Whenever I think of Hawaii, I am always transported to a land of beauty, color, and diversity. There is just something about this beautiful island that immediately brings warmth and happiness to my soul.
The energy of her distinct nature is one of a kind and hard to replicate, but opening a package sent by my old college friend Chastine for my son, Balthazar, gave me that warm feeling. She gave my son a big puzzle with our favorite Filipino dishes. It was created by Keiki Kaukau, a Hawaii-based toy company that aims to celebrate Hawaii’s diversity through its line of books and toys.
Founded by April Hail, Keiki Kaukau showcases the best of Hawaii and its culture through its wooden blocks, puzzles and playsets. When asked what inspired her unique collection, April said: “When I had my two children, I was able to take a break from my work as a teacher, which opened the door to thinking about other projects and activities. Both my children loved playing with play food from around age 2, and have found food toys to be a great way to stimulate social interaction and cultural learning.”
“For those who don’t know, in Hawaii keiki means ‘child’ and kaukau means ‘food’. I was struck by the fact that there were no play foods representing the beloved cuisine and unique to Hawaii, so I sketched out the original Keiki Kaukau play food set and started looking for a manufacturer. I knew there had to be other parents and caregivers like me who wanted to toys for their keiki that reflect what is so special about our home culture. I really never intended to start a business or create a full time job for myself doing this, but l The reception has been positive and over the past two years the collection has grown organically.”
Coming from a mixed background herself, April understands the importance of celebrating different cultures.
April hail from Hawaiian toy company Keikei Kaukau
Recognizing the influence of Filipinos on Hawaiian culture, the company launched the Kain na! puzzle, featuring Adobo and Halo-Halo among other Pinoy favorites
“My parents met while studying at the University of Hawaii; my mother was from Hong Kong and my father from Los Angeles. Growing up in Honolulu, it was the norm to have friends representing a wide an array of cultural roots, which manifested in a colorful environment. an array of traditions and of course, delicious cuisine! When I grew up and attended college on the mainland, I could look back and realizing what a gift it was to have been raised in such a diverse and inclusive environment, inequality and friction like everywhere else, but I think most people here take it for granted that diversity is an asset and that peaceful coexistence is a laudable goal.”
With this as her inspiration, April incorporates Hawaiian culture in many ways.
“Much of the native Hawaiian culture and language has been tragically erased over the past few centuries, but there has been a renewed effort across the islands to preserve the wisdom and ways of the original inhabitants of this land. I think it’s the responsibility of anyone living in or even visiting Hawaii to learn at least some of the native language and history of this place, and of course there’s no better time to start only in early childhood.
“That said, Keiki Kaukau primarily reflects and celebrates the hybrid culture of modern Hawaii with its many pan-Pacific influences. There are other brands that have greater authority to speak to and elevate native Hawaiian culture specifically, and that Kahua’āina, Kākou Collective, and Kaleimamo Hawaii are a few examples of brands that center Hawaiian language, knowledge, and stories in their beautifully designed products.
April also acknowledges the influence of Filipinos on Hawaiian culture.
“Filipinos have been an important part of Hawaii’s social fabric since the turn of the 20th century, when they were recruited as laborers for the sugar cane and pineapple plantations. At that time, it was in the interest plantation owners to segregate ethnic groups and stoke racism. , and unfortunately Filipino workers were often discriminated against. Many nevertheless made a new home for themselves and their families in Hawaii, and now make up the second ethnic group here.We had the first Filipino American governor in the United States, Ben Cayetano, and homegrown celebrities like Bruno Mars, Nicole Scherzinger, and Bretman Rock all have Filipino roots.
“Our Kain na! puzzle highlights Filipino dishes that we are lucky enough to be able to taste here in Hawaii. It’s a small thing, but I think it’s a way to introduce very young children to a culture who has contributed so much to modern Hawaii.”
When asked how she wants to inspire families and children with her toys and books, April thoughtfully replies, “In the modern world, it’s hard not to get overwhelmed by mainstream mainstream culture. I mean, it’s crazy that you can go pretty much anywhere in the world and find an item with a Mickey Mouse or a Spiderman on it, or eat at a McDonald’s or a Pizza Hut There’s a flattening of all the things that we make them unique.
“By creating more culture-specific toys, I want kids to know that their own food and traditions are worth representing and celebrating. For people who come to Hawaii on vacation, I would like them to see beyond the beautiful beaches and hula girls and learn a little more about our people and our history through these artifacts and books, even from modest way.”
To learn more about April and Keiki Kaukau, visit keikikaukau.com.