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Culture and Community

Kona woman works to preserve and spread Hawaiian culture in West Hawaiʻi

Leināʻala Kekūhaupiʻo-Fruean is a woman who knows her purpose in life. The mother of three wears many hats as a cultural leader in the Kona community. Yet, what keeps her going through the busy weeks, multiple jobs, and hours of service is knowing that she is fulfilling her destiny: to make West Hawaiʻi a better place.

“I’m a mother, I'm a daughter, I'm a cultural advisor, I'm a wife and I love serving, and I love learning,” says Fruean.

Her work in the hospitality industry continuously brings cultural awareness to locals and visitors, while teaching others how to understand and recognize the history and culture that is very dear to the people of Hawaiʻi. 

Fruean has worked for decades as the executive director of sales and cultural consultant for Island Breeze Productions and the director of culture for the Ironman World Triathlon. She serves on the Cultural Advisory Team at the Courtyard by Mariott’s King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel, where she helps provide Hawaiian cultural programs weekly. She also helps to coordinate volunteers for the yearly restoration of the Ahuʻena Heiau. 

Fruean is the president of Hui O Hanohano, a nonprofit that focuses on Native Hawaiian growth through a community program called Hāleo Hawaiʻi. This program provides training and material to Hawaiian kūpuna and child caregivers to enhance the spiritual, physical, and mental health of Hawaiian keiki. 

Hāleo also works to spread Hawaiian culture through hosting educational, cultural, and language programs at events and schools like the University of the Nations, where Fruean serves as the Hawaiian cultural monitor.

Fruean is also the president of Hawaiʻi Kuauli, a Pacific and Asia cultural celebration festival in the heart of Kona. The festival celebrates the beauty of the ethnicities found on Hawaiʻi Island by showcasing these cultures through performances, activities, food, and fashion. The 2024 festival is June 7–9th at the King Kamehameha Kona Beach Resort.

Her inspiration for impacting the community stems from her passion for learning and spreading that knowledge to others. She says this contributes to her purpose in life and her identity as a Native Hawaiian woman. Her hānai father once told her, “Oni kalalea ke kū a ka lāʻau loa” meaning “the tall tree stands and projects prominently (of an important person)” believing that she will be a learner for life, guiding others with her knowledge to support the community. “No matter what, I will never stop learning and embracing the great things that we have on earth, and we got to be grateful because the times and era we live in now is not an easy world,” says Fruean. 

“What I love to do is all the things that help bring cultural awareness,” says Fruean. She works with different teams who have become her family to spread knowledge of the Hawaiian culture to children, kūpuna, locals, and visitors. 

She says visitors can learn to respect Hawaiian culture by getting educated by the staff in the places they travel to. For example, if a visitor goes to a hotel, the staff at that hotel must be equipped and prepared with the knowledge and history of their land. 

“That’s how it’s passed on,” shares Fruean. “That’s how our visitors are not going to be ignorant visitors, but they're going to be well-informed visitors because we as people – whether you're Native Hawaiian or non-Native Hawaiian – that’s your responsibility.”  

“It's not just a landing strip, it’s a place that we call home, and that we steward, and we know the stories of this place,” she adds.  

That’s why whenever Fruean sees a need in the community, whether it’s assisting the kūpuna, educating in the schools, or hosting a cultural program, she always lends a helping hand. “You must have your pulse on your community,” she says. This is how others can strive to educate themselves about Hawaiian culture and make a positive difference in West Hawaiʻi.

No matter what, I will never stop learning.

You must have your pulse on your community.