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Alii’s Life Story Through Hula

When Kumu Hula Micah Kamohoali`i and his halau started gathering stories about Kamehameha the Great, they simply wanted to save their Hawaii Island community’s history before it was lost.

Now, what began as a cultural revival has been channeled into a hula drama called “Hanau Ke Ali`i: Born is the Chief,” which combines hula, chant and Hawaiian martial arts to reenact lesser known details of Kamehameha’s life. After performing on six islands, Waimea-based Halau Na Kipu`upu`u is completing its tour on Molokai this Friday at the high school gym.

“It’s based on the life of Kamehameha as told by his descendants,” said Kamohoali`i. “Untold, unpublished stories.”

The inspiration for the hula drama began three years ago, when Kamohoali`i felt that touches of Hawaiian culture were slowly disappearing from his Hawaii Island hometown.

“When I asked the people of Waimea what was the name of certain areas, they didn’t know, and the answers that always came back was English names, like Lakeland,” he said. “… I thought, I need to reconnect them somehow to the land.”

With a grant from Parker Ranch, Kamohoali`i and his halau brought hundreds of residents together to visit culturally significant and sacred sites. In the forest, they taught the community about kapa deities and pounded kapa on the lawn. On the mountain peaks, they told stories of battles and fashioned weaponry using ancient techniques. At each location, the halau performed a hula.

They also set about collecting stories and chants about Kamehameha the Great from the residents of Waimea, where many of the 9,200 inhabitants are his direct descendants, according to Kamohoali`i. Around 50 families shared a total of 300 stories, many of which have never been published.

By the time they finished gathering stories and creating a myriad of ancient clothing and weapons, “it looked like we robbed Bishop Museum,” joked Kamohoali`i.

“Now we have all of this, now we have all of these stories, I said, you know what, let’s put it into dance,” he said.

They shared their production with the town, and then the island. Soon they were writing for grants to take the show on tour to all eight islands, since Kamehameha the Great was the one who united them all.

For halau member Arleen Wright Kauahi, a Molokai High School graduate, Friday’s performance will be a unique chance to share her passion with her family on island.

“I am happy to be bringing it home to Molokai,” said Wright Kauahi. “My father has never seen me dance, period. Whether he wants to come or not, he’s coming! … He’s 85 years old.”

Because of shipping limitations and expenses, Kamohoali`i said they were planning a smaller-scale production on Molokai.

“When my family on Molokai found out … they said, ‘How come you going shortchange us? We want the whole thing!’” said Kamohoali`i.

Thus the halau is bringing the full exhibition to the island, including five handmade 30-foot kahili and 40 kupe`e niho ilio, thick anklets that required 20,000 dog teeth.

Residents can get a close up look at the traditional pieces before the performance. On Wednesday, Oct. 14, the halau will have a hula workshop from 5 to 8 p.m. at Kulana Oiwi. On Thursday they’ll have a question and answer session and bring some of the handmade items to Kulana Oiwi from 5 to 8 p.m.

The hula drama goes from 7 to 9:30 p.m. on Friday, and the halau will also perform in Kalaupapa on Saturday at 11 a.m. at the community hall. For additional information, visit bornisthechief.com. Tickets are available online for $20.


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