waiʻanae, Nānākuli, and other rural regions of West Oʻahu. Many are raised by single mothers, or do not have male role models in their lives.

The Teammates fill that void.

Through mentoring, the Teammates aim to transform West Oʻahu communities into places where “thriving Hawaiian young boys become great men in our society, in our communities, and in their families,” Feliciano says.

He adds that the word ʻŌpūaliʻi stems from ʻōlelo noʻeau, or the proverb from Pukui, #369: “E ōpū aliʻi.” It means to have a heart of a chief, or the kindness, generosity, and even temper of a chief.

The word Hekili means thunder, passion, or intensity. The Teammates emphasize that the program does not favor masculinity over femininity. ʻŌpualiʻi Hekili encourages boys to balance their mana (energy), composed of both kāne energy (kū) and wahine energy (hina).

The boys learn to embrace their hina energy, such as when they humbly open themselves to new ideas. On the opposite end, Magallanes says that “too much kū can result in negative energy, driving the boys toward testosterone-driven impulsiveness, or toward behaviors that are destructive to themselves and to the environment.”

Balance is key.

ʻŌpūaliʻi Hekili draws inspiration from the traditional Hawaiian concept of hale mua, also known as “men’s house.” Historically, the hale mua was a sacred space where male elders imparted their knowledge, values, and skills to other men as they assumed kuleana in their families and communities. It was a rite of passage for adolescent boys, who came of age, to join men in the hale mua.

Similarly, rites of passage occur in the hale mua of ʻŌpūaliʻi Hekili. The boys learn cultural practices, such as moʻolelo (storytelling), ‘oli (chant), mele (song), haʻa koa (warrior temple dances), and ceremonial etiquettes. They receive lessons in fighting arts, fishing, personal hygiene, proper dressing, and public speaking. And they participate in contemporary arts, and traditional vocations like woodworking and stone carving. They also learn how to loop and knot a proper necktie. Over spring break, the boys and Teammates trapped pigs and mastered meat-cooking techniques in the kitchen and smoker. 

Hekili emphasizes sound bodies and minds. The boys learn about healthy eating habits and nutrition, and they engage in weekly circuit training sessions to improve flexiblity, strength, and endurance.

The Teammates continue to see the fruits of their efforts, as the boys gain self-confidence and a deep connection to their Hawaiian identity.

One participant, ʻEkahi A., says that ʻŌpūaliʻi Hekili enriches him spiritually, emotionally, and physically. “I like learning the haka, and building Hawaiian things, and being with my friends,” ʻEkahi says. “I want to be a warrior — and help kids like Uncle Pōkiʻi does.”