Polynesian Cultural Center holds its 29th annual Moanikeala Hula Festival
Written by
Taffie Kwok and Elijah Hadley
The Polynesian Cultural Center's 2019 Hula Festival
Image By
Ho Yin Li

A soft noon breeze ruffled the branches of the trees surrounding the Hawaiian Village as visitors and performers gathered for the PCC's 29th Annual Hula Festival on Sept. 2-7. Guests from around the world and performers from around Hawaii gathered to celebrate the legacy of “Aunty” Sally Moanikeala Woods, the PCC’s first Kumu Hula, or “hula master.” Dancers of all ages took their places on the Hawaiian Village’s new pa, or stage, to honor the legacy of Aunty Sally and hula.

According to the PCC website, the annual Moanikeala Hula Festival seeks to preserve, perpetuate, educate and celebrate all forms of hula, while sharing the traditional storytelling and culture with the people of Hawaii as well as visitors from across the globe.                                                     

The festival began in the sunny village with the raising of the Hawaiian flag, and the chant of “Hiki Mai E Na Pua” by the village dancers before the opening prayer.

After a short performance of ukulele, Ellen Gay Kekuaokalani Dela Rosa, also known as “Aunty Ellen,” or “Aunty Gay” was invited up by Pomaika’i Krueger, the festival’s master of ceremonies, to tell about Aunty Sally and the contributions she made to the art of hula. Dela Rosa, the PCC’s former theater director, was also the niece of Aunty Sally.

“It’s really an honor to be here this afternoon,” Dela Rosa began. “I just wanted to say thank you for honoring Aunty Sally. Aunty had favorites, but it was in a good way because I didn’t really want to dance hula. When we were young Aunty Sunday, Kekuaokalani Mariteragi wanted to continue her (Sally’s) legacy and had decided she wanted to hold this festival.

Dela Rosa shared Aunty Sally’s love for the gospel and how she used to work in the Hawaiian Village a long time ago. She said, “[Aunty Sally] is not only known at the PCC. Aunty taught hula a long, long time ago, and throughout the world. Her hula sisters included Lani Kalama and others, just to name a few. She traveled throughout Canada, she traveled throughout the mainland United States spreading aloha.

“I feel as if she has given up so much for the center. She gave up her hula studio in Kaneohe and came here to Laie because she loved the gospel. I think that’s the key. She was also able to serve a mission and taught hula classes at the Church College of Hawaii.”

Aunty Sally was born the middle child of three, and the only girl, on Maui, to a pure Hawaiian mother and a pure Chinese father, according to Dela Rosa. “After moving by boat to Kahana and joining the Church with her family, her father counseled Aunty Sally to ‘keep the Church first,’ to live the gospel first, and she would be blessed with all her talents. On behalf of my family, I just want to thank everyone here.”


The Performances

After Dela Rosa returned to her seat, Krueger thanked her and reminded the audience of the importance of sharing and continuing to tell the stories of the kupuna, or elders. The village dancers were then called up onto the stage for their first dance, which according to Krueger, represented “calling and gathering together all the people who call the Hawaiian Islands home.”

The village dancers, dressed in their performance clothing of lei crowns and wrap skirts, took to the stage. Made up of mostly students, their carefully practiced dance routine was put on display, as the different parts of their bodies worked in unison to tell a story to the audience through the language of dance. Moving steadily to the beats of the drum and the cries of the chanter, their bodies became extensions of the instrument in a performance that received resounding applause from the guests present.

Following their opening number, the village sang a song which told the story of Christ speaking to the rich man, commanding him to give away all his riches to gain eternal life. After, they performed a hula about the volcanic destruction of the beautiful village of Kalapana on the Big Island. “We can’t visit it there,” Krueger said, “but we can remember the stories and places through hula.”

The village dancers’ final performance consisted of a song in honor of the strength of the Hawaiian people. Translated from Hawaiian, the song’s title means “For the Nation, For the People.”

“This song does exactly that,” Krueger said. “It gives hope and it speaks of the pride of our people. We have a very special place in this world and these islands. We’re very proud to call these islands home.”

As the song commenced, several of the village dancers, linked hand-in-hand, began to cry, as the audience joined in with the group, singing at the top of their lungs. Following the singing and exit of the group, Kaipo Wilmeth, one of the dancers, explained the significance of the song.

Wilmeth, a junior student from Wahiawa, Hawaii majoring in music and computer science, explained the song meant for the Hawaiians to stand proud for their culture. “With what is happening with Mauna Kea right now, it is important we stand tall like a mountain in the face of all that is going on. The tears during the singing were caused by the connection I feel to Mauna Kea and to this land which I call my home.

“To me, hula is more than a dance. There is a lot of meaning behind it. Our ancestors used it to tell a story. The most important thing for us is using hula to preserve our culture and language.”

Kawehi Filiaga from Hauula, a performer in the Hawaiian Village, said she became emotional when she sang “For the Nation, For the People.”

According to Filiaga, the song encourages Hawaiians to be proud of their culture, especially during these hard times with the contracts of the Mauna Kea issue. She added her highlight of the event was when everyone danced to “Moanikeʻala,” a song written by Auntie Sally at the end. “Everyone came for that one song in honor of Aunty.  To honor Aunty and honor hula was the whole purpose of this festival,” she said.

On the topic of sharing hula and the culture, Filiaga said the Hawaiian Village might not be as entertaining as other villages in the PCC, but their main purpose is to focus on sharing aloha and educating people.

Filiaga shared how the upbringing of Hawaiians was rough, so it adds more values for her to continue what the Hawaiians do, “Even though we are living in today's world, we can still practice their teachings and principles. It is a humbling and mind-blowing experience that I am blessed to know these perpetuators. I have to continue by sharing this legacy to others. When they feel it, they would do it whether they know it or not.”

Date Published
September 30, 2019
Last Edited
September 30, 2019