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Dave Manu Bird

By Renée Tillotson

If you’ve ever wondered why Mālia writes so well, or why she reads everything in sight, right down to the ingredients on the cereal box at the breakfast table, you’ll get a big part of the answer by understanding her relationship with her dad, Dave Manu Bird.

Manu was a man who understood the importance of words, and he dedicated much of his life to refining people’s ability to connect through language. He even wrote and used his own textbook in his English classes! As a Leeward Community College professor, he gave enormous assistance to many students struggling to find their voices. Students held him in high regard, and their reviews give a multi-faceted view of him:

“Professor Bird is amazing. He has a passion for language and gives great explanations. Lectures are interesting. Assignments can be challenging but he is available before and after class to help. He still looks at my papers for me for other classes. This class sets you up for your college career and is a must for a beginning student.”

“Bird is an awesome kumu with a passion for language, especially Hawaiian. He is always willing to help with work, talk stories, anykine whatevaz. “

“Manu meaning Bird. First words that are given on how to address him.”

“Prof. Bird wants students to have tremendous success in their writing. Take a chance and write something that will last a lifetime.”

“Dave is one of the best profs I’ve had. I took him once for English 100 and English 211. Ask questions if you don’t understand, and you will pass with flying colors! He is full of wisdom, take advantage and learn from him!”

“If you have taken Intro to Psychology, indigenous studies, or a language class, this course expands on those topics as well helps understand the grammar in your language class.”

“David Bird or as he likes to be called, Manu, is an amazing professor. I can honestly say that he is a teacher at the top of my list. Although he may seem crazy and laid back at times, he truly cares about every student’s learning. He is always available when you need help.”

“Also he brings coffee, tea, hot cocoa, and snacks to every class for all of his students.”

“RECOMMENDED! Dave Bird is the best teacher I’ve experienced at Leeward. His laugh is unforgettable.”

Dave developed his own English class called Writing About Sites on O’ahu which at its heart had an exploration of primary sources. He took his students to see archives and collections of all kinds to inspire them. 

“Bird is a lovable old man who will regale you with his own tales and inspire you to write.”

“Mr. Bird is a great Professor! He teaches lots of Grammar, and I actually understood it! He’s a man who cares about you, and is full of the Aloha Spirit:)”

“If you love writing, you’ll get along fine with Bird. He’s there to inspire people and nudge them in the right direction. The burden is on the student to produce, though. He doesn’t chase down the people who aren’t turning in classwork.”

“If you dislike writing, Mr.Bird will change that for you. He is always willing to help and strives to bring out your best qualities. A totally motivating teacher with a positive attitude.”

“absolutely THE CHILLEST prof on campus. you won’t regret taking his class. I suspect he was a hippy. uses phrases like “far-out” and chews betel nut. answers questions clearly. Oh and did I mention there’s free coffee?” 

“Kumu Bird is da BOMB!” 

As the testimonials above illustrate, Manu was an unconventional and memorable teacher.

One of Malia’s high points each year – and no doubt Manu’s, too – was to lecture in one of her dad’s Leeward CC classes on writing from the standpoint of personal storytelling. Mālia grew up writing out her homework next to her dad, sitting at a bar after school, as he sipped a cold one. Mālia and Manu would later write songs together, both in English and Hawaiian. Manu and Mālia honored her grandmother by crafting the lyrics and music for a mele (song) after her passing. Manu was writing poetry with Mālia’s daughter just this last year.

Many of Mālia’s dance students remember her frequent references to her dad putting her in hula classes and keeping her there, no matter how many tantrums she threw or how many times she told him she hated hula. Manu simply saw hula as an essential part of her education, no doubt appreciating it for the Hawaiian culture and language that he loved so well, as much as for the dancing.

Manu’s legacy spreads across the Pacific islands. 

He made a particularly strong impact on the island of Yap, where he moved his family for 5 years during Mālia’s early childhood. He worked in both the Yap Department of Education and the Governor’s office. He authored a book about the first Yap State Constitutional Convention called Yap Regains Its Sovereignty. He even adopted the daughter of a Yapese friend (at the friend’s beseeching request) so that she would enjoy the benefits of a good education. That family blending is so strong that decades later the great-granddaughter of his Yapese friend has grown up in the house with Manu and his wife Mary.

Dave understood the critical importance of a people having a written language so that their mana’o (wisdom) and ‘olēlo (language) could be preserved over the generations. Knowing how much the Hawaiians treasured their newfound ability to read and write in their own language once the Hawaiian alphabet and written language were formulated in the 1800’s, Manu devoted years of his life doing the same for a number of Polynesian peoples on various islands in the Pacific. 

He started at UH by writing a Fijian grammar book. He traveled throughout Micronesia as a curriculum specialist, developing teaching materials for the outer islands and recruiting people to become teachers.

He spent time with native speakers of remote islands, learning enough of their languages to choose the appropriate letters for their alphabet and crafting a written language for them. I believe he wrote dictionaries and grammar texts for them

Speaking with Manu, I could tell that he considered those written languages to be some of his most significant contributions to the world… in addition to providing us with a wonderful kumu hula: his daughter Mālia.

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This post is also available in: 日本語 (Japanese)