Maui Arts & Entertainment

Historic “Huamakahikina Declaration” Ratified on the Integrity, Stewardship, and Protection of Hula

By Wendy Osher
September 23, 2021, 8:54 AM HST
* Updated September 24, 4:41 AM
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Leo Kāhoa steering committee of Kumu Hula. L- R: Lehua Ah Sam (Convention Texh), Kumu Hula Mehanaokalā Hind, Kumu Hula Lauaʻe Yamasaki, Noe Noe Wong Wilson (Convention Tech), Kumu Hula Kathy Holoaumoku Ralar, Kumu Hula Tatiana Tseu-Fox, Kumu Hula Henohea Tanaka Kāne, Kumu Hula Hōkūlani Holt, Kumu Hula Cody Pueo Pata, Kumu Hula Lahela Spencer, Strategy Support Team Lead Keoni Kuoha, and Kumu Hula Kēhaulani Kaneholani-Santiago. PC: Daryl Mauliola Fujiwara

Hundreds of Kumu Hula came together in recent months to create and ratify the “Huamakahikina Declaration,” a historic document on the integrity, stewardship, and protection of hula.

Kumu Hula Cody Kapueolaʻākeanui Pata of Maui, who served on the steering committee, explained that the declaration grew out discussion from the pandemic, amid a spike in COVID-19 cases in the Pacific Islander communities of Hawaiʻi. While discussion at first, focused on health and wellbeing to stop the spread of the virus in Hawaiʻi, it led to conversations on many other issues facing the hula community.

Initial Focus was on Health and Well-Being

Kumu Hula Mehanaokalā Hind of Oʻahu organized a virtual meeting of Kumu Hula from across Hawaiʻi and parts of the continental US in August of 2020.

That resulted in a series of wellness workshops, in which members found strength in cultural practice amid the ongoing COVID-19 challenges.

“Safety and health during the pandemic are what started all of this,” said Kumu Hula Hōkūlani Holt of Pāʻū O Hiʻiaka on Maui. “The Kumu Hula created a Lāhui Kānaka, a kapu, to keep themselves and their hālau families safe. A year ago in August, this kapu was placed by Kumu Hula on their hālau. It consisted of doing pule (prayer) three times a day, encouraging healthy eating, increasing water consumption, staying within your pālama (bubble), personal distancing, and disinfecting self and surroundings for 3 anahulu (30 days). Some then continued for another anahulu or more. Some continued for a longer time. All of this kept our minds on mauli ola in our lives and the lives of our hālau,” said Holt.

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Amidst social distancing and restricted travel, kumu hula came to view the weekly virtual sessions as opportunities for bonding, fellowship, and expanded discussions on other issues of the hula world.

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Then a steering committee was formed, and last month a first-of-its-kind Kupukalālā Kumu Hula Convention was held virtually, bringing together some 150 Kumu Hula from across Hawaiʻi and around the globe.

Holt, who served on the steering committee said, “This process grew out of our collective desire to have mauli ola (health) in our hula lives as well as our personal lives. We wondered–what are those themes, questions, issues, that we as Kumu Hula feel are not healthy for our cultural practice. We sent out a Google Form with a few questions on them and some recurring themes kept surfacing. We looked at them and saw that these were the same things that have been talked about for decades and still no resolve. So then the work began on trying to see how we might address them. Months and months of conversation and discussion followed.”

Pata said that although the main goal of the Convention was to refine and ratify the Huamakahikina Declaration, he described it as also “a momentous time for Kumu Hula to gather together with high spirits, joy, and aloha––things that are so important during this era of social distancing and limited opportunities to gather safely.”

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“Pocket-discussions began leaving the ‘pockets,'” he said, “and we realized we all had been having the same discussions (that even the generations before us had had) regarding the integrity, stewardship, and protection of Hula.”

Thoughts for a formal declaration were solidified, and the first draft was created in late October 2020, with the final Huamakahikina Declaration document released to the public on Tuesday.

