Kumu Hula `Iwalani Christian
He Nani a Manua'kepa , the beauty of Manua`kepa....on the northeastern shore of Kaua`i sits a verdant, vibrantly beautiful valley surrounded on one side by the softly pulsing waves of the Pacific Ocean and enclosed on the inland side by sweeping mountains whose cloak of lush tropical greenery is intermittently disrupted by misty waterfalls...this is the land they call Manua`kepa! It's sheer beauty is so extraordinary that one seeing it for the first time simultaneously feels that it is a place of sacredness! Sometimes, the physical beauty of the aina becomes so interwoven in a person's uhane (soul) that the place and person become as one.. such then is my story of `Iwalani Christian and Manua`kepa.......
`Iwalani Christian was born in Lihue, Kaua`i, and spent the days of her youth in the Kealia area of Kaua`i, attending St Catherine's School and Kapa`a High School. She also attended the Kamehameha Schools for a few years before her family moved to the Pacific NW. Some of her fondest memories are of the happy days she spent at the Kapa`a home of her Tutus Emma and Peter Christian, just around the corner from the magic valley of Manua `kepa! It was then and there that `Iwalani was to first develop her love for the Hawaiian culture, a love that was to transcend time and space when she moved from Hawaii to the Pacific Northwest . A very tiny baby at birth (she was so small that she could fit into a shoe box says her Mom Aunty Bessie Snively), she has developed into a beautiful woman who has a larger than life reputation because of her tireless efforts to perpetuate the culture of Hawaii worldwide!
There is a school of thought that a Legacy is what we leave others...I choose to define Legacy as what others learn from us! `Iwalani Christian's Legacy is best illustrated by the voices of those who have had the privilege of knowing or working with her. Those voices are unanimous in praising `Iwalani: as a Kumu Hula.......as a person who does intensive research on everything she does to ensure that what she says and teaches is proper and correct...as a historian and teacher....as a story teller....as a designer and maker of Hawaiian clothing and implements....as a Hawaiian language instructor... as a mentor in Hawaiiana....as a competitive world class Wa'a (outrigger canoe) paddler...as a warm and compassionate human being....but above all, they cherish her as a friend! She has worked with some of Hawaii 's finest artists and authors and musicians and dancers. She has been an invaluable resource to the Burke Museum on the campus of the University of Washington and as a Board member for the Folk Life Festival at the Seattle Center. She has paddled in Wa'a/Outrigger Canoe world championship races in Hawaii, Tahiti and New Zealand. On numerous occasions she has been asked to perform Hawaiian blessings on homes or places of business, on outrigger canoes and at Hawaiian cultural events. She has also been very active working with our First Nation/American Indian Ohana, particularly the Lummi Tribe.
`Iwalani Christian's heritage traces back to her great grandparents John Rice Smith of Kulaokahua, Oahu who married Mele Kalua Keone of Napoopoo on the Big Island. On her paternal side were Charles Christian who wed Emma Spencer. The Smiths, Christians, Keone and Spencers are well known family names on the islands of Hawaii and on Kauai. `Iwalani's Mom is Aunty Bessie Snively (a much adored and beloved icon in the Pacific NW Hawaiian community). `Iwalani's Dad Peter Christian died a few years ago. `Iwalani's step Dad Bob Snively is another much respected member of the local Hawaiian community. `Iwalani's siblings include sisters Phyllis Puanani Yedica (in Arizona ) and Charm Kehaulani Thometz and Holli Leimomi Burt (both of Tampa, FL ) and brothers Sid Christian (Bothell, WA) and Peter Christian 3rd (Gold Bar, WA).
`Iwalani Christian has never forgotten from whence she came as she has named her very special group of dancers Halau Na Lei O Manau`kepa. They are an immensely popular Halau but you won't see them performing at Ho`olauleas or in competitions because their focus and their forte is in Hula Kahiko (ancient hula style). All Halaus do some Kahiko hulas but most of them concentrate on the Auana (more modern) hula style which is more popular at Ho`olauleas and competitions. What makes Halau Na Lei O Manua`kepa even more unique is that their performances are totally Kahiko and done like a full length movie, telling a complete story via a series of interconnecting acts that can take up to an hour from start to finish. Their performances remind you of how ancient Hawaiians used the dance to pass on, generation after generation, some of the traditions of their culture. Venues for this type of Kahiko performance are only available at events like the annual Folk Life Festival at the Seattle Center where Halau Na Lei O Manua`kepa has long been one of the star attractions. Halau Na Lei O Manua`kepa is a family-like group of dedicated dancers who have been together for many, many years. Perhaps most importantly, through this unique group `Iwalani Christian has been and is developing some of those who will carry the spirit of Aloha and our Hawaiian culture into tomorrow's world.
Mahalo nui loa Iwalani Christian .......for all you have done and continue to do for and on behalf of our people and our culture.....................
Until next time, be kind to each other.........me ke Aloha pumehana..............Danny