Honoring Kupuna with Hula

Written by: 
Samone Isom

Twelve hula halaus (hula schools) from Japan and Hawaii gathered to participate in the 24th annual Moanikeala Festival, a celebration of hula dance, in the Pacific Theater of the PCC on January 18, 2014.

The festival was created in honor of PCC’s first kumu hula (hula master) Aunty Sally Moanikeala Wood Naluai, who taught the art of hula for sixty years. The festival was originally a competition, but has evolved into a hoike (exhibition). Cy Bridges, cultural director of PCC and former student of Aunty Sally, introduced the festival as “not so much a competition but a place to share.” Bridges explained that the Moanikeala Festival whole-heartedly welcomed dancers of all ages, from keiki to kupuna (elders), regardless of their skill.

Most of the hula and accompanying songs celebrated Hawaiian culture. Both kahiko (traditional) and auana (modern) hula were performed. The dancers told stories with graceful hands and feet as the live bands strummed guitars, basses, and ukuleles and sang. The songs and stories frequently articulated a love for the aina, affection for family, and odes to love.

The Joan S. Lindsey Studio halau from Pearl City opened with the keiki dancing with their love for tutu, (aunty) and closed with the kupuna members of the halau dancing about their beloved roles as tutus.

“Dedicated to ali’is of old, the kapunas now do a dance in honor of the last monarch of Hawaii,” announced Carolee Nuuanu Nishi, the ukulele-strumming kumu hula of Hula Hui O Kapunahala as her halau did their final number. Nishi said, “With a great deal of appreciation we thank the PCC for allowing us to be here.” Her words of gratitude and goodwill were echoed by many of the other kumu hula as they took their turn on stage to carry on the show.

Several halaus came all the way from Japan, and several others from the Big Island. The host halau, Laie’s very own Hula Halau ‘o Kekela welcomed the travelers with song and gifts. “We hope you will accept this token of aloha,” said Harry Brown, emcee of the event.

The performance of the Huipa hula studio merged dancers from Hilo and Japan. Later, a halau from Nagoya, Japan danced, their shiny dresses unique among all the groups. As the dancers walked offstage after each Japanese performance, Brown said “mahalo gozaimasu,” a humorous blend of Hawaiian and Japanese.