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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 29, 2002

Kumu passes on the manner and wisdom of hula

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Editor

 •  'Holomua Ka No'eau'

A hula concert by Halau Mohala 'Ilima

6-8:30 p.m. Saturday

Hawai'i Theatre

$15, $25, (includes $2 theater restoration fee)


Featuring: Halau Mohala 'Ilima (kumu hula Mapuana de Silva), Ka Pa Hula O Ka Lani (kumu hula Kalani Akana), Lau Kapalili (David Ka'io, Alan Distajo, Chris Keliiaa) and 'Ale'a (Ryan Gonzalez, Kale Hannahs, Chad Takatsugi)

For kumu hula Mapuana de Silva and her halau members, hula is part tradition, part ritual, part education, part commerce.

As its major fund-raising endeavor, to help finance the halau's forthcoming trek to Hilo to participate in the annual Merrie Monarch Festival next week, members of Halau Mohala 'Ilima will put on a concert — "Holomua Ka No'eau," Saturday at the Hawai'i Theatre — but not before journeying to Kaua'i to soak up the mana'o of the 'aina, to learn more about and emotionally experience the essence of the chant they will perform at the hula festival.

"The focus of our concert is our Merrie Monarch presentation," said de Silva, an award-winning scholar of dance, who is passing on the manner and wisdom she learned from her kumu, the late Auntie Maiki Aiu.

"We'll be off to Kaua'i," she said before the halau's visit to the Garden Island last Sunday. "The intent is to retrace the tracks of a hike to Alaka'i (in the Waimea district) by Queen Emma in January 1871, when 100 journeyed from the Alaka'i swamp to the Kilohana swamp, in what was a rainy, cold and dismal trip.

"The queen turned everything around; the people sang, were comforted, were told not to worry about the cold and the rain. She helped bring cheer and energy, and there was a big pa'ina (dinner) in the Koke'e area later."

The chant, "A E Waimea 'O Kalani (The Queen Was in Waimea)," survived the ages and de Silva said she received the mele in 1975 from Auntie Maiki.

"It's been my dream to visit Alaka'i since, and this is the first time we're going," said de Silva.

It's what the halau does, as part of its mission to discover elements of a song, enhancing interpretation. "We go to places where songs are written for; we try to feel what people may have felt."

The excursion, in rustic country, was to be an all-day affair, involving an entourage of 24. "It's always an adventure and an education," said de Silva. Because the weekend concert is the halau's biggest boost before the Merrie Monarch, dancers "have the responsibility of filling the seats," said de Silva.

The concert enables the halau to showcase traditional hula, to enlighten family members as to what the dancers will do at Merrie Monarch, and simply to learn a little more about what and why the performers elect to present specific dances.

"When you watch Merrie Monarch on TV, or any hula thing on TV or even in Waikiki, you don't really get an opportunity to hear what the songs are really about, where they came from, how they were transmitted over time," she said.

"Passing on knowledge, from kumu to student, is important. It's so easy to watch a video or someone dance, but it's harder for a student to teach another student in the classroom without receiving information first," she said.

She insists on written notations, not only to advance knowledge but for accuracy in interpreting a hula.

"When I was in Auntie Maiki's halau, she allowed us to take notes — a concession on her part. It was always part of the hula process; nobody's memory is perfect. The mind fades, so written notes are a key to a performance," she said.

De Silva has continuously referred to her tattered notes over the years. "Kihei (her husband) keeps telling me to make copies, to put the originals in a safe place, because they're starting to fall apart," she said.

And in a rare instance of boasting, de Silva said: "I'm amazed how good a job I did in taking notes. I was young, after all."

She recalled the exact date she signed on for hula with Auntie Maiki: "Feb. 4, 1972. I didn't take formal lessons until after I graduated from college, so I started late in life," she said. "I think I was just fortunate: right place, right time."

At 53, she said she has 26 years of hula under her belt.

But, she said, she was trained by the best. "It's really quite amazing how I can get up and dance a mele, not having done it for 10 or more years, and it all comes back, without hesitation," said de Silva. "It think it's all because of Auntie Maiki. She was so totally inspiring."

And that's how she wants her disciples to remember her.

"I weigh what I do against what she taught me," said de Silva. "If you didn't measure up, you had good scoldings."