If Cities Could Dance


How Hula Dancers Connect Hawaii’s Past and Present

For Native Hawaiians, the origins of hula are deeply spiritual and rooted in Hawaii’s creation stories and the history and culture of their kūpuna or ancestors. Many sacred dances have been passed down through centuries of kumu hula, or hula instructors, like Honolulu’s Snowbird Puananiopaokalani Bento, who trained decades to master the language, choreography and protocols.

AIRED: October 05, 2021 | 0:06:42

- Aloha. I'm Snowbird Puananiopaokalani Bento

here in Honolulu, Hawai'i, land of the hula.

This is "If Cities Could Dance".

- [Snowbird] Hula is the way that

Kanaka 'Liwi of Hawai'i, the Native peoples of Hawai'i,

tell our stories.

- [Pilialoha] And it's a spiritual endeavor,

as much as it is a physical.

- [Kilinoe] As hula dancers, we are recorders of time

and events that will eventually be retold in the future.

[Diane] How are we going to make sure that the messages

of these dances are going to carry on forever?

(upbeat music)

- [Diane] In Honolulu, you have the tourism industry

offering a very entertainment focused style of hula.

And then you have hula for cultural perpetuation,

for ceremony.

Dancing hula to really internalize the messages

of our kkpuna, our ancestors.

(Hawaiian chant done to ukulele)

- [Snowbird] Hula needs the words

because that's where the story is.

We come from an oral tradition.

We pass on our molelo, our history.

Our kkpuna, they could hold hundreds of years

worth of generations of ke,

just remembering the words of a chant.

(Hawaiian chant done to a pahu drum)

- [Snowbird] The word "au'a" is to stand apart.

This comes from the prophecy that the big fishes

will come and swallow up the little fishes,

and that we are to hold fast to the culture.

Hula is the way that we ensure

that we are not erased from our own history in our own land.

(Hawaiian chant done to a pahu drum)

(Hawaiian ukulele song)

- [Snowbird] I am a kumu hula,

and one of the definitions

of kumu means to be the source of knowledge.

I started formerly dancing hula when I was nine years old.

But I knew from a young age that I loved this so much

because it was so much a part of this land

that I belong to, that my kkpuna come from.

We are a generation where our parents fought,

so that we could speak Hawaiian.

As a kumu hula today,

the ability for me to speak my language

and to have my cultural practice as intact

as it still is, is mind-blowing.

(Hawaiian chanting done to Native percussion)

- [Pilialoha] With the suppression of hula in the 1800s,

it's amazing that we still have hula available for us today.

In the early 1800s, after the arrival

of Calvinist missionaries from New England,

and as Hawai'i started to convert

to become a Christian nation,

the art of hula was seen as lascivious and almost heretical.

And so hula got pushed into underground scenes

and were maintained in secrecy.

And it wasn't until Kakaua became king in the 1870s

in which hula was revived to its former glory

and Kakaua included hula as a major part

of his two-week coronation celebrations.

And so hula was seen publicly for the first time

after decades of being pushed underground

on the grounds of Iolani Palace.

Iolani Palace is significant

to the revival of hula that we see today

and that we're able to enjoy today.

(Hawaiian percussion)

(Hawaiian chant done to a pahu drum)

- [Snowbird] Hula was passed down through a very

small group of people

who then taught it to another finite group of people.

So to be part of this continuum as a kumu hula --

that's predestined, I believe.

(Hawaiian chant done to a pahu drum)

- One of the ways that we keep hula alive today is

through the 'kniki process.

- [Pilialoha] First tier of 'kniki is to become an 'Mlapa,

which is the dancer.

- [Kilinoe] We have to work hard to be a hula dancer.

It definitely takes tears, blood, and plenty of sweat.

- [Pilialoha] The second tier would be ho'opa'a,

the vocal and musical accompaniment to the dancers in which

you memorize and chant the songs

and lyrics that inspire the dancer.

And then finally the third and final step

in the 'kniki process is to become a kumu hula,

and now you're entrusted to be the one

to maintain the teachings beyond just yourself.

- [Snowbird] Then, your kumu will decide

if you're ready to become a source of knowledge in hula.

(Lo-fi hip-hop, chill beats)

- [Diane] Even though I've been dancing for

thirty something years, I still feel the more you know,

the more you realize how much you don't know.

- [Kilinoe] The hula helps me vision

what Honolulu used to be

and could potentially be again.

- [Pilialoha] To be a dancer today is a true gift,

knowing that there was generations of fearless,

strong kkpuna who fought for the tradition to stay alive

past them.

- [Snowbird] Hula is the way that we express

our feelings about our people, our land, our history.

It is embedded in our identity as kanaka

and it is embedded in who we are as a part of this world.

- Mahalo for watching.

We would like to know where you would like

"If Cities Could Dance"

to go next.

Drop a comment below and mahalo again. Aloha!


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