Two of First Peoples Fund’s Jennifer Easton Community Spirit Award honorees, Chilkat weaver Anna Brown Ehlers (Tlingit) and slack key guitar master Cyril Lani Pahinui (Native Hawaiian) received the 2017 National Endowment for the Arts' National Heritage Fellowship, which were announced last week.
When we reached out to Cyril, a 2013 Community Spirit honoree, to congratulate him, he sent back the beautiful message below filled with aloha, love and community spirit, which we share with you. A post about Anna is coming soon. Cyril has been battling health issues and working composing and teaching from a hospital bed for more than a year.
Mahalo nui for your message of aloha. ʻO wau nō me ka hoʻomaikaʻi. I cannot thank First Peoples Fund enough for your past years of support for my music and projects. Without your support we would never have been able to implement our mentorships and educational programs and the video projects that have kept us active during a long hospital stay and health struggles. Your support most likely gave us the edge with the NEA decision. It is amazing how far a small grant and the feeling that someone believes in the value of his work can take an artist. To you I say, mahalo, mahalo, mahalo. First Peoples Fund has made receiving this highest of honors possible.
Receiving the National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellowship is one of the most amazing achievements in my life. To imagine that the music I learned from my kupuna in the back yard in Waimanalo could carry me around the world and to such an honor as to be recognized with this award is inspiring and humbling.
When my dad and my other Master instructors told me "Stick to your Hawaiian music", I could not imagine that it would take me so far and so I am not alone in receiving this honor. This honor is for all of them. Without them I could not be here to receive it today. I always feel their presence with me when I play and when I teach. Especially my father, Gabby Pahinui who opened the doors for me and for many who play Hawaiian music today. His love for Hawaiian music and his way of making it fresh was critical to holding the interest at a time when so many worldwide influences brought change to our fragile language, traditions, and music. I cannot thank him and the others who trusted me with their knowledge and heartfelt love and for this gift that they gave me. Honoring them by receiving this award is a dream come true. When I first walked on stage at Carnegie Hall, I saw my dad there on the side of the stage in front of me. I heard myself saying out loud, "Pops we made it." And that thought comes to me again with this award. For all those who came before and encouraged me to learn and to always honor my culture and kupuna. This is for them and for those who now carry my teaching forward to the next generation.
Today we go day by day and spend much of our time just getting through each day one at a time. With this funding I can now see my next dream, the Live From Waimanalo webisode become a reality. This award gives voice to the Hawaiian values of kuleana (responsibility) and Alaka'i (leadership) that also come to my mind. With the funding that goes with this award, I can continue to coach, guide, mentor and care for my students. And I can demonstrate with actions that connote support to them and encourage them to lead with initiative. I believe it will also help me to inspire them to continue their learning and teaching and demonstrate the importance of what they have received, give them hope and to have a strong belief in the power of possibility.
Aloha am e, I invite aloha to all of you at First Peoples Fund and pray for your continued success and generous support for the value and unique talents of traditional artists.
Me ka aloha pumehana. Me ka ha'aha'a, Cyril Lani Pahinui, June 25, 2017
Header Image: Cyril Lani Pahinui with a 5th Grade Class. Image courtesy of artist.