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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Monday, July 30, 2001

Hula conference breaks new ground

By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer

HILO, Hawai'i — About 500 dancers fill the floor, their chants and the percussive accompaniment by their hula teachers thundering through the stadium. Food is consumed, and 'awa, the ritual libation also known as kava, is poured into bowls from bamboo vessels.

And all of it pays honor to the goddess of hula, whose kuahu, or altar of forest greenery, towers imposingly in one corner.

If five days of workshops seems a rather Western approach to hula, yesterday's World Conference on Hula opening ceremony was rooted in Pacific traditions.

The kuahu rites have been the spiritual heart of Hawai'i's dance for centuries but are almost invariably occasions reserved for private gatherings within selected hula halau.

The first international conference, titled "Ka 'Aha Hula O Halauaola," is breaking new ground in scope and its open access to hula's once-cloistered discussions.

More than 1,000 participants will begin workshops today covering facets of hula that touch on the environment and politics of the Hawaiian cultural movement.

And they have attracted more than the local enthusiasts.

Stan and Cecelia Lucero, from New Mexico's Laguna nation, were drawn by the common threads tying Native American and Native Hawaiian cultures.

Sophia Bowart once lived in Hawai'i and now pursues her fascination for hula in San Francisco. "I think it's an amazing conference," she said. "I hope it happens every year."