KAHULUI The new executive director of Maui Nui Botanical Gardens wants to cultivate public interest in what she calls “a cultural gem in the middle of Kahului.”
Joylynn Jennifer-Nedine Mailemekalokelanionakupuna Nakoa Kaho’okele Paman took over as head of the 7-acre facility last week.
She succeeds Lisa Schattenburg-Raymond, who is teaching at the University of Hawaii Maui College, and Anders Lyons, who served as interim executive director.
Paman’s vision for Maui Nui Botanical Gardens may sprout partially from having studied Hawaiian language for 18 years.
“My vision here is to infuse the Hawaiian culture even more than it already is into this place. I come from a strong Hawaiian culture and language background, and so I just see the potential in sharing our Hawaiian culture with the community.
“The board wants to make sure that people know about this place. . . . It’s like a cultural gem in the middle of Kahului that we really need to share with everyone else.”
A Kamehameha Schools Kapalama graduate, Paman holds a bachelor’s degree in marine science from the University of Hawaii at Hilo. While a college student, she held a UH Hawaiian internship at the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary to study the cultural and historical importance of whales in Hawaii. Later, she served as Hawaiian cultural educator at the sanctuary for five years, then worked three years with the Maui Invasive Species Committee.
Meanwhile, she served a decade in various positions – volunteer, board member and vice president, and current executive director – for ‘Ao’ao O Na Loko I’a O Maui, or Association of the Fishponds of Maui. During that time, she said, she raised from $400,000 to $500,000 in state, federal and private grants for the nonprofit association.
Sitting in the shade at the gardens, an oasis of serenity where Wailuku and Kahului intersect, she said: “Through my experience working with the fishpond in the past, I feel confident that I will be able to do a lot of good; to raise community awareness about this place, and to create a more aggressive educational program and invite more students and schools to learn about the native plants.
“It’s a wonderful resource too. You have like 70 varieties of kalo (taro), like 30 varieties of uala (sweet potato) here. There’s such a diverse amount of plants here . . . so hopefully we can share that information with others and make a difference on Maui.”
Perhaps as influential as her educational and professional background were three mentors: her grandfather, Ned Nakoa of Kahakuloa; her uncle, Harry Mitchell Sr. of Keanae, iconic leader of the Protect Kaho’olawe ‘Ohana; and her fishpond colleague and community organizer, Kimo-keo Kapahulehua of Honokohau.
Paman saluted her grandfather’s “work ethic of always being a very hard worker and not letting things
stand in his way. He would always get the job done. . . . In Kahakuloa, our grandparents would watch us on the weekends, and I spent summers out there helping my grandfather clear the land . . . 3 or 4 acres. It transformed from just an overgrown area into beautiful loi (taro patches). My grandfather cut all of those roads and built those swinging bridges that everybody uses now.
“So the work ethic really inspired me, as well as growing up in Keanae working at the fruit stand,” she added. “We always were able to visit our Uncle Harry Mitchell in Keanae. My ‘papa’ was Harry Mitchell Sr. We never knew he was this huge person in Hawaiian history. Because my uncle and aunty didn’t have any children, we were their hanai kids and Uncle Harry was another one of my fathers.”
Regarding Kapahulehua, she said, “When I think of Uncle Kimokeo, the word that comes to mind is ‘holomua’ (advance). His idea is always to move forward. Never mind if there are setbacks. Just keep going and act on things, not just sit around at meetings and talk story, but actually do something.
“That type of work ethic has really helped me along in the professional world today. And he taught me it’s important not only to live for today but also to create a legacy for the kids for tomorrow,” she said.
The mother of sons Ka’imipono, 3, and Kamaha’o, 2, said she will continue to administer the fishpond nonprofit from her home at Waiohuli Hawaiian homestead in Kula.
“It’s one of my passions – to just see the fishpond wall continue to be rebuilt. Like Kimokeo said, we need to have a legacy. I hope the wall continues to be there for the next couple hundred years.”
And, her new job to enhance public interest in cultural, biological and other aspects of Maui Nui Botanical Gardens will pay tribute to the kupuna, or ancestors, in her name: Mailemekalokelanionakupuna, or “maile intertwined with the heavenly rose of the grandparents.”
“I want to honor those people who have really, truly made an impact in my life,” Paman said. “I was exposed to so many things, I learned a lot. I can really look back and cherish what I was exposed to. It is really my responsibility to carry on what I was exposed to back then.”