Hula Family Tree

By Catherine Kekoa Enomoto

THE late hula master Margaret Maiki Souza Aiu Lake stood at the cusp between Hawaiian spirituality and Christianity when she groomed more than 40 dancers to become kumu hula.

She was a carrier of traditional beliefs and rituals, yet she was a staunch Catholic. For example, she may not have reconciled to herself the symbolism of a black pig in hula ritual, let alone to her students.

A full-sized hula "family tree" appears in color on page one of the Local Moco section of today's Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Illustration by Kevin Hand, Star-Bulletin

In the context of this dichotomy, in 1971, the same year the Merrie Monarch hula competition started, Lake was gathering dancers for a kumu hula class. When Merrie Monarch, the premier event in the hula world, unfolds this week, three kumu hula and one judge will be visual reminders of Lake's legacy of 42 first-generation kumu hula and 34 second-generation kumu hula.

Her protege kumu hula and their halau at Merrie Monarch include Kaha'i Topolinski and Ka Pa Hula Hawai'i; Leina'ala Heine and Na Pualei O Likolehua; Mapuana de Silva and Halau Mohala 'Ilima; and judge Vickie Holt Takamine of Pua Ali'i 'Ilima.

The eating of certain parts of a black pig is a ritual in becoming a kumu hula. In ancient times, the pig may have been a human, some speculate.

Kumu hula Wayne Keahi Chang, another Lake protege, explained. "You go with your kumu to select a pig. You learn to love that pig until you killed it.

"Maybe that's why (the ritual) was kept underground. People would've really condemned them as 'cult' things."

Heine and Topolinski were among 26 graduates of Papa 'Uniki Lehua, Lake's largest and most famous 1972-73 graduating class of kumu hula.

"Papa 'Uniki Lehua was the first class after a long time," said Lake's daughter, Coline Kaualoku Aiu, also a Lehua graduate and current doyenne of Lake's Halau Hula O Maiki. "It was named for the lehua, the first flower after a lava flow." De Silva, Takamine and Chang graduated with the 14-member Papa 'Uniki 'Ilima in 1975.

"I had great expectations," Chang recalled. "I really did, because already in my mind she was this legend. I had been in the hula world for a while and this lady had respect across the board."

"She really brought back the love and respect for hula and the interest in learning, lei making, costuming, research, history, language and methodology," Aiu said. "She was acknowledged by many people as a hula academic responsible for the modern renaissance of hula."

Lake could be a tough teacher, scolding, cajoling, explaining. "She was all those things, depending on what she had to be," Chang said. "When you were her student, you were also her child; she was your mother," he said, elongating the word, mother. "When we had problems, many went to her before their own parents; that's how tight the bond was. If she felt we needed to be scolded, she scolded us unmercifully. And it wasn't privately like a counselor; it was in front of the family. Boom! Right between eyes.

"Sometimes I left class drained physically, sometimes absolutely drained emotionally; that's what Maiki did. And, like in any Hawaiian family, she had her favorites, her punahele." He and Robert Cazimero were two of them, Chang said.

Na Hoku Hanohano award-winning entertainer Cazimero is one of the most illustrious Lehua graduates. He embodies Lake's unique combination of traditional training and courageous innovation. As a fledgling kumu hula in the 1970s, Cazimero incorporated modern dance and ballet into his choreography because "she said so many times, 'Take what I have given you and make it better.' That's what I respect so much about her: In her own way, Maiki was an innovator in her time. She didn't care what people thought; she went ahead and did it anyway. She had the sanction of her teacher. I always felt she was on my side, I still do."

Lake's legacy encompasses the relaying of ancient 'uniki rituals, such as going to Kaimu on the Big Island at midnight.

In her own way, Maiki was an innovator in her time.

Robert Cazimero
Kumu hula

She graduated 42 first-generation kumu hula, who in turn have graduated 34 second-generation "grandchildren." The latter include Kalani Akana, Lehua Hulihee, Racine Klein-Cook and Michael Pang who themselves have schools, and lawyer Melody Kapilialoha MacKenzie.

Lake introduced the "hula book" in which students collect their dance steps, research, notes and clippings; the concept provided a Western way to learn a heretofore oral tradition. But her haumana, or students, many of them now renowned kumu hula, remember her for much more.

"It's an eternal thing," said Topolinski of Ka Pa Hula Hawai'i. "Aunty Maiki lives on and on through the songs and dances and anecdotes she taught us."

Her anecdotes or dictums included: Remember, you learn, but it is not yours to give until your teacher allows you that right. And: People who don't know how to dance, but who have a loving spirit, can be cultivated to be dancers.

Topolinski said he became a kumu hula "to restore men's hula into the public arena." His men placed third overall at last year's Merrie Monarch. This year he brings Kawena Suganuma, great-granddaughter of the late historian Mary Kawena Puku'i, to compete in Thursday's Miss Aloha Hula solo competition.

Heine celebrates the 20th anniversary of her halau, Na Pualei O Likolehua, by dedicating its Merrie Monarch performance to her teachers, Joseph Kahaulelio and Lake.

"She gave a lot of people the opportunity to actually carry the shingle 'kumu,' of going through the process and the protocol," Heine said. "Before, everything was underground; in the Western world one would say there were no credentials. She let it be known this was going to be the first 'uniki class. She gave us a chance to begin our own schools. She had trust in me: 'OK 'Ala, you are significant. You are good, ready and prepared.' It's what made me the person I am today."

Look also for a 20th anniversary performance at Merrie Monarch of de Silva and her radiant dancers of Halau Mohala 'Ilima.

"I always felt love from her for things Hawaiian, for hula, for what she was teaching and for us; that she genuinely cared for us. That really made an impact on me. That is, basically, the philosophy I teach. I try to convey that feeling of joy and love for what I do, because I felt that's how she approached the hula."

Far from the spotlights and TV cameras of Merrie Monarch, 63-year-old Aunty Mae Kamamalu Klein teaches in the shadows, training Lake's former students to become kumu hula. Klein's 75-member halau, Kukalehuaikaohu (The Lehua That Stands in the Mist), is in Kaneohe. She recalled a conversation with Lake.

"We had a long discussion four days before she passed away. At that time she asked me to open a school and I said, 'No, not as long as you're living.' "

Then, "she had a heart attack. I was at a loss, really at a loss. I still feel it; I cry. So I sit quietly and do work by myself to pass on her legacy, to include 'uniki for as many people as possible. And mainly these are her people, who were in her halau for 10 plus years, people who didn't finish (becoming kumu hula). I promised and I will keep going until I can't do it anymore."

Merrie Monarch is considered the most important event in hula and Lake was the most important individual driving the resurgent interest in the art.

Says daughter Aiu, "Hula holds the host culture."

Related Stories:
Merrie Monarch Festival

Contestants and Judges

Television Coverage

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