HOOLEHUA, Molokai - Hula has been a sacred and essential part of Hawaiian culture for centuries. A sway of the hip, a brush of the hands - each movement tells a part of the story. But many say hula is more than just dancing - it is sharing of culture, a lesson in history and the passing of tradition.
On Molokai, that tradition is celebrated each year in a three-day festival called Ka Hula Piko. Thursday through Saturday, hundreds of local residents and visitors celebrated the tradition on the island where many say the art of hula began. Hula halau, or schools, from all over the state performed their versions of hula kahiko, or ancient hula accompanied by chant and traditional instruments, as well as hula auana, dances that are accompanied by Western-influenced musical stylings like the ukulele.
"The tradition is from here (Molokai), this is where the knowledge is from, and the places in the stories are all Molokai stories," said Liko Hoe, who helped organize this year's event. He is a member of Halau Hula O Kukunaokala, the Oahu-based group that started the festival.
Young women from Moana’s Hula Halau of Molokai perform a traditional hula with uli uli at the 22nd annual Ka Hula Piko Festival on Saturday at the Lanikeha Center in Hoolehua. This year’s event honored the legacy of the group’s founder and kumu, Moana Dudoit, who died in March.
The Maui News / EILEEN CHAO photo
There are no age requirements for dancing hula with Moana’s Hula Halau. The youngest member is 5 years old, and the oldest is nearly 90.
The Maui News / EILEEN CHAO photo
Ka Hula Piko was first started in 1991 by John Kaimikaua, who was the kumu, or teacher, of Halau Hula O Kukunaokala. It was organized as a cultural and educational event, to be utilized as a vehicle to educate and enlighten people of the undocumented, pre-Western history of Molokai, according to event officials.
Kaimikaua died in 2006. The event is now organized by his halau and the Molokai community.
The festival this year was dedicated to Kaimikaua and Moana Dudoit, a kumu hula who died in March. Dudoit taught hula on Molokai for more than 45 years and founded Moana's Hula Halau. The halau has competed in the Merrie Monarch Festival on the Big Island and is widely recognized throughout the islands, Japan, Europe and the South Pacific, according to family and friends.
The theme of this year's celebration was "Na Kapua E'e," centered around Hawaiian legends of shape-shifters - some used their powers to bring harm and destruction to the islands, while others used powers to protect the aina and people. These legends have been passed down from generation to generation and play a special role in Hawaiian culture and hula, Hoe said.
"The kapua stories are the highlights of a lot of the dances that we do, so this year we thought it would be good to theme the whole event around these kapua," said Hoe.
Napua Greig-Makua, kumu hula of the Maui-based Halau Na Lei Kaumaka O Uka, said that she looks forward to seeing other hula halau dance at the festivals every year. This year, she performed with her two daughters, Kala'i, 14, and Ka'iliiwa, 13.
"The special thing about Ka Hula Piko is the people," said Greig-Makua. "Molokai people have such an appreciation for the traditions, the dance, the hula culture."
The culture is shared with residents and visitors alike.
"We traveled here from Montana; it's my first time to Hawaii," said Sandra Pierre, who had found out about the festival online.
"It's heartwarming being introduced to hula. You can feel their stories, the closeness of the families remembering their ancestors and passing down tradition," said Pierre.
* Eileen Chao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.