American Aloha

So last night I watched the PBS special, American Aloha, which focuses on Hula in California following three halaus: Sissy Kaio’s Hula Halau ‘o Lilinoe in Carson, Mark Hoʻomalu‘s Na Mele Hula ‘Ohana (which was disbanded in 2002.  In 2003, he opened the Halau, Acadamy of the Hawaiian Arts) in Oakland, and Patrick Makuakane’s Nå Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu in San Francisco.

It was pretty short, only 55 minutes, but it was really interesting, espeically seeing the different styles between the three halaus.  It was also kind of fun seeing all the place I go in Carson on film.  I felt like Aunty Sissyʻs halau was the more traditional one, Mark Hoʻomaluʻs halau was in the middle – controversial and more modern, but not so different that youʻre unsure of what theyʻre doing, and Patrick Makuakaneʻs halau was to the far, far left.  Maybe itʻs because Iʻm a bit of a traditionalist (whatever that means in hula since we donʻt have too many records prior to the 1900s since hula was banned by missionaries in the 1800s and had to be kept alive underground), but I was floored by Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu and wasn’t sure if I could open my mind that much to that kind of new interpretation of hula.

I also thought it was interesting that there was a large focus on kane hula, instead of wahine hula.  At first, I wasn’t sure why – the kane were the one’s shown dancing mostly throughout the documentary, in practice and in competition/performance, but after talking to my husband I understood – they were trying to unravel the stereotypes of hula as being female and flowy, like it is in 50s hollywood movies, which they would show periodically throughout the video as mock.  In that Kauanui article I posted the other day, she also addresses this feminization of hula and its context in the continental US:

On the one hand, within Hawaiian communities, hula practice/performance has been a site of great decolonizing possibilities and forms of agency regarding sensuality and spiritual practice.  While on the other hand, there is a demand, on the part of the non-Hawaiian dominant culture, for hula performance and/or an expectation that all Hawaiian woman are knowledgeable about hula.  As Trinh T. Minh-ha writes in another context: “we no longer wish to erase difference, we demand, on the contrary, that you remember and assert it” (Trinh 1989, p. 89).  The specific stereotyping of Hawaiian women may deter them from engaging in these cultural forms.  In turn, their participation, or the lack of it, will affect the way they are perceived in the diasporic communities – are they “Hawaiian enough”?  Such images follow Hawaiian women on their “return home,” whether these returns are for visits or in terms of actual relocation to Hawai’i (690-691).

I found this section of the article really spoke to me, as I only began hula a little over a year ago, and have gone through two na kumu since then, trying to find the most “authentic” one who will make me “hawaiian enough” in the eyes of the rest of the Hawaiian community not only here on the mainland but also back home.  When I was younger, I did hula for a little bit, but quit, because I didn’t want to practice.  The older I became and realized there was some kind of expectation of my being Hawaiian and knowing how to hula in high school dance class, I began to shy away from it even more, not understanding why there was this expectation of me.  That was also around the same time that I stopped eating Pineapple – another expectation of Hawaiians and began embracing western culture as much as I could.  I still donʻt eat pineapple to this day.  Occassionally Iʻll have pineapple juice of some kind, but I also refuse to buy Dole products – thatʻs another post.  My junior and senior undergraduate years at UCLA were when I really began exploring my Hawaiianness and what it means to be a mainland Hawaiian, after my first trip (where I was old enough to not be in a car seat) to Hawai’i.  It opened my eyes to the culture I had somewhat been trying to repress and made me want to break all those stereotypes.  Now, when people ask if I do hula (and do that weird hand gesture that they’ve seen in the movies), I say yes, I do hula and belong to a Halau.  i do not do hula through parks and rec, and our hula is different than what you saw in Elvis’ movies.  it speaks of our past and our future and where we are right now in our western surroundings.  Well, I don’t really say all that, but I hope I convey at least a part of it when discussing the halau.

But back to the movie.  I also saw a statistic that I had never seen before – that at the time of the movie, there were still 8,000 pure-blooded Hawaiians left, and by 2024, it is estimated that there will be none.  It’s understandable and not surprising, since Hawaiians have the highest rate of interracial marriage of most racial and ethnic groups, but it was still a little disturbing and saddening to hear, if only for the fact that it will be really difficult to hit that 50% blood quantum for Hawaiian homestead land for future generations.  I wonder also, if we are still considered to be in the Hawaiian Renaissance which began in the 1970s.  The movie focused a lot on the revival of Hawaiian culture, and it was cool that they showed Kane Kahiko Merrie Monarch clips from the 80s.  In terms of the Hawaiian Renaissance, it said that that was a primary explanation for the big boom of Hawaiian culture on the mainland, since there were already so many off-island Hawaiians on the continent sharing their culture in their homes.  What the Hawaiian Renaissance did was bring the culture outside of the home and into the community, in the forms of Hawaiian Civic Clubs, Na Halau, and events like Ho’olaule’a in Alondra Park (which they did show in the movie too and was kind of exciting).

Overall, I give the movie two thumbs up and recommend it.


2 thoughts on “American Aloha

  1. Interesting post and great movie. My wife is mainland Hawaiian and a member of Na Lei Hulu i Ka Wekiu and it has been a great experience for her, easily the number one thing she has done to reconnect to her Hawaiian culture.

    I feel Mark Ho’omalu is much more radical but ironically his strength is kahiko and his emphasis on competition is winning him some respect. (Also liked Auntie Sissie’s halau with its emphasis on culture and community and seeing the Gardena scene).

    Patrick Makukane is very much focused on the show (and also a DJ and professional bodybuilder, I was actually looking for the name of the gym he is associated with). He came from Robert Cazimero’s Na Kamalei which has a major kane focus and was one of the most prominent halaus that helped seed the Hawaiian cultural rennaissance. Patrick’s best show IMO and the one that speaks to your last paragraph is called The Natives Are Restless and is quite a masterpiece. I expect him to reprise some of that in 2010 when he plans to do a ‘best of show’. He has gone to Oahu several times to put on shows and his Hula mua (modern hula) has been largely well received.

    In any case, nice meeting a kindrid spirit. Good luck on your quest. Imua.


  2. Pingback: Upcoming Classes and Events « Lessa Librarian’s Weblog

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