IUCN Spotlight: Opening ceremony hula
Renowned kumu hula and hula practitioners of the Lalakea Foundation are presenting the opening protocol for the International Union of Conservation of Nature's World Conservation Congress on Thursday, Sept. 1, at the Blaisdell Center in Hawaii.
With Akahi Ka Mano, a migration chant, the mano, or shark, begins the ceremony in a retelling of the ocean migrations of the native people to the Hawaiian islands. The pahu drums, with their reverberating, earth pulsing sounds, accompany the chant to honor the evolution of the landscape.
Then the journey begins, telling the story of how each island emerges, one by one, from the depths of the Pacific Ocean as revealed through Pele, the goddess who resides in the fiery pit of Halema‘uma‘u at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
The entire performance is in kahiko, or ancient-style hula, with a ceremonial building of a lele on which is placed particular native plants important to hula, according to Lalakea Foundation managing director Noe Noe Wong-Wilson.
"The things we will highlight on each island are sensitive and important issues like the preservation of our mountains, our water ways and access to water," she said. "Each plant represents a strata of the larger kuahu (altar) which is the healthy, native forest. Each plant also represents a characteristic which the dancer strives to achieve. Without the native forest, hula in this form could not exist."
On Hawaii island, world-renowned Halau o Kekuhi under the direction of kumu Nalani Kanaka‘ole, Huihui Kanahele-Mossman and Kaumakaiwa Kealiikanakaoleohaillani perform a series of chants, beginning with Hulihia Ka Mauna, portraying the tumultuous upheaval caused by volcanic activity. Hawaii island's landscape continues to change as the active volcano creates layer up layer of new lava, destroying any living thing in its way.
Kumu Kanaka‘ole composed a new chant, Hulihua Ke Au Nee Ilalo Ia Akua, describing the Hawaii island environment dominated by Pele.
She wrote: "Vulcanism in its wholeness calls for a volatile relationship of extreme factors like fire and ice. Lines from two Awa chants from the mo‘olelo (stories) of Kamiki clearly indicates an understanding of this relationship. As Kanaka (native Hawaiians) we should control the outcome of all sacred places from Mauna Kea to Na Pali."
Continue on to Maui, where the mele (songs) will address areas of the isle affected by the restriction of wai, or life giving water to feed the lo‘i, or taro patch and the biosystem of plant sand animals in the streams. Dancers from top-placing Merrie Monarch groups, including Halau Ke‘alaokamaile under the direction of kumu hula Keali‘i Reichel, as well as Halau Pa‘u o Hi‘iaka under the direction of kumu Hokulani Holt Padilla and Halau Hi‘iakanamakalehua under the direction of kumu Lono Padilla and Keano Ka‘upu will perform pieces which celebrate this life-giving water. The phrase "ka wai ola" means "water is life."
Dancers from Oahu will celebrate the verdant Koolau mountain range and the wetlands of He‘eia, Waiahole, Waianae and other storied places. Ka Pa Hula o Ka Lei Lehua under the direction of kumu Snowbird Bento and Halau Na Pualei o Likolehua under the direction of kumu Niuli‘i Heine perform both traditional and contemporary chants highlighting the ongoing struggle on Hawaii's most populated island.
Kauai's Halau Palaihiwa o Kaipuwai under the direction of kumu Kehaulani Kekua perform chants and hula highlighting the beautiful Na Pali Coast, a fragile ecosystem of remote valleys home to unique flora and fauna under threat.
The message is clear. Hawaii is a sensitive ecosystem, each island unique for its own unimaginable beauty of flora and fauna created by millennia of isolation. The hulihia, or tumultuous change in our environment, plants, animals, people and culture that has occurred in just a little over 200 years since recorded Western contact, is irreversible. So where do we go from here?
"We're hoping the message we relate is not only the delicate nature of our own indigenous plants and animal species, but our native Hawaiian people, our culture and our environment," said Wong-Wilson. "Without the native plants, hula doesn't exist...Without the sacred places we as a people would be hard-pressed to maintain our identity, culture and language."
See a gallery of opening ceremony: