Kanakaʻole herself, is a force of nature. She has won multiple Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards – Hawaiʻi’s highest musical honor – and has traveled the world performing. Her transcendent voice comes from one of Hawaiʻi’s most esteemed lineages. Her great-grandmother, Edith Kanakaʻole was a pioneering leader during the Hawaiian Renaissance of the 60’s and 70’s. Her grandmother, Pualani Kanakaʻole Kanahele is a Ph.D and kumu hula (hula teacher). Her mother, Kekuhi Kanahele-Frias is also a Hōkū award winning artist and educator.
Kanakaʻole calls herself a hula haka, or hula medium – the means in which hula moves through. This dance on the sleepy streets of Hilo isn’t for visitors. It isn’t for a competition. It’s a way for her to connect to her legacy, and more importantly, to this land.
“Hula is the constant rhythm that nature has. Hula is movement at its most primal.”
Hula is the constant rhythm that nature has. Hula is movement at its most primal. Is hula happening now, even when there's no one to dance it? Most certainly. Does hula require a human medium? No, it doesn't. But we're privileged enough in our very temporary lifespan to be able to engage in this hula, in this visceral and primal movement of the environment.
How do you define hula?
For the native, for the Kanaka Hawaiʻi, hula is the bridge to our authenticity and our identity. And if we identify ourselves with our land base, then it's for the land. It's to facilitate that connection between the land and me, and to reaffirm my commitment as a native Hawaiian.
What does hula mean to native Hawaiians?
Oli is vocal or harmonic alchemy. It's the ability to manifest change in your environment. I'm just the medium. And hula and oli is what I know best.
How do you define oli?
“For the native, for the Kanaka Hawaiʻi, hula is the bridge to our authenticity and our identity.”
Our job is to remind ourselves and remind anyone who treads on this land, through way of performance, of the energy that is required in order to maintain our home. And essentially, our identity.
As a native Hawaiian, what do you want hula to communicate?
When I'm in hula, and when hula is in me, and when I'm oli-ing, and the oli is in me, then I'm my most natural self. I know who I am. I just belong. I know what my purpose is. So, why do I get emotional about hula? Because the moment I don't, the moment that that isn't the reaction, then I'm lost.
What is your personal connection with the hula?
If there's a word of wisdom I could impart onto any visitor to Hawaiʻi, it’s “intention.” Come with intention. Just be open. I think that if each and every visitor committed to checking their ego in at the visitor’s center and entered with mindfulness and complete awareness and no ego – only receiving – then I think you have a chance at witnessing Hawaiʻi at its finest.
What is your advice to visitors who come to experience the culture of Hawaiʻi?
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