Hawaii Kala Kaawa Malo Crowd
Courtesy Lei Mahi
John Kekaʻa Kahiewalu Kalauli “Kalā” Ka’awa III walks back through the crowd at the University of Hawaii in his malo.

Native Hawaiian Graduate Shows Off His Malo, Gets Standing Ovation


John Kekaʻa Kahiewalu Kalauli “Kalā” Ka’awa III, a 23-year-old who recently graduated from the University of Hawaii, Manoa, chose to go the ask forgiveness instead of permission route at his graduation ceremony last month.

Even his mother wasn’t sure he should do it—strip down to his malo, a traditional Hawaiian loincloth, on stage. “I don’t know,” his mother said in a text during the ceremony, “think about it.”

But he, and some other students, did it. And Ka’awa won’t need to ask anyone’s forgiveness—he was surprised by the standing ovation and cheers he received as he walked back to his seat.

“When I raised my arm, I didn’t expect the whole auditorium to go crazy, but I received a standing ovation,” Ka’awa told Hawaii News Now.

John Kekaʻa Kahiewalu Kalauli “Kalā” Ka’awa III hoists his diploma in his malo. (Courtesy Josh Lee)

“I was so touched by the reaction of the crowd that I stood there in complete awe for a while ... soaking in the feeling of accomplishment and pride for my culture,” he told The Huffington Post. “It felt really good to be received that way by such an enormous crowd.”

Ka’awa, who is Native Hawaiian, had been wearing the malo under his graduation gown because he was part of an oli, or traditional chant before the ceremony.

Ka’awa with the group that performed the oli before the graduation ceremony. (Kalā Ka’awa)

“I imagined being escorted from stage,” he said. “Not being allowed to graduate, being mocked by the people up there just because it’s not the ‘norm’ to wear a malo for graduation.”

So why do it? “Culture is a big thing in my family, and I just wanted to bring that out to the public so other people or families can show their roots and be proud with their culture too,” Ka’awa told Hawaii News Now.

He graduated with two bachelor’s degrees at last month’s ceremony—he double majored in Hawaiian Language and Hawaiian Studies with a concentration on Mālama ʻāina (land conservation). According to Hawaii News Now, he’ll begin studies for his master’s degree in Hawaiian Studies soon.

The malo is a basic traditional garment, which was worn by Hawaiian men, whether royal or commoners.

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