Behind the Scenes of Hula

Halau Hula O’Kahikilaulani

(awaiting Hawaiʻian proverb from Kumu)

By PuaKea

The progenitor of my Hula Halau, a hula school, is a goddess who came from Tahiti, which linguistically has evolved into Kahiki in the Hawaiʻian language, where ‘T’s turn into K’s; similar to the word Taboo turning into Hawaiʻian Kapu. Her name is O’Kahikilaulani. While many botanists believe, the first Ohi’a blossom may have traveled upon a current of air, in this Hawaiʻian myth, O’Kahikilaulani traveled across the sea in a Hawaiʻian canoe and in her hands she held three Ohi’a Lehua blossoms, a Ti leaf, and an Ohi’a tree integrating Polynesian roots with the endemic Hawaiʻian flower.

I photographed the Halau Hula O’Kahikilaulani  in Hilo, Hawaiʻi on the Big Island. I shared a week with them preparing for their performance for the Merrie Monarch festival. We started in a rainforest chanting prayers asking permission to gather leaves to make their haku head lei and their ti leaf skirts. We sat in the Halau preparing leaves and weaving them into their traditional hula costumes, which have been passed down for generations, the smiles and laughter and essence of aloha radiated from the boys and girls, men and women of the Halau working together as one extended ohana, family. 

The children address me as uncle Brian according to contemporary Hawaiʻian cultural deference of respect to elders. On Friday night before the performance as the industrious tone of 80 members filled the Halau with a vibrant energy, the kumu, the master hula teacher, addressed the Halau and asked for everybody’s silence and attention. Once all eyes were all lovingly fixed upon her, she asked me to stand next to her and addressed her family and said, ‘from now on this is Puakea, you will address him as Puakea.’ And the entire Halau individually stood and greeted me as Puakea before they continued with their work. I have never received so much Aloha before or since that moment,  and its effects reverberate within my heart still.

 At present, over half a millenia later the Halau embodies O’Kaihikilaulani’s spirit, passing their traditions on to future generations and continuing their Hula lineage. They consistently receive first place recognition at the Merrie Monarch Festival under the guidance of their Kumu Nahoku Gaspang.

 Feature Image Photo Credit: Brian Ross, 2020


Mimi Towle

Mimi Towle

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