The Polynesian Cultural Center hosted its annual Moanikeala Hula Festival on Saturday, Feb 3. The hula festival, held in honor of Sally Moanikeala Wood Nalui, or Aunty Sally, is held every year as a remembrance of Hawaiian culture and the art of hula.
For more than 25 years, four of Aunty Sally’s kumu hula, or hula masters, have hosted the festival in her honor. Aunty Sally taught several generations both kahiko, ancient, and auana, modern, styles of hula during her years at the center. Her work led to a renaissance of Hawaiian culture, where men and women both participate in hula dancing, says PCC information.
From the beginning, the hula festival has held cultural value for the PCC. Pomaika’I Krueger, a native Hawaiian, the cultural specialist for the village of Hawaii and unofficial coordinator of the event explained its significance. “It gives PCC a cultural grounding to stand on because this is one way that PCC is able to return, to give back to the community in a cultural way. In this way, it is actually hosting a cultural event so people are able to gather and enjoy. People aren’t coming here to spend money for entertainment but rather for its cultural value.”
Krueger, serving as the cultural specialist for the past two years, explained what the hula festival meant for him. “The hula festival for me is the way for us to: One, honor and remember our ancestors and the past because they are the foundation that we stand on. Second, it is the way for us to celebrate Hawaiian culture.
“This is one way we can perpetuate or celebrate Hawaiian culture without having to translate it. We can just do it.” On a personal basis, he commented, “I enjoy the festival because I enjoy hula and all things Hawaiian. I think most of the people here feel the same.”
Each performance had something unique. Halaus, or groups, ranged anywhere from one person to large groups. Ages ranged from young children to kupuna. Even locations varied between performances. While there were primarily local halaus, some came all the way from Japan to participate and showcase their love for the Hawaiian culture. Live music, performed by various groups of PCC workers, students, and musicians was played for each dance. Grammy nominee Josh Tatofi made an appearance and sang for one of the dances.
Makana Arce, a junior from Hawaii studying vocal performance, played and sang for multiple performances. He shared his feelings on performing. “An important thing about the hula is the song doesn’t really come alive unless there is a dancer who shows what the words mean. I enjoyed watching the dances bring to life the words that I was singing.” Being a Hawaii local, he shared why the hula is important to the Hawaiian culture. “The hula is important because it helps us to preserve the stories of our people. It connects us to our kupuna, our ancestors. It’s something that makes Hawaii, Hawaii.”
Arce also commented on how important the event is to the PCC experience. “I never knew who Aunty Sally was and I don’t really dance hula myself, but I know without her the PCC wouldn’t be something that it is today. She has created this lineage of other hula dancers and teachers that still teach at the center today.”
As the day continued, crowds filled the benches of the viewing area. Smiles and laughs were shared by performers and watchers alike. Although rain was in the forecast, the sun came out to shine and butterflies flew around. Hulas dedicated to loved ones and family were performed.
The event was open to all who wanted to come participate in the festivities. Taylor McElhaney, a freshman from California studying elementary education, was invited by a friend who works at the Hawaiian village. While watching the festival, a clear favorite caught her eye, and brought her back to her own childhood. “I loved the little girls. They brought their little dolls and danced with them and it was the cutest thing on the planet. Some of the girls were still learning. It brought me back to my days when I was little.”
As she watched the performances, she said she appreciated the Hawaiian culture that brought it all together. “It makes me really appreciate the time that I have here [at BYU-Hawaii] and all the people who I meet and all of the cultural backgrounds.”
Besides the hula performances, there were other attractions close by that day. According to Krueger, there was a craft fair, quilting, hula lessons, upena net throwing, poi making and special food plates were made for the festival as well.
NOTE: This article's online publication was delayed because it was featured in the Feb. 2018 print issue.