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Sail Into Culture

Posted on Apr 11, 2016 by in The OFI Blog |


Past intern at CFCH, Ka’ai McAfee-Torco enjoying the Hawaiian sun on a canoe.

Kaʻai McAfee-Torco was an intern at Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage (CFCH) during the 2013 Smithsonian Folklife Festival called One World, Many Voices: Endangered Languages and Cultural Heritage. The Festival brought cultural experts from all around the world to show how language is crucial to every culture’s survival. Fourteen communities were selected, including a delegation from Hawaii to share the story of kuu olelo makuahine—Ka’ai’s first language of Hawaiian.

In a recent article for the Center of Folklife, she reflects on her time here at the Smithsonian. She said, “I loved being at the Festival, but what I remember most is all the participants hanging out at the end of the day: late-night kanikapila jams, trying out new instruments, participating in dances from other cultures, or just walking to a store at midnight for ice cream. It was an exciting environment to learn and collaborate with others. Within two weeks I felt like I belonged to a family from Colombia even though we could only converse through a translation app on my phone. I found my Siletz aunties, my Garifuna uncles, my Hungarian sisters, and my Passamaquoddy, Tuvan, and Penobscot brothers. We didn’t share a mother language but a passion for our cultures.”

After her journey at the Smithsonian, Ka’ai returned back to Hawaii where she landed a job at Kanehunamoku Voyaging Academy, a nonprofit organization that teaches STEM through traditional beliefs and perspective of a waa (canoe), inspiring students to explore careers in the maritime industry.

To read more about Ka’ai’s time at the Smithsonian, check it out on the Folklife website here.