The document identifies key concerns surrounding hula, including misrepresentation by individuals who are not equipped to teach and are not acknowledged as a lineal instructors. It also addresses the commercialization, and ignorance surrounding hula that weakens standards and expectations for this traditional and customary practice; and identifies disparities that have resulted in a scarcity of resources.

What made a document like this one necessary?

“Some of the issues were how hula is viewed and treated in the general population, how Kumu Hula are viewed by those outside of the hula practice, and how hula itself is treated in various business sectors,” said Holt.

“When a Kumu Hula takes on that mantle from their Kumu,” she explained, “they are given rights and responsibilities to the knowledge they have attained, and to the teachers they learned from. They have a responsibility to their teachers of the past and their students in the future. They carry with them the charge to do good work and to magnify ʻike Hawaiʻi,” said Holt.

Holt explained that learning of hula spans decades of personal investment with one’s teachers and all those brought into their learning space. “Their knowledge often is commensurate with a Ph.D. but it is not recognized and honored as such.”

“The visitor industry portrays hula as ‘anyone can do it,'” said Holt. “It is sometimes caste as only a comical addition, Tahitian [is] introduced as hula, hula is [sometimes perceived as] only about skin and sexuality, and non-hula people [are] teaching hula. [There are] so many instances of abuse,” she said.

For longtime practitioners, it is clear, that hula is far more than “just a type of performing art, cute hobby or dance done to entertain tourists”–it is “a multiplex of artistic, intellectual, and spiritual practices, perspectives, and products” that captures the essence of distinct hula lineages and is transmitted and passed down from one generation to the next.

Part of the document’s call to action is to ensure hula thrives and is cultivated with care, and that it “flourishes for countless generations to come.”

United Front in Keeping Hula Alive and Thriving with Integrity

According to the document, the name “Huamakahikina” comes from a line of a common Hula prayer:

“Kupu ka lālā, hua ma ka hikina. The branch sprouts, and fruits in the east.”
We, the Kumu Hula, are the fruits from branches of the same tree.

The word “hua” also means “message/word,” “product,” and “fruitful.”

Those involved in the process said a lot of long hard work was done by both Kumu Hula as well as those who know about legalities to come up with the declaration.

Kumu Hula Holt described the work as a labor of love.

“We know hula will live, it has lived since the beginning of Hawaiʻi. It has continued, it has changed, it has thrived, it has gone underground, but it survived, unlike some of the other cultural practices. Hula survived and thrived because Kumu Hula wanted it to be so and did everything they could to make sure that it did. The same thing happened with forming the Declaration, Kumu Hula wanted it to be so and devoted the time and energy toward it.”

Kumu Hula Hōkūlani Holt of Pāʻū O Hiʻiaka

Fellow Kumu, Pata described the process as “very healing.”

“Various hālau usually compete against one another in the many Hula competitions held each year. For the most part, even when in competition mode, most Kumu Hula have aloha for each other, but don’t have many opportunities to interact outside of competition spheres,” said Pata. “But, by the time Huamakahikina was convened in August of last year, everyone was so wearied by the anxiety and stress of the pandemic that we all came together with such great joy, camaraderie, support, and true aloha. That spirit has stayed with us throughout the entire process of Lāhui Kānaka, then into Declaration drafting, all the way through to the Convention last month. So much mauli ola and aloha has come from our Kumu Hula community through this entire period as we united to accomplish all that we have,” said Pata.

There is an ʻōlelo noʻeau, or Hawaiian saying:

ʻAʻohe pau ka ʻike i ka hālau hoʻokahi.
All knowledge is not taught in the same school.

Source: Pukui, M. K. (1983). ‘Ōlelo No‘eau Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings. Bishop Museum Press.

“Kumu Hula are notoriously individualistic, even within our own hula lineages. So, this entire process was just so reaffirming to learn that our shared values really connect all of us despite differences in style or practice,” said Pata.

