When I mentioned to a friend that I thought it would be fun to try a hula class, I had no idea what to expect. Feeling old and very out of shape I forced myself to make it to that first class. I was in the back following everyone and, well, no one could see me, so I thought. No problem, I’ve got this. Well, not exactly, it was really beating me up. But with a happy face.
Why did I go back?
The kumu (teacher) said come again to the next class, so I did. This time he put me in front with the men, although I really wanted to stay in the back since I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew right away I loved it. What took me by surprise and touched my soul began a new chapter in my life. It was as if I had no choice, hula had called me and there was no turning back.
Learning to Oli
For me learning to oli (chant) in Hawaiian was quite a challenge. At first, I thought how will I ever learn any of this, I’ll just embarrass myself; maybe I can just move my mouth but Kumu would know, he has ears and eyes like a hawk (no kidding, kind of spooky). Fortunately, Kumu recorded the chants phrase by phrase making it easier to learn. Surprisingly, one day it came together for me and I couldn’t stop chanting. Now on my early walks, I’m feeling da love vibrating as I chant to our ever-present Kauai ancestors who have come before us guiding and protecting us if we ask. This connection to the ancients is very real for most Hawaiians and people sensitive to it.
Now in our second year, Kumu pushes us harder because he sees everyone’s potential. Lately, we chant while warming up in basics as our thighs and abs are burning. We continue to learn more chants for various occasions and rituals. It’s an incredibly powerful feeling when you’re in synch with all your hula brothers and sisters chanting such beautiful Hawaiian oli that have been passed down orally through many generations.
Our First Ritual and Performance
On the morning of our first ho’ike (exhibition performance) in early December at Waimea Theater, our halau (hula group) gathered at Poipu Beach for a sunrise cleansing ceremony, or pi’uwai. Led by Kumu, we walked into the still shallow water forming a circle. The early morning was calm, clear and crisp, with only the moon and stars shining. Kumu then went to each of us in the circle as part of a Ho’oponono ritual, a release of any unkind words or thoughts we’ve had for anyone, forgiving ourselves and others for any negativity in our lives. One after another in the circle Kumu pressed his forehead to each of ours while whispering words of encouragement and love. By the time he got to me everyone it seemed was weeping, and at that point, I was too. It felt really great, and we all could feel the presence of Kauai’s ancestors or kupuna.
When we finished this part of the ritual, we walked onto the sand into a circle holding hands, then Kumu offered prayers to ke akua to guide and protect us always but especially on this day as we were preparing for ho’ike that evening. Afterward, we walked up the road to a restored village center from early Kauai inhabitants and listened as Kumu described this important archeologic site. At this point, we chanted together as we looked into the walled and restored area called Po’ipu Beach Ma Uka Preserve or the Kanei’olouma Complex. Click here to learn more.
Ho’ike that evening at Waimea Theater was a very important occasion marking our halau’s first year, the first steps on its hula journey. What an amazing experience it was, but for me, the morning sunrise cleansing ceremony was something that stuck with me all day and beyond. It still does.
For more information on hula and the Merrie Monarch Festival, visit their website.