Big Island hula venue is rooted in legend
ONE OF THE Big Island's best-known legends tells of the volcano goddess Pele falling into a deep sleep for nine days and nights as her youngest sister Hiiaka stood watch.
In Pele's dream, she followed the drumming and chanting of the hula from the Big Island to a feast at the home of Lohiau, a handsome chief of Kauai. There, she took the form of a beautiful young woman and captivated Lohiau. The attraction was mutual, and Pele laid a kapu (taboo) on him so that he would remain faithful to her.
When Pele heard Hiiaka's voice calling to her from across the ocean, she bid Lohiau a tearful farewell, promising that she would send for him.
Back home at Kilauea Volcano, in gratitude for standing guard while she slept, Pele allowed Hiiaka to stay with her friend Hopoe, a mortal woman who lived in an ohia lehua grove.
Hiiaka loved her life there -- fishing, playing in the ocean and learning ancient hula and lei-making with Hopoe.
Meanwhile, Pele longed to be with Lohiau and called for Hiiaka. She instructed her sister to fetch her beloved from Kauai. The journey was to take no more than 40 days and 40 nights, and Hiiaka was forbidden to express any affection for Lohiau. In exchange for doing this, Pele promised to protect Hopoe from harm.
DISTRAUGHT OVER Pele's departure, Lohiau had become deathly ill. By the time Hiiaka arrived, he had taken his last breath. Knowing Pele would be upset to learn Lohiau had died, Hiiaka searched for his wandering spirit.
After rescuing his spirit from three moo (lizards) who had imprisoned it in a cave high atop a cliff, Hiiaka performed a lengthy series of rituals and prayers to reunite his body and spirit. By this time the 40-day period had passed with no sign of Hiiaka and Lohiau, and Pele grew agitated.
She caused earthquakes and eruptions to wreak havoc on every part of the Big Island and destroyed Hopoe's ohia lehua groves, breaking her vow to Hiiaka. Hopoe danced her final hula as molten lava engulfed her.
When Hiiaka returned with Lohiau, she saw the devastation and knew Pele had not kept her part of the bargain. Angry, she united herself with Lohiau by hanging a lei around his neck, breaking Pele's kapu. Furious, Pele set a ring of fire around Lohiau and encased his body in a crust of lava.
Hiiaka responded by attacking Kilauea, making it vulnerable to an onslaught by the sea. Concerned, Pele freed Lohiau from his lava cocoon, reuniting his body and spirit, and told Hiiaka where she could find him. Lohiau and Hiiaka returned to Kauai, where they lived until he died.
IT IS SAID that Kaauea, meaning "the act of revival of life, the re-breathing of life," is the place where Lohiau was revived the second time.
The Volcano Art Center Gallery in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park presents its annual Na Mea Hawaii Hula Kahiko Performance Series at the pa hula (hula platform) on this site. Now in its 26th year, the event's aim is to perpetuate traditional hula and chants.
In the late 1970s, Volcano Art Center founder Boone Morrison consulted revered kumu hula (master) Aunty Edith Kanakaole about the idea of building a pa hula in HVNP. Shortly before her death on Oct. 3, 1979, Aunty Edith and her daughter, kumu hula Pualani Kanakaole, visited the proposed site.
As the story goes, Aunty Edith walked to the spot where the hula platform now stands and said, "This feels very nice to me."
When asked which direction the dancers should face, she replied, "Toward Tutu Pele, of course" and pointed to Halemaumau Crater near the rim of Kilauea Volcano. The next question was how big the platform should be. "Five dancers across would be nice," she replied, "and maybe three lines."
In 1980 the pa hula was constructed as Aunty Edith had suggested, with almost all of the work done by native Hawaiians. It is dedicated exclusively to noncompetitive hula kahiko performances and is open to anyone who wishes to dance there.
FIVE HOUR-LONG Na Mea Hawaii performances are scheduled each year, supported by funding from the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, Hawaii State Legislature and National Endowment for the Arts.
"For cultural practitioners, gathering at this site and offering hula and chants while facing Halemaumau Crater, the sacred home of the volcano goddess Pele, is especially meaningful," notes Volcano Art Center's Education Coordinator Marsha Hee, who plans the series.
"Spectators have the rare opportunity to experience ancient hula in a magnificent natural setting. By interpreting what is being chanted in the Hawaiian language, performers broaden attendees' understanding of and appreciation for Hawaiian history and traditions. Even local residents familiar with the hula learn something new."
All this year's participating halau (schools) are from the Big Island, but past Na Mea Hawaii presentations have featured groups from other islands. Performers run the gamut from children and teens to adults and elders, both male and female.
"It's wonderful to see the diversity of hula students and how the traditions are being passed from one generation to the next," says Hee. "In addition to being held outdoors -- surrounded by ti plants, hapuu ferns, and ohia and koa trees -- no electronic amplification is used, and the audience is seated on the ground. The result is a presentation that's very authentic and dramatic."
Although the weather sometimes is overcast, cold and rainy, crowds always gather.
"The mist may roll in or a gentle rain may fall, but the halau keep their concentration and energy level," says Hee. "Their hula and chants are so inspiring that few are bothered by the inclement weather. Everything feels so pono (correct) and alive. It's truly magical."
NA MEA HAWAII 2006
Hula kahiko performance series:
Place: Hula platform near the Volcano Art Center Gallery and Kilauea Visitor Center, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Big Island
Admission: Free; however, HVNP entry fees apply: $10 per car and $5 for pedestrians, good for seven consecutive days. An annual tri-park pass also can be purchased for $20. It's good for one year from the date of first use at HVNP and Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park on the Big Island and Haleakala National Park on Maui.
Web site: www.volcanoartcenter.org
Notes: Bring a hat, sunscreen, rain gear and a mat to sit on. Parking is limited, so it's a good idea to arrive early. Hawaiian arts and crafts demonstrations, including lei-making, lau hala weaving and pahu (drum)- and kapa (tapa)-making are held at the Volcano Art Center Gallery before and after the performance.
Times are 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. unless otherwise listed. (For the first four performances, Hawaiian art and crafts demonstrations will run from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Volcano Art Center Gallery):
» Jan. 28: Ka Pa Hula Na Wai Iwi Ola of Kailua-Kona, kumu hula Keala Ching
» March 18: Halau Na Pua O Uluhaimalama of Hilo, kumu hula Emery Aceret
» May 13: Halau Ha'a Kea O Akala of Keaukaha, kumu hula Paul Neves
» June 24: Hula Halau O Hilo Hanakahi of Hilo, kumu hula Puanani Crumb
» Aug. 26: Na Pua Ha'aheo O Kona of Kailua-Kona, Kumu hula Roy Palacat, 10 to 11 a.m. (For this performance, the gallery's art and crafts demonstrations will take place from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.)
Note to Web readers: The photos that ran with this story could not be carried in our Web edition because of difficulties securing online rights from the author. The Star-Bulletin Web staff regrets the omission.|
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based free-lance writer and Society of American Travel Writers award winner.