Hawai'ian visitors enthrall students with cultural performances

posted on March 30, 2012

Red Cloud School students from Kindergarten through 12th grade were treated to a very special experience earlier this week, as visitors from the University of Hawaii’s I Ola Haloa / Center for Hawai’i Life Styles came and performed.

The visitors were part of a group called Ha’akumalae, or “Into the Center of Knowing”, which is the official Hawai’i protocols program at Hawai’i Community College, a division of the state university. Their program literature explains Ha’akumalae as follows: “…an invitation to enter into the informed practices of Hawai’i protocols as a way to keep in balance with the natural, brilliant, and very human world we live in today…This is where our family and our local and global communities come together to reacquaint ourselves with what it means to be Hawai’ian. Simply said, Ha’akumalae is the practice of knowing our place in the universe.”

The customs that the students observed were preceded in each of the performance venues by a dance and series of songs that served as the “Introduction to Sacred Space.” According to the facilitators, “This…protocol is required by our traditions, asking the spirit of your place to bless and guide our travels.”

The performers ranged in age from adults down to elementary school-aged children. All appeared to be fluent in the Hawai’ian language. The various songs and dances were interpreted and explained to the students in a very engaging manner by Taupoiri Tangaro, one of the group’s leaders, who is also an assistant professor and department chair at the college. Tangaro describes the group’s philosophy thusly: “The practice of Hawai’ian culture is not just about polishing antiquity. [It] is about making room for our most ancient memories and experiences to contribute to the quality of life we live today.”

The Red Cloud students were captivated by the performance, and in the process, learned a great deal about Hawai’ian culture, and its parallels to their own indigenous lifeways. Particular details of the event that students said that they would remember included: being able to touch the head of a drum made of sharkskin, the sea salt that the performers sprinkled on the floor as an offering before they performed, and learning about the deeper meanings underlying the hula dance, and how it has been oversimplified and caricatured by mainstream culture.

The student reaction to the trip was perhaps best summed up by an enthusiastic third grader: “Now I want to go to Hawai’i even more!”

A slide show with more images of the Hawai'ian performers can be found HERE.