A Movement is Gaining Momentum to Ensure the Integrity, Stewardship and Protection of Hula
In August 2020, Oʻahu Kumu Hula Mehanaokalā Hind organized a virtual meeting to garner thoughts on how kumu hula could keep themselves and their hālau safe and healthy during the pandemic.
About 60 kumu hula from throughout Hawaiʻi and the continental United States attended. From that discussion and the wellness workshops that were held weekly over the ensuing two months, other concerns of the hula community that had existed for decades, but had never been resolved, came to the forefront.
Thus, Huamakahikina – a coalition of kumu hula from Hawaiʻi, the continental United States, Japan, France, Spain, Aotearoa and French Polynesia, representing the breadth of hula lineages – was formed. Its goal is to stand as a united group with a strong voice to ensure the integrity, stewardship and protection of hula.
Huamakahikina is inclusive: All kumu hula with recognized lineages are invited to join and support the group’s mission, which is articulated in an eight-page Huamakahikina Declaration that was written over the course of 10 months – from October 2020 to August 2021 when the inaugural Kupukalālā Kumu Hula Convention was held virtually. Incorporating input from dozens of kumu hula, it was unanimously ratified at the convention by the 160 kumu hula in attendance. Forty more added their names within two weeks, and the document was released publicly in September 2021.
Maui-based Kumu Hula Pueo Pata of Hālau Hula ʻo Ka Malama Mahilani and Kumu Hula Hōkūlani Holt of Pāʻū O Hiʻiaka are members of Leo Kāhoa, a steering committee of Huamakahikina that was tasked with planning the convention and compiling and distilling key points into the Declaration, which identifies five areas as being of urgent concern. Briefly, they are: 1) “misrepresentation, cultural misappropriation, exploitation, and abuse of Hula;” 2) “widespread ignorance and misunderstanding about the practice and performance of Hula;” 3) “insufficient protection for the Kanaka Maoli culture and knowledge maintained within, and embodied by, Hula;” 4) “disparities in how the rigors and highly specialized processes through which Kumu Hula are trained and acknowledged…are recognized and valued by institutions and within labor markets;” and 5) “challenges to engaging in the study and practice of Hula.”
Addressing the first two challenges Pata said, “Several commercial venues draw crowds by advertising a ‘Hula Show,’ yet in many instances, we kumu hula see nothing that we recognize as authentic hula. Companies often do not hire lineally acknowledged kumu hula to choreograph for them, and the results are stereotypical presentations that foreigners expect to see. The gimmicky-ness of it all does nothing to elevate our esteemed art; instead, it reinforces the objectification of our ʻōlapa and the reduction of hula to cheap entertainment.”
Pata points out that kumu hula are highly trained and specialized stewards of their lineage’s traditions, but within government and most commercial and professional spheres, they are not afforded appropriate respect or consideration. “Many of us do not have permanent homes for our hālau, and we must work multiple jobs to ensure that we can uphold our kuleana as kumu hula,” he said. “Adding insult to injury, we are often expected to provide our services and expertise as ‘kōkua’ or with aloha, meaning free.”
Holt concurs. Reflecting on the lack of educational resources and facilities for hula, she said, “We have publicly-supported basketball courts, skateboard parks and pickleball courts in Hawaiʻi, but there are no publicly-supported hula spaces. Hula welcomes all ages, physical abilities, genders, ethnicities and economic levels, and it is still not supported publicly.”
The tide might be turning.
Leo Kāhoa members have been meeting with county, state and federal legislators and policymakers and, in support of the Huamakahikina Declaration, Maui Mayor Michael Victorino announced plans last month for the Hālau of ʻŌiwi Art, which will be dedicated to Hula and its associated arts. According to a February 12 Honolulu Star-Advertiser story, if all goes well, ground could be broken on the 36,000-square-foot, two- or three-story building in 2024 or 2025, with completion anticipated in 2027. It will be the first of what Huamakahikina hopes will be many such government-funded cultural centers throughout the state.
“Hula should be elevated to the status it deserves as an art form that is critical to the perpetuation of the Hawaiian culture,” Holt said. “Hula is the official state dance of Hawaiʻi, and its relevance is also linked to economic health, not only in the visitor industry. We support flower growers, restaurants, caterers, party planners, photographers, the fabric and garment industries and much more.”
The paths to achieve Huamakahikina’s goals might get complicated, but the Declaration’s call to action sums up those efforts simply and powerfully: “To cultivate Hula as a source of wellbeing and to ensure that Hula flourishes for countless generations to come.”
Visit www.huamakahikina.org to view the Declaration and show your support for it.