By Tammy Hailiʻōpua Baker
The four kūkulu (pillars) of Hana Keaka honor aspects of our culture that we hold dear as Kānaka Maoli. Moʻolelo are our narratives and stories, which is fundamental in understanding who we are and from whence we came. Kūʻauhau defines our genealogical connections that uphold tradition and ancestral knowledge. Hana noʻeau is our lineage of creative artistic practice from the visual to performing arts. ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi intrinsically ties us to our ancestors. Our language carries our culture, frames our worldview, and gives us our unique identity as Kānaka Maoli. These four kūkulu are the foundational pillars of Hana Keaka.
Established in 2014, our inaugural production, Lāʻieikawai, was the inceptive production to bring ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi to the Kennedy Theatre stage. Nā Kau a Hiʻiaka was written and directed by Puakahiki Kaina, the first graduate to obtain an M.F.A. in Hawaiian Theatre. ʻAuʻa ʻIa: Holding On premiered in 2019 and toured to New York in January 2020. The 2021-2022 season ushered in two Hawaiian theatre productions in one season. He Leo Aloha, written and directed by Kaipulaumakaniolono, and Hoʻoilina, written and directed by Ākea Kahikina, increased the representation of Kānaka Maoli voices and stories on the stage. Kaipulaumakaniolono and Ākea each received their Hawaiian Theatre M.F.A. in 2022. Lily Hiʻilani Okimura, who focused solely on honing her skills as a mea hana keaka (actor), received her M.F.A. in May 2023. December 2023 graduate Iāsona Kaper’s thesis production, Kaisara, framed James N.K. Keola’s translations of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in the tumultuous times following the overthrow of our kingdom. Joshua Kamoaniʻala ʻBaba’ Tavares’ original production, Glitter in the Paʻakai, set in Hōnaunau, opens this month.
Each Hawaiian Theatre graduate learns the skills of storytelling via the stage-building capacity in our community for artistic expression. These productions add critical discourse to our theatre landscape and the academy. The program aims to increase artistic capacity in our community, and eventually develop a professional industry of theatre and film made by us for us, here in our pae ʻāina.
In 2023, a Ph.D. in Hawaiian and Indigenous performance launched, as did ʻAhahui Noiʻi Noʻeau ʻŌiwi – Research Institute of Indigenous Performance (ANNO), a Strategic Investment Initiative funded by the Office of Provost Michael Bruno. An inaugural conference is scheduled for March. Noiʻi Nowelo, the theme of the conference, is also the title of ANNO’s forthcoming publication, Noiʻi Nowelo – A Survey of Hawaiian and Indigenous Performance.