Under a setting sun Thursday, halau from Hawaii and beyond shared the beauty, emotion and complexity of kahiko hula during the seventh annual Moku O Keawe International Hula Festival in South Kohala.
As the oli (chants) and mele (songs) of ancient hula reverberated through the Waikoloa Bowl at Queens’ Gardens, the dancers — adorned with headbands, lei, anklets and wristlets woven from various native flora — moved to the beat of Hawaiian percussion telling stories and legends while displaying reverence to gods and goddesses. Kahiko hula was performed before Western contact.
Julie Perlinger, a visitor from Minnesota, came to the opening night of the event specifically to take in the ancient form of hula. Though leaving Hawaii tonight, she plans to attend for a second round if time permits.
“It’s an art form that you don’t see anywhere else in the world,” she said, adding she is familiar with more modern form of the dance. “This is the ancient, the original form of the dance. … It’s really fun to see the natives perform this kind of dance — it’s almost spiritual.”
Perlinger and scores of others attended the opening night of the annual hula festival at the Waikoloa Beach Resort. Besides ancient, kupuna and modern hula competitions, the three-day festival, which wraps up Saturday evening, also features workshops and a made in Hawaii marketplace.
The festival is sponsored by the Moku O Keawe Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to enhancing, enriching and educating the practice and development of hula and its associated arts, said foundation Chief Executive Officer Margo Mau Bunnell. A variety of other companies, foundations and agencies also support the event
Competition began Thursday with kahiko (traditional) hula, continues tonight with kupuna (senior) hula and ends with auana (modern) hula on Saturday. The contests are held outdoors at the Waikoloa Bowl.
Twenty-five halau will perform during the festival with 18 of those competing, Bunnell said. They hail from the Big Island, around the state, Japan and Mexico.
Tickets for each night are $7 for lawn seating and $19.50 for reserved seating, plus tax. Tickets for the competitions can be purchased at mokif.com/tickets.html.
The idea for the international hula festival came in 2005 after Bunnell, along with local designer Sig Zane, Waimea artist Kathy Long, and renowned hula masters Nani Lim Yap and Nalani Kanakaole, traveled to the World Expo in Japan representing the Big Island Visitors Bureau. There, they took part in an international hula competition that drew 60 halau and thousands of dancers daily.
Bunnell said while there the group was surprised that most of the hula performed was auana with nearly every halau performing the same song. When Bunnell and the others performed kahikohula, she said, the crowd was in awe.
“People stayed because they had never seen it and were so awed with it — we had over 1,000 dancers watching at one point,” Bunnell said. “That inspired us to teach them a little bit more about hula.”
A year later, in 2006, the first Moku O Keawe International Hula Festival was held with the goal of educating and inspiring about hula while providing a venue for halau to share their art, she said. To ensure people understand what is happening during performances, the audience is introduced to the dance and other aspects beforehand, she said.
“We tell the story … we explain it all before they go on stage. That way those watching actually understand what the dancers are dancing about,” she said. “It gives the people in the audience that understanding – even though the (performance) is all in Hawaiian, they can actually understand it.”
Visit mokif.com for more information about the festival. West Hawaii Today will print results when received.