UH archivist em­braces dig­i­tal age

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - LOCAL&BUSINESS - MICHAEL TSAI

Raised in Vir­ginia and weaned cul­tur­ally and in­tel­lec­tu­ally at the in­ter­sec­tion of DIY punk ethos, anti-cap­i­tal­ist ac­tivism and comic nerd­dom, Koa Luke seems an un­ob­vi­ous per­son to help birth a new age of Hawai­ian schol­ar­ship.

But for Luke, a cat­a­loger and as­sis­tant archivist at the Univer­sity of Hawaii at West Oahu, the move from an­ar­chist to archivist was a sim­ple mat­ter of per­sonal evo­lu­tion.

Luke was born in Honolulu and raised pri­mar­ily in the D.C. area. His fa­ther, who served in the Air Force, is Na­tive Hawai­ian; his mother, a proud Min­nesotan.

While the fam­ily moved fre­quently as his fa­ther’s as­sign­ments changed, Luke said his fa­ther did his best to in­still lo­cal and Hawai­ian val­ues in him and his two sib­lings. Luke’s aware­ness of his na­tive back­ground also caused his ears to perk up when is­sues re­lated to in­dige­nous peo­ple were raised in the var­i­ous places he lived.

Af­ter an abortive stint at Vir­ginia Com­mon­wealth Univer­sity, Luke im­mersed him­self in so­cial ac­tivism, bounc­ing about a na­tional net­work of punk-af­fil­i­ated po­lit­i­cal move­ments and par­tic­i­pat­ing in demon­stra­tions against the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion in Seat­tle and the In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund in Vir­ginia.

Luke even­tu­ally landed in In­di­ana — “lit­er­ally the least di­verse place,” he cracks — and a book­store col­lec­tive through which he got in­volved in the Pages to Pris­on­ers Project, which ad­vo­cated for ed­u­ca­tional rights for in­car­cer­ated peo­ple and op­er­ated a small li­brary for pris­on­ers.

“A lot of my ex­pe­ri­ences dur­ing this time were in­formed by be­ing Hawai­ian and be­ing a mi­nor­ity,” he said.

Yet, while Luke was in­vested in the causes he cham­pi­oned, he sensed a dis­com­fort and de­fen­sive­ness from those around him when­ever he broached is­sues of in­dige­nous rights and colo­nial­ism. At the same time, he felt a grow­ing de­sire to fur­ther ex­plore his Hawai­ian roots.

“I re­al­ized that the move­ments I was

in could be a bit shal­low,” he said. “I started to feel that Na­tive Hawai­ian is­sues were more mean­ing­ful be­cause I’m ge­nealog­i­cally con­nected to the land. It feels more alive to me, and I wanted to learn the lan­guage and the cul­ture and to see how I could help.”

Luke re­turned to Hawaii and earned a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in po­lit­i­cal sci­ence with an em­pha­sis on Hawai­ian pol­i­tics.

His stud­ies were both highly mo­ti­vat­ing — dur­ing one archival ex­plo­ration, he dis­cov­ered his great-grand­fa­ther’s sig­na­ture among the Kue Petitions op­pos­ing Amer­i­can an­nex­a­tion — and at times frus­trat­ing.

Too of­ten Luke found his re­search in­quiries met with un­friendly stares, need­less red tape and badly out­moded sys­tems of ac­cess. He be­gan to un­der­stand that for all of the Hawai­ian historical ma­te­rial now be­ing made avail­able through dig­i­ti­za­tion and other archival ef­forts and all of the in­ter­est and en­ergy on the part of emerg­ing Hawai­ian schol­ars, im­por­tant work would be stymied with­out ready con­duits be­tween the two.

And so Luke got a master’s de­gree in li­brary sci­ence and set about be­ing just such a link.

As an in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tor, he es­tab­lished the Nona Beamer Col­lec­tion for the Hula Preser­va­tion So­ci­ety, metic­u­lously cat­a­loging photos, or­ga­niz­ing mele, set­ting ac­cess poli­cies and adopt­ing preser­va­tion tech­niques.

Luke now works in UHWO’s Ulu­ulu: The Henry Ku­ualoha Gi­ugni Mov­ing Im­age Ar­chive, cat­a­loging and oth­er­wise help­ing to over­see au­dio­vi­sual ma­te­rial re­lated to Na­tive Hawai­ian is­sues and com­mu­ni­ties.

“In ev­ery­thing I do I see the im­por­tance of pre­serv­ing the past for fu­ture keiki, fu­ture lahui, and to break stereo­types of what a Hawai­ian is,” he said.


Koa Luke ———

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