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Building a Hula Legacy

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Kumu Hula Leinaala Jardin and her halau prepare for a special hoike performance on the island of Kauai.

Leinaala Jardin

Kumu Hula
The sun is about to break over the horizon at tranquil Lydgate Beach, just south of the iconic Wailua River on Kauai’s east side. Leinaala Jardin has a long day ahead of her. Jardin is a kumu hula (hula teacher). She’s here with her halau (hula school), Halau Ka Lei Mokihana o Leinaala, for a hiuwai, a traditional water blessing. Tonight,  they’ll be performing in front of 1,000 people to celebrate her halau’s 21st anniversary.

Jardin was born and raised on Kauai. For her, hula has always been a life-long journey. After studying with Auntie Lovey Apana on Kauai and master Kumu Hula Ray Fonseca in Hilo, Fonseca suggested Jardin start her own halau. She began by teaching kupuna (elders) at a Kauai senior center. Decades later, her halau has over 200 students and is yearly competitor at the Merrie Monarch Festival, the most prestigious hula competition in Hawaii.

It’s now 6:30 p.m. The sun has set over the Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall in Lihue and after a long day of practice and preparation, Jardin’s halau is ready to take the stage. Tonight isn’t a competition and it isn’t for visitors. Tonight’s hoike (show) is for family, friends and the community. It’s a culmination of 21 years of a love for hula.

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What are some of your earliest memories of hula?

I can recall being about six years old and I remember being in our home. I would take my little ipu (gourd drum) and I'd sit in there and I'd chant. And I’ve got to say, most of the time, not singing the Hawaiian words correctly. But I pretended at a young age, that I was a kumu hula.

Tell us about your 21st anniversary show at the Kauai War Memorial.

I've been blessed, for 21 years. Our halau, has a little over 200 students – the youngest is three, the oldest is 89. I get very, very emotional at hoike. It's a time for all of my dancers to show off and show their love for the hula. No one is being judged. They're coming out to show.

“People say, “Is hula a past time? Is it a hobby? It’s my life.”

What is the water ritual your halau does before competition?

The "hiuwai" is a cleansing ritual. Hawaiians, we really believe that water gives life. Water is cleansing. And so, for us, before any major event, anytime there is a competition coming up, we cleanse. We cleanse our body so that we make sure that when we take the stage to perform we’re ready to connect with the mele (songs) of old and deliver these stories in its purest form.

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Why do you take your responsibility as a kumu hula so seriously?

Hula for a long time was forbidden. King Kalakaua is given much credit for bringing the hula back to the Hawaiian people. So, I always remind my students to never take the hula for granted. Never even utter the words, 'I'm exhausted,' 'I'm over this,' 'I want to take a break.'" Because, that's so disrespectful to the hula and to our Hawaiian people. Because, at one time, there were Hawaiians that hid, and they would meet in places in private just to practice the hula.  

Tell us about the special bonds that form in a halau.

I tell my haumana (students), we have to look at ourselves almost like a school of fish. Fish, they stick together. They voyage, they journey together. We learn together. We experience together. It's not about any individual person. That bond, that ohana (family) you find, and you feel in the halau, is hard to forget. It's hard to replace. It's really special. It's about the group as a whole delivering the same story. So, we have to dance as one, be as one, think as one, our souls need to be as one.  

“At one time, there were Hawaiians that hid, and they would meet in places in private just to practice the hula.” 

How is your halau perpetuating hula for future generations?

I look through my group and I wonder, ‘Who will carry on? Who will become a kumu hula?’ Maybe one of these kids are in their bedrooms at home with their ipu, chanting away, even if the words are wrong. The Hawaiians, we have a very, very strong connection to those that have already passed. They're never really gone. They still live through us. And so, it’s so important to live with aloha, to live with love the best we can, because we're continuing their legacy. We're walking in their lights.

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