Kūlia i ka nu‘u, the Value of Achievement

Originally published for the print edition of Ke Ola Magazine: November/December 2013 Hawai‘i island issue.
Previously in this series: Ho‘omau, the Value of Perseverance

Pinwheel plumeria by Rosa Say

As the Hawaiian value of achievement, Kūlia i ka nu‘u promotes personal excellence. Therefore, it is quite understandable that Hawai‘i’s most legendary teacher of Kūlia i ka nu‘u was a queen.

I was a student at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa when I discovered the serene morning pleasures of getting my exercise with a run around Kapi‘olani Park, that verdant oasis between Mt. Leahi (Diamond Head) and Waikīkī. So years later, with frequent business trips from my Big Island home back to O‘ahu, the promise held in staying at Waikīkī hotels was their proximity to the park for my now habitual run.

The scenery along my route has changed as Kapi‘olani Park has aged with me. Nature doesn’t remain constant; you need to look carefully so you won’t miss her surprises. I vividly remember the day I first saw one of those great surprises: Near the bandstand, facing the makai walkway, was a newly placed statue of Queen Kapi‘olani. I stopped to read the inscription at the base of her bronze pedestal:

Queen Kapi‘olani
Queen of Hawaii 1874 – 1891
Kūlia i ka nu‘u
(Strive for the highest)
“The Queen who loved children” was a woman of commanding presence, of easy manner and quiet disposition, ever kind, ever thoughtful of others.
She dedicated her life to the well being of her people.

The statue wasn’t there when I was in college, yet its presence that day of discovery felt perfectly timed. Kūlia i ka nu‘u would not have meant as much to me earlier, and small as she is in her bronze stature there, shaded over by taller over-reaching trees, I may even have passed by the statue completely. Whenever I now have a morning’s opportunity to visit Kapi‘olani Park, I pause at the statue, and silently thank the queen for what her motto has taught me more than one hundred years later. I soak in the encouragement I imagine she’d give me as I think of the summit I currently face. I never fail to resume my run with a spurt in energy I didn’t have moments earlier. Kūlia i ka nu‘u inspires me to be my best, and take actions that matter.

The literal translation of nu‘u is summit, or highest place. Kūlia is to strive. However Kūlia i ka nu‘u is not simply a description the sculptor chose to describe Queen Kapi‘olani; during her lifetime it was widely known as her motto, favorite words she would say often to explain her own beliefs, and to encourage her people to strive constantly, and to reach as high as they could. To act with the spiritual rightness of actions that stem from being at one’s “highest place.” Excellence is never an accident: It is always intentional, and it demands more than the norm. Excellence in the achievements you work for will set you apart, for it will shape your character with the destiny of leadership.

I believe it was this value of Kūlia i ka nu‘u, held by so many here, that helped us realize our strength together in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. These were years when the warmth and beauty of the islands were secondary in what a traveler wanted. Our economy took severely damaging hits in those uncertain months that followed, yet in a relatively short time, we were successful in reminding travelers that Hawai‘i offered U.S. soil to them, and would be a safe haven to visit, a place of our enduring Aloha.

Those formerly in competition eagerly joined forces to tell our story together. In Hawai‘i, we seek to share a feeling that’s very real — the vibrant tangible energy force connected to our spirit of Aloha called Ho‘okipa (hospitality within service). It called out to many visitors, and they came to experience Ho‘okipa for themselves. The perceived risk in traveling began to lessen, and Hawai‘i rebounded much more quickly than most destinations, with Kūlia i ka nu‘u enabling us to do so.

I’d later learn that the statue of Queen Kapi‘olani was unveiled at Kapi‘olani Park on December 31st of that year, as we all looked forward to the promise of more prosperity in 2002. In part, the news release done by the City and County of Honolulu gave this description of what sculptor Holly Young had captured: “Her bronze statue, which is mounted on a pedestal faced with black granite, depicts the Queen in ‘street costume’ at about the age of 40. Her face has a warm, subtle smile and one of her arms is slightly extended, palm open, as if to welcome someone into her home.” In those final months of 2001, Hawai‘i’s entire community extended its arms as well, and we continue to do so. I think Queen Kapi‘olani would be proud of us.

Until next time ~ Rosa Say

Pinwheel plumeria by Rosa Say

For more on Kūlia i ka nu‘u, I invite you to visit my Kūlia i ka nu‘u index archived on www.ManagingWithAloha.com

Next in this series: We will welcome 2014 with Ho‘okipa, the value of hospitality.