Keahualaka at Kēʻē (English)


Read this article in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi

I took my hula students to Kēʻē, Kauaʻi, in March to perform drum dances in Keahualaka, a well-known location for hula instruction. Our pilgrimage was a custom passed down for candidates preparing to graduate as hula experts and practitioners.

According to Henry P. Kekahuna, the one who mapped out this well-known storied-place of Kauaʻi, Keahualaka was visited in the past by hula folk from outside of Kauaʻi to train and study under the hula master there. At the conclusion of the training, the candidate was tested. The major test was swimming the channel called Kohola in the sea of Kēʻē. There was a shark lurking outside of the reef and if a hula candidate broke a kapu, the shark would attack and kill that person. We were fortunate that the test was no longer required!

Photo: Aerial view of heiau in Keahualaka
Keahualaka lāua ʻo Kauluapaoa mai luna iho. – Courtesy Photo

Laka was the first teacher at this sacred place and the reason why that place was named The-altar-of-Laka. Below this hula temple was the platform called The-shrine-of-Paoa. Below Kauluapaoa was a large rock called Kilioe. This rock was covered with crevices for the umbilical cords of the children born to the families of Hāʻena. Kilioe was also the name of the water spirit that guarded the corpse of Lohiʻau; however, according to William Rice, Kilioe was the sister of Lohiʻau and a hula master. That is a probable reason why the place was called The-shrine-of-Kilioe by Thomas Thrum, a renowned writer of Hawaiian stories.

According to Henry Kekauna, Wahineikeoli (Wahineikeouli Pā) was the last kumu hula of Keaualaka. This Wahineikeouli was one of the chanters and informants recorded by Helen Roberts. In addition, she was a composer who sent many of her compositions to the Hawaiian newspapers for publication.

Jacob Maka was the guide for Kekahuna at Kēʻē. He was also one of the last hula students at Keahualaka who probably trained under Wahinekeouli. Maka went on to become famous throughout Kauaʻi for his singing. E Ke Akua Ola was one of the songs that he composed. Maka was also the source of many of the stories that folklorist Fred Wichman recorded in Kauaʻi Tales.

When I first visited Keahualaka in 1979, Roselle Bailey and her students were the caretakers of Keahualaka. During my last visit, Kamealoha Forrest and his students were guardian-caretakers. Their protection of Keahualaka and Kauluapaoa is essential against trespassers who could desecrate this revered location. Kekahuna said that Keahualaka was an “ancient seminary.” The words of Kekahuna ring true when we reflect on the knowledgeable hula elders of Keahualaka.