The Sharing of Hula and Haka

Cultural exchange brings students from New Zealand
By Megan Stephenson

Molokai enjoyed a special cultural treat last Saturday – a student performance of traditional Maori song and dance. About 20 high school students from New Zealand, or Aotearoa, as the indigenous Maoris call it, visited Molokai as part of a cultural exchange with students from Molokai High School’s Hawaiian Immersion program. Sharing their language and culture with fellow students and the community was a highlight of their trip.

With enthusiasm and emotion, the Maori students performed many dances, called haka, and sang in Maori. The dance form has been stereotyped as war dances, according to Toti West, one of the group’s instructors. But West explained haka is more celebratory, and though it is an ancient, traditional form, is used contemporarily before events such as rugby matches.

One dance called tititorea, incorporated small sticks, which were used to develop hand eye coordination by beating the sticks rhythmically on the ground. Tirakau uses longer sticks with complex arm motions, and was traditionally used to develop posture. Another dance, called waiata-a-ringa, which means ‘song with actions,’ uses elaborate hand movements. The students also demonstrated the use of poi, small balls attached to strings which they wield with rhythmic intricacy.

The Aotearoan students hailed from Hamilton Boys and Girls High Schools, about 80 miles from Auckland. But though they were far from the place they call home, they said residents of the Friendly Isle welcomed them with open arms.

“It was a culture shock [coming to Molokai]. Everyone is so friendly, and everyone knows everyone,” said one Hamilton student, Peggy Ah-Hing. “But we were accepted – it’s like we just came home.”

The Molokai students went to New Zealand last May, and one student, Ka`imiola Sagario, said she felt the same way: “It felt like another home.”

Both girls said the languages of Hawaiian and Maori are similar, but they added it was interesting to learn the differences.

Learning about the Hawaiian culture was an important part of the Aotearoan students’ trip. Molokai students shared their hula and language. Other activities on the schedule included learning about taro in Halawa, working in a Hawaiian fishpond, and preparing a lu`au.

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