A document born out of unique times:

The pandemic presented a very different set of circumstances for the hula world, not only in terms of limitations on gatherings, but being able to perform, and the added responsibility of keeping families safe.

“I think the greatest challenge for Kumu Hula was how to continue teaching,” said Holt. “Face-to-face teaching was not possible with the Stay-at-Home directives and the limits to the number of people in a room. Face-to-face is how you teach hula. We all had to learn how to do virtual classes.”

She explained that hula classes demand feedback from the Kumu to the Haumana (students). “We needed to see and respond to each student in the class. We also had to pivot and figure out, how do we teach our students? We became familiar with Zoom, Google Classroom, haumana videos, and teaching online. It was not easy but we did it, and continue to do it to this very day,” said Holt.

For some, it has been a year and a half only online. For others, it has become a hybrid class with face-to-face and Zoom at the same time. According to Holt, very few have returned fully to in-class teaching, but some have.

“We also now have to consider vaccinations, freedom of choice, weekly testing, or a combination of all. That is an ongoing discussion,” she said.

Fellow Kumu Pata said:

“Throughout the pandemic, Kumu Hula have been able to turn to our moʻolelo and mele to find advice and knowledge from our kūpuna and Hula predecessors––to learn how they adapted to meet the challenges of their times. They survived through previous epidemics, pandemics, colonization, commercialization, wars, and much more by enduring and adapting. It has always been our ability as Kānaka Maoli and Kumu Hula to adapt that has enabled our ways to endure and thrive into the present. As modern-day Kumu Hula, along with our newly learned skills in teaching via virtual platforms, the Declaration is another form of adaptation that will further facilitate our abilities to tend to the integrity, stewardship, and protection of Hula for the generations to come,” said Pata.

Kumu Hula Cody Kapueolaʻākeanui Pata of Maui (Hālau Hula ʻo Ka Malama Mahilani)

Performing is another element that has changed during the pandemic, with income from public performances suffering as a result.

“Hula is undeniably recognizable as the iconic dance of Hawaiʻi. Along with Hula being a main feature in the tourism industry, it’s even recognized as the official dance of Hawaiʻi as codified under HRS Section 5-21. However, unlike publicly funded skate parks, soccer fields, swimming pools, baseball fields, and etc.––all of which are not tangible and intangible cultural heritages of Kānaka Maoli––there are no publicly funded Hula facilities. Such facilities in every community could allow Kumu Hula to reduce their own overhead costs, and provide increased access to Hula for Kānaka Maoli and kamaʻāina,” said Pata.

“As recognized experts in our fields, we are often consulted by entities like government agencies, businesses, or school systems. But, because our education and training are not considered commensurate with western forms of credentialing, we are often expected to provide services for free, or are we are under-considered for, or under-paid in, professional settings. As such, we hope that the Declaration will make equitable opportunities more available for Kumu Hula moving forward,” said Pata.

“For those Kumu Hula who do hula as their livelihood, it is extremely difficult. Many of them have had to figure out what else to do to be financially stable, and many of them have had to go back to teaching face-to-face sooner than they might have anticipated,” said Holt.

She said that through it all though, hula has prevailed.

“Hula has prevailed because the Kumu Hula have prevailed. And that is what the Declaration asserts, that hula is because of the Kumu Hula who have devoted their lives to this cultural practice. The national dance of Hawaiʻi deserves the honor and elevation that any national dance receives. The teachers, the Kumu Hula, also deserve to be recognized as the knowledge and culture bearers of this cultural practice. Hula thrives despite historical challenges, abuse, and ignorance. Hula will thrive and flourish into the future for countless generations to come. This is because the Declaration is to support, protect, and advance hula wherever hula exists,” said Holt.

Wendy Osher
Wendy Osher leads the Maui Now news team. She is also the news voice of parent company, Pacific Media Group, having served more than 20 years as News Director for the company’s six Maui radio stations.
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