Mele Murals project tells Hawaiian stories

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When Estria Miyashiro first caught a glimpse of the blank beige wall of HPM Building Supply last year, he had one thought.


When Estria Miyashiro first caught a glimpse of the blank beige wall of HPM Building Supply last year, he had one thought.

“We were driving by, and I was like, ‘I want to paint this wall,’” the Honolulu-based muralist and Estria Foundation co-founder recalled.

This week, Miyashiro and about 50 youth, who are part of the foundation’s Mele Murals community art movement, are making that happen.

The amateur muralists, composed of Laupahoehoe students and students of the University of Hawaii at Hilo’s Hawaiian Studies program, have been working long hours each day to create a more than 2,400-square-foot outdoor mural rich with stories of Hawaiian culture.

On Tuesday, artists worked hard to complete the mural for a Sunday unveiling — just in time for the start of the Merrie Monarch Festival.

“(The mural) is speaking to people about our Hilo and our Hawaii,” said Shyla Nobriga, 15, one of two teens Tuesday who were painting a portion of the mural depicting Mauna Loa. “The picture is trying to tell us something.”

The mural is one of about a dozen statewide in the Mele Murals series, which includes one in Waimea and several in Kona.

The HPM mural is focused on Hawaiian lyrics (mele), organizers said, mo‘oleolo ‘aina (stories of place), and the culture and history of Hilo.

“Residents, especially Hawaiians or those connected with the land, I think they will get a lot of the messages,” Miyashiro said.

Students in the mural project are mainly at-risk local and Native Hawaiian students who are economically challenged and who lack access to cultural programs, according to a Mele Murals brochure.

The brochure cites a 2012 report that claims Hawaii ranks No. 40 in the nation in art education curriculum requirements. Miyashiro said murals seem to reach students. Students are taught how to meditate — called grounding — prior to choosing mural elements and given some basic art training.

Miyashiro, who’s reported to have created nearly 1,000 murals himself, said he helps turn their concepts into a design.

“In a lot of schools, they don’t have art, so (the students) are excited,” Miyashiro said. “This is something they can connect with, their culture and land, but in a good, exciting way. The only art forms many know are graffiti or tattoos. They don’t go to galleries, they don’t even know what galleries are. So this really resonates with them.”

HPM donated the wall space and also enlisted several employees to volunteer to help paint. The longtime Hilo business also donated supplies — about 40 gallons of house paint and 350 cans of spray paint for the artists to use.


“HPM is 95 years old this year. We’ve been part of the community for a long time, so we try to do many things in community involvement, and this one just seemed awesome,” said HPM Chief Financial Officer Adam Bauer. “We’re right across from the (Edith Kanaka‘ole Multi-Purpose) Stadium, (so) there’s lots of awesome exposure for the artists. So any chance we get, we want to partner and just do what we can.”

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