Kū ka ‘Oli‘oli

The King Kamehameha Hula Competition 2011

We grew up in homes where just about everything had its specific purpose and place.

This is Mom‘s scissors, it‘s for cutting fabric not windows in cardboard boxes; it belongs in her sewing basket, and you‘re not to touch it. This is the pa‘akai for when we come home from funerals; it belongs on this shelf in the garage, and we don't salt African snails with it. And why are you kids trying to knock down lichee with Dad's ulua pole?

We learned pretty fast; if we didn't, we were corrected with the leather strap or the nī‘au broom -- both set aside in the hallway closet for just that purpose.

Māpu was trained in a hālau hula of similarly defined categories and kūleana. This is a hula noho: your job is to sit, dance, and chant the words. If it is not a hula noho, your job is to dance and kāhea; it's the kumu's job to chant. This is a kilu; it's a kumu's instrument. When you are studying to become a kumu, you will make it yourself, learn to drum it in a hula noho called "Eia Hawai‘i," and learn to drum it, with pahu, in "Kaulīlua." You don't mix jobs, you don't mix styles, you don't mix instruments, you don't cross purposes. When you do, it isn't hula, it's kāpulu. 

There is no corrective strap or broom in today's hula. No Alice Namakelua to pound her cane and voice the dreaded "hewa!" No Joseph Ilalaole to shake his finger at what he called "chop suey." No Aunty Kau‘i Zuttermeister to admonish, "Don‘t use this mele as your ho'i; it talks about death."

Instead, we have a blurring of lines and duties.  We have the reversal of kumu and dancer roles in the chanting of mele.  We have elongated, ornamental kāhea. We have a completely redefined and popularized form of hula kilu.  We have hula noho danced standing up -- and stand-up hula danced sitting down.  We have oli hoāeae (a distinct vocal style) delivered as olioli (a separate and distinct vocal style).  And we have trophies going regularly to these often beautifully executed, tradition-eroding performances.

So it was nice, in the midst of a sometimes disturbing King Kamehameha Hula Competition, to  see HMI's old version of "Kū ē ka ‘Oli‘oli" performed in unmodified hula noho fashion with all its elements in their expected places and all its participants in their expected roles. And it was equally nice to see creativity in its proper context: in the new-but-old voice and dance given by Kahikina and her ladies to "I Haleakalā ka ‘Olu," a Lili‘u-composed mele for which there is no known history of performance. The kumu chanted, to her own ipu heke accompaniment, for stand-up dancers who did their own two jobs with charm and integrity.

"Thank you," said Kamāmalu Klein afterwards, "for bringing 'Kū e ka ‘Oli‘oli' out of mothballs." 

"Thank you," we say back to Kamāmalu, Cy Bridges, and Leiana Woodside (the competition's three kahiko judges), for deeming "I Haleakalā ka ‘Olu" worthy of a place in those same mothballs. 

And now that we‘re done, we'll put them both away.  Carefully.

Men's Kahiko

"Kū ē ka ‘Oli‘oli"

First Place

Women's Kahiko

"I Haleakalā ka ‘Olu"

Fourth Place