Saturday, August 14, 1999

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Cynthia Kupau of Maryknoll High School demonstrates
hula in worship as she expresses the "Our Father" prayer.
Hawaiian insight into "sacred gesture" will be discussed
at a two-day workshop opening Friday at Star of the
Sea Church in Waialae-Kahala.

Seminar to explore
hula in church

By Mary Adamski


Cynthia Ah Yo Kupau was 6 when she started hula, and by the time she was in high school, it was part of her life, including her religion.

"For a teen-ager, to read or recite was boring. I thought of dance as my way of expressing how much I loved the Lord," said Kupau, who is now a kumu hula and teacher at Maryknoll High School.

That was in the 1970s, after the Second Vatican Council had opened up the format of Catholic worship to allow vernacular language instead of Latin and generated a weaving of ethnic expression into the tapestry of centuries-old tradition in worship all around the globe.

"The nuns would come to retreats and show us gestures to go with prayer or hymns. We combined their gestures and hula," Kupau recalled. "When we started youth Masses, we did interpretive dance, maybe a Hawaiian Mass once a month.

"The problem was, some people put too much showmanship, too much glamour and glitz. I don't like to see it in church," she said.

Neither did the Vatican. Dance as an expression of worship was banned last year after the complaint of one Maui Catholic reached the Congregation for Divine Worship in Rome.

In a resolution reached earlier this year, church authorities recognized that "sacred gesture" is cultural expression for Pacific and Asian people. The Honolulu Diocese acknowledged it as "a form of praying with one's whole being" but set limits on its liturgical use. Dance as entertainment for the congregation is still banned.

Hawaiian insight into "sacred gesture" will be discussed at a two-day workshop opening at 5 p.m. Friday at Star of the Sea Church in Waialae-Kahala. Kupau will be a speaker at the annual Hawaiian Arts and Liturgical Inculturation Awareness seminar, which will also explore Hawaiian music in worship and other aspects of Hawaiian culture and spirituality.

"God created us in a cultural context. He calls us to live in and express ourselves in that culture," said the Rev. Alapaki Kim, pastor of St. Rita's Church in Nanakuli, also a workshop speaker. "So here we are in Hawaii, where we are called to worship our God in that context.

"Hula was an expression of the spirituality of the Hawaiians; it is sacred," said Kim. His parish celebrates Mass in Hawaiian on the first Sunday of every month, with the offertory music or prayer in Samoan, both reflecting the ethnicity of the Leeward parish.

"We don't always have sacred gesture. If so, it would usually be a Hawaiian hymn. ... We would do it after Communion." "If it cannot be done in a proper way, then I'm not sure if it should be done at all," he said.

Kupau agreed: "There are certain hand gestures that you don't do in church, dances you would do in an outside performance that you wouldn't do. You know what's right for church and what's right for the stage." At Maryknoll, she said, hula has been used to express a hymn or prayer, usually as an offertory prayer during special events, such as the senior baccalaureate Mass.

She said she believes that many churches that occasionally used hula in services halted it because of the Vatican ban. The goal of the workshop, she said, is to give participants a foundation in the cultural background of sacred gesture, a view of what others are doing and "confidence to resume where they left off."

Both Kim and Kupau are aware of the disagreements that exist among Hawaiians, about whether hula should be adapted to nontraditional use, and among Christians, some of whom oppose any deviation from church liturgical tradition, which essentially has European roots.

"I know others will say you are taking away the essence of what hula is supposed to be used for, that in church is not the place," Kupau said.

"For me, it's about what moves your spirit. Some find peace in meditating; others find meaning in making a bit of noise and movement. With hula, if you do it with a pure heart and good intentions, I think it is right," said Kupau. "As long as this is the way you express yourself, as long as you are doing it as an act of worship."

It's not a new discussion, she said.

"The first Christians here, the Calvinists, made us feel shame. They believe that the hula is lascivious, it doesn't belong in the house of the Lord."

Kim said: "Theology is the explanation of faith coming out of a cultural context. So if you get theology out of Western Europe ... into a Pacific Island culture, it is not going to fully translate." People who think never the twain shall meet might reflect on the fact that "Jesus was born into a cultural context: He was a Semitic Jew, not a European."

Kim has discussed liturgical use of hula with purists who object that "Hawaiian culture is being taken out of context. They are afraid that Hawaiian culture is going to be usurped, be taken over by Christianity. A lot of Hawaiians blame Christians for the overthrow of the queen, so for them it is offensive.

"Yes, if we are Christian, we only believe in one God," Kim said. "So do I believe in Pele? Not as a goddess. She is an ancestor." A Christian Hawaiian need not discount beliefs in gods and aumakua, he said. "We could look at them, we can see aspects of them in the one true God.

"If you get Hawaiians who are traditional, they will tell you they believe in them as gods."

Dance for the Deity

Bullet What: Hawaiian Arts and Liturgical Inculturation workshop.

Bullet Where: Star of the Sea Church, 4470 Aliikoa St.

Bullet When: Friday, 5-8:30 p.m.; next Saturday, 9 a.m.-2 p.m.

Bullet Registration: $20 for both days, accepted at the door (includes meal).

Bullet Participants are asked to bring musical instruments and implements.

E-mail to City Desk

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