By Cody Pueo Pata
“Whether you are 5 or 85, hula can be for you. Whether you have lived here for generations or arrived last month, hula can be for you. Whether you pray to Kāne, Buddah, your ancestors, or a heavenly Father, hula can be for you too. Hula is for everyone.” – Testimony of Kumu Hula Hōkūlani Holt, Ph.D., Maui County’s Budget, Finance and Economic Development Committee hearing, April 8, 2022.
Located in the ʻilikū of Peʻepeʻe, part of the proposed project site for a Hālau of ʻŌiwi Art was once home to the historic King Theater in the modern-day Wailuku Arts District.
If approved, the 47,000-square-foot facility would be the largest investment by any county or the state to create a permanent place for hula and its associated ʻŌiwi arts and practices.
With an initial cost of $54 million ($43 million from Maui County and $11 million in federal funds), such a price tag is not an easy shoo-in for the county’s Budget, Finance, and Economic Development (BFED) Committee.
Nevertheless, some 50-60 individuals and organizations submitted public testimony in staunch support of the Hālau of ʻŌiwi Art asking council members to fund the project in full. According to county officials, full funding is crucial to demonstrate a commitment for federal funding purposes. With mid-term elections coming up, the timing is right to access that funding prior to any possible changes occurring at the federal level in terms of the makeup of Congress.
While hula continues to be a mainstay in our identity as Hawaiʻi, our state and county agencies have yet to provide a physical space for hula. At the April 8 BFED Committee meeting, numerous kumu hula and hula practitioners highlighted the abundance of baseball, soccer, and football fields throughout the county.
The Membership of Huamakahikina emphasized the vital need for council support, testifying that, “As has always been the case, and more urgently with knowledge that more than half of all Maui residents were born out-of-state, the practices of hula and ʻŌiwi arts are extremely crucial for the maintenance of the unique identity and collective culture of the people of Maui County – most importantly to instill these practices and values within the future generations to come. The Hālau of ʻŌiwi Art will not only serve as a necessary bastion for the practices of hula and ‘Ōiwi arts, but it will also serve to show just how committed the Maui County Council is to the protection and continuation of the unique identity, cultural wellbeing, and economic sustainability of the people of Maui County.”
An incredible set of testimonies in support of the Hālau of ʻŌiwi Art was also provided by a mother-daughters team comprised of Office of Hawaiian Affairs Chair Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey, and her daughters, Kumu Hula Kahulu Maluo-Pearson and Kumu Hula Nāpua Greig.
Maluo-Pearson spoke of the challenges she and her sister faced early on in their careers as kumu hula. “My sister and I learned very quickly that a huge challenge every hālau deals with is finding a home – securing a place where your students feel safe, where the kumu hula feel safe. We went through years of moving from one facility to another.”
Lindsey recalled her own efforts to help her daughters, “I built a hālau for my daughters. Then, our neighbors complained of the excessive traffic on hālau days. Kumu hula do not charge enough to pay for rented spaces, yet our county has not made it a priority to invest in hula which, ultimately, is an investment in our community.”
Greig powerfully concluded her own testimony to the council, “Now I urge you to be the model, the example, the blueprint, the beacon for all of Hawaiʻi to follow. I urge when you approach the matter of funding this center, and others like it in the future, I ask you to not think of equal funding, but instead realize we are playing catch-up.”
The Maui County Council has until June 10 to make its final decision, and public support for the Hālau of ʻŌiwi Art is still necessary. Should the budget be approved, construction of the Hālau of ʻŌiwi Art could be completed by early 2026.
For more information on the Hālau of ʻŌiwi Art, please visit www.hoamaui.com.
Cody Kapueolaʻākeanui Pata is the kumu hula of Hālau Hula ʻo Ka Malama Mahilani based in Kahului, Maui. He is also a founding member of Huamakahikina, an award-winning Hawaiian music recording artist, and the Cultural Advisor to the Mayor of Maui County.