Ka`Aha Hula `O Hālauaola was a week-long celebration in Kahului, Maui from July 24-30, 2005. Over a thousand hula practitioners arrived from Mexico, Japan, Germany, Holland, French Polynesia as well as Hawai`i and the continental United States to participate in this second World Conference on Hula, organized by Kauahea, Inc., the Edith Kanaka`ole Foundation and the Lālākea Foundation. The first conference took place in Hilo, Hawai`i in 2001.
This gathering of hula students in Hawai`i grew from a conversation among kumu hula Pua Kanaka`ole Kanahele of Hilo, Leina`ala Heine Kalama of O`ahu and Hōkūlani Holt-Padilla of Maui, about the way hula has spread around the world and how some dancers and even teachers have never been to Hawai`i. These respected kumu decided to provide an opportunity for all interested in hula to return to the source - nānā I ke kumu.
“Hula is the collective memory and experience of generations of Hawaiians,” said conference chairperson Hōkūlani Holt-Padilla in her welcoming remarks. “It is through hula that we come to understand, in a cultural sense, plants, animals, geology, history, and genealogies.”
Pre-conference workshops on Nā Ponohula, the making of hula attire and implements, began three days before the opening. Every conference day started with a trip to Haleakalā for the sunrise and ended in the evening with hula performances. Over a hundred workshops ran five days from 8:30am to 4:30pm (with a lunch break,) covering topics such as the Basic Beats of the Ipu Heke, Lomilomi and its Connection to Hula, Native Hawaiian Literary Resources, Excerpts from the Kumulipo, Digitalizing the Kinolau, to the Kamapua`a Mo`olelo. Presenters included Keali`i Reichel, Cody Pueo Pata, Vicky Holt Takamine, Kahauanu Lake, Michael Pili Pang, Nālani Kanaka`ole, Kekuhi Kanahele-Frias and many more. There were tributes to `Iolani Luahine, George Hanohano and Maiki Aiu Lake, and field trips to heiau in ` Iao Valley and the four sacred waters of Maui. The final day of the conference was dedicated to native plant maintenance and restoration, clearing of foreign plants, trash pickup and beach cleanup around the island.
Hōkūlani Holt-Padilla drew laughter when she told the crowd that hula is “more than dancing and looking pretty…” But she was serious when she said, “When hula lives, Hawaiian culture lives.” She also reminded the gathering that hula must live as “a cultural practice of these islands…with the mele (the words) first and foremost,” and that the kuleana of conference participants is to ensure that hula, as ancestors designed, continues.
The state of Hawai‘i turns 46 on Sunday, August 21, and like others that age, it’s in a midlife crisis. When President Dwight Eisenhower officially signed the proclamation on August 21, 1959 that welcomed Hawai‘i as the 50th state, spirits were high and confident. Sugar was king and tourism to the islands began with the first commercial jetliner, an event that brought lei-bearing crowds to Honolulu’s airport.
For the next three decades, the Hawaiian economy flourished with the growth of agriculture, tourism, and the military. But all this ended in the 1990s. The three legs of the economy have all shown weaknesses. The sugar and pineapple industries are close to ceasing all operations as growers are lured abroad by cheaper production costs. Today, most former sugar cane fields grow new housing subdivisions, and Honolulu’s pineapple cannery is host to other businesses. Farmers now grow coffee, macadamia nuts, and other vegetable crops.
Statehood opened the door to a flood of mainland and foreign capital. By the late 1980s, Japanese investment in Hawaiian properties caused real estate prices to surge. But the wave washed out. Investors unloaded properties for a fraction of their purchase prices, losing millions of dollars. Bankruptcies and foreclosures increased and unemployment during that time was well above the national level.
The tough times have hit more than the wallets. Some say that the state’s “aloha spirit” is eroding, as the property-crime rate rises and letters to the editor of the local papers complain of rudeness. There are some who comment that people were nicer to each other before statehood. And they say that those were the good old days, as they have seen the changes since Hawai‘i became a state.
Becoming the 50th state was not all-smooth sailing for Hawai‘i. The so-called “Big Five” companies – Alexander & Baldwin, Inc., Amfac (American Factors), Inc., C. Brewer & Company, Ltd., Castle & Cooke, Inc. and Theo H. Davies & Company, Ltd. – controlled the economy and legislature. As Republicans, company leaders opposed statehood, fearing loss of control and arguing that taxes to run the new state government would be high.
In addition, there were leaders in the U.S. Congress who feared that Hawai‘i was a strong hold of communism. And there was also the issue of racism. As one southern Congressman pointed out, “With a population so radically different from the rest of the United States, this Territory [Hawai‘i] cannot possibly qualify as one of the United States.” And another remarked “Are the non-Caucasian, chiefly oriental peoples of Hawaii, acceptable to this Congress for full and complete citizenship of the United States of America?” And yet, as shocking as the opposition was, the majority of Congress were in favor of admitting Hawai‘i as a state.
Car horns blared, church bells rang, and ships in the harbor blew their whistle while hundreds of people danced in the streets to welcome the news that Hawai‘i was admitted as the 50th state. Congress ended decades of procrastination. Although admitting Hawai‘i as a state was not, in itself, a monumental act, it was one of the most monumental decisions that still affects the lives and culture of its people today. Many Hawaiians, then and now, felt that their right to a sovereign nation was impinged not only in 1959, but also in 1893 with the overthrow of Queen Lili‘uokalani, in 1898 with annexation and in 1900 with Hawai‘i becoming a territory. That impingement is still felt today.
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