Monday, July 30, 2001

More than 1,000 dancers took part yesterday in the
opening ceremonies at the World Conference on
Hula. The gathering continues through Friday in Hilo.

Rare hula ceremony
promotes ties
to nature

More than 40 teachers and
1,000 students participate in Hilo

By Rod Thompson

HILO >> The performance at the World Conference on Hula yesterday of a rare kuahu ceremony linking hula to nature was an opportunity to grow, an organizer said.

The ceremony was performed in public for the first time to prevent the withering and dying of knowledge.

"A lot of kumu (teachers) feel it's time to share the information before it's lost," said Noe Noe Wong-Wilson, one of the conference organizers. "The more we can teach people about our culture, the longer it will be with us."

The ceremony included about 40 kumu chanting together and more than 1,000 hula students dancing en masse in front of a multitiered altar overflowing with native Hawaiian plants.

Afterward, students and teachers ate special foods. "Ceremonial food is not to make you full," kumu Pualani Kanahele told the gathering. "Ceremonial food is to remind you of who you are and what your responsibilities are."

One of the foods was breadfruit. Its Hawaiian name, 'ulu, is similar to the word for "grow."

"'Ulu reminds us of our duty to grow and to inspire," Kanahele said.

Conference co-organizer Leinaala Heine predicted inspiration will come as the conference gets under way in earnest today through Friday. Workshops took place last week.

"This is just a small portion of what you will be sharing from tomorrow on," Heine said.

"We have gathered together the best that is in Hawaii to share their knowledge, to share their crafts, to share their hula," she said.

During the Merrie Monarch festival, there is camaraderie, but the emphasis is on competition. "We don't have time for deep sharing," Kanehele said.

The conference is a chance to learn from each other.

A major lesson yesterday was the meaning of "kuahu." The immediate meaning is an altar with plants, but in broader scope, all of nature is a kuahu, Kanahele said.

That view "affects the way we take care of the environment," she said. It fosters a "passion for the environment."

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