When Sister Malia Wong isn’t teaching, you’re likely to find her around campus gathering, protecting and identifying native plants.
The humanities professor has made it her mission to help heal those around her using traditional Hawaiian plants and medicine. From a friend battling cancer to a colleague suffering from a skin rash, Wong has a cure.
“My teacher, Kumu Levon Ohai from Kaua‘i, kahuna la‘au lapa‘au, taught me an important lesson,” says Wong. “The creator provides us with everything we need.”
“Chaminade is a district of Kalaepohaku in the Kapalama ahupua‘a,” she continues. “On campus, everything that we need can be found right here. That’s what makes our campus so sustainable.”
But it’s not just about picking and using plants, it’s about having a relationship with them.
“If you don’t include prayer, attention and respect, then you’re just playing with plants,” says Wong as she rummages through a bag of tinctures and ointments. “It’s about having the interrelationship with the plants that makes it so special. Our plants speak to us, and share their stories with us.”
She pulls out a mason jar full of naupaka leaves that she collected from upper campus soaking in coconut oil. “This is a great natural sunscreen. You can take the plant and rub it on yourself to protect your skin from the sun.”
Wong is constantly sharing her knowledge and gift with the rest of campus and those around her—from stocking the Center for Teaching and Learning with homemade loose-leaf teas for her colleagues, to hosting a mini weekend-long summer institute workshop for the public, to teaching classes and collaborating with other professors on curricula. Her office is full of plant tags and stakes that she plans to use to label plants around campus. She’s even created an online database and a campus map identifying all of the native plants, including those of other traditions, that have medicinal uses.
Last year, in her environmental ethics class, her students got really involved in protecting the native foliage in the oval at the entrance to campus. Professors from other departments have also expressed interest in partnering, including an English professor who wanted to share Hawaiian lore about plants with students. Even participants in this year’s Montessori summer institute became involved, with groups of visiting teachers searching for and learning to identify native plants around campus.
“We all have this interconnectedness with everything,” says Wong. “And we have the wisdom of our elders within us. Why not just remember we are all a part of this earth? If we balance ourselves with nature, then we’ll be okay.”