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Hula Is Perpetuated in Keauhou
Some times, the best things in life are those done purely for the joy of doing them, the pleasure of sharing them and the satisfaction of introducing them to someone younger.
Two tiny Saffron finches fed on the grasses growing in front of the hula platform, as, one by one, the members of Kumu Keala Ching’s hula halau dressed the altar in honor of Laka, goddess and inspiration of hula.
The youngest members of the Hawaii Island hula halau known as Ka Pa Hula Na Wai Iwi Ola started the procession, presenting the esteemed Kumu Frank Kawaikapuokalani Hewett with traditional plants integral to the art of hula, including maile, ieie vine, lehua, hau, ulu and ti leaf collected from the hula practitioners own gardens. (Kumu Keala encourages his students to only take what they grow.)
Meanwhile, the beautiful yellow-green finches hopped and pecked and nourished themselves without a care. On the other side of the altar, the ocean lapped at the edges of the restored heiau of Hapaialii that dates back to the early 1400s. And when the sun peaked over the neighboring volcanic mountain, Hualalai, which last flowed in 1801, a towering monkey pod tree dappled the light, its long arms embracing everyone in attendance on the luau grounds of the Keauhou Beach Resort.
We gathered to enjoy a day of hula, hosted by Kumu Keala and his halau. A total of 12 halau from around Hawaii Island participated in E Mau Ana Ka Hula, a tribute to King David Kalakaua whose birthday was November 16.
Kalakaua, known as the “Merrie Monarch,” encouraged the public performance of hula and is credited with reinvigorating the Hawaiian culture. Kalakaua spent summers in Keauhou and lived in a cottage on the grounds of Keauhou Beach Resort. A replica of the cottage stands today.
“King Kalakaua walked here,” Kumu Keala said. “He walked these lands. That’s why we hold this event here and why we honor the king.” In addition to serving as kumu hula to his halau, Keala is the Cultural Director at Keauhou Beach Resort.
It might also be thanks to King Kalakaua and his love of the Hawaiian culture that numerous practitioners of native Hawaiian arts circled the lu’au grounds. Elizabeth Lee’s fingers blurred as she wove a hat. Nearby, wood carver Rodney “Kala” Willis displayed a collection of pahu, drums.
A native of South America, the Saffron finch was introduced to Hawaii in the 1960s. It’s a common bird on the leeward coast of Hawai’i Island and prefers dry areas, where it feeds on grasses and seeds. The Saffron finch wasn’t the only introduced species at the hula festival held on Saturday, November 21, 2009.
Visitors gathered from around the United States, while participants included students of Keala Ching’s from Hawaii Island, Japan and Europe. Kumu Keala’s halau wore lei poo around their heads and lei kupee around their ankles and wrists made of a rainbow of ti leaf colors—green, yellow, brown and even red. This is Kumu Keala’s signature lei.
“It represents the intertwining of ages, people and cultures woven into a single lei,” said Kumu Keala.
As his halau took stage to perform, Kumu Keala comforted his dancers, “Don’t be nervous,” he said. “Breathe.”
They performed three chants and four dances, honoring Laka, hula’s close ties to nature--the lehua blossom and palapapai fern—and hula’s birthplace on Molokai, Ka’ana. The final performance honored, of course, King Kalakaua.
The goal of the event was to encourage kumu hula and practitioners to share their understanding of hula traditions and, thereby, perpetuate the many different styles, traditions and knowledge of hula as passed on through the generations of hula traditions.
By the end of the day, male and female, young and old, Hawaiians and others performed. Some dancers wore pau, skirts, made of ti leaf; others wore velvet. There was chanting and singing. A variety of musical instruments, the nose flute, pahu, ipu, ukulele and slack key guitar. And dance from the ancient, hula kahiko, and modern, hula auana, styles.
In the spirit of the day, the event wasn’t a competition—no trophies waited to be awarded. Nor was it an elaborate fundraising event—no entrance fees needed paying. The day felt more like an appreciation—appropriate for the Saturday before the holiday of Thanksgiving.
Next year’s event will take place on Saturday, November 20, 2010.