Although the Hawaiian Islands are over 2,000 miles away from California, a group of students managed to deliver the warmth, food and aloha spirit of Hawaii to USF.
With a night filled with Hawaiian foods like kalua pig and guava cake, McLaren Hall was transformed into an intimate venue for USF’s Hawaiian Ensemble. The Ensemble’s annual Ho‘ike event showcased a variety of Hawaiian song and dance.
Although some may associate the hula with grass skirts and coconut bras, Ho‘ike aimed to clarify stereotypes. “We want to educate people who don’t know a lot about Hawaiian culture,” said Mahe Lum, co-founder of the Hawaiian Ensemble, which was formed in 2007. According to Lum, hula is “all about the hand movements and the message conveyed—the story. It’s not about trying to look pretty…it’s a dance of strength.”
Through the performance, Lum hopes to “show the history of the Hawaiian people” while educating others of “critical points in Hawaiian history.”
The Ensembles fourth annual production, Ke Kaonai Ke Mele: The Story Behind the Dance, is a mix of “theater, dance and song.”
“Hula is the soul behind the music, the heart of the Hawaiian people,” explains Hawaiian Ensemble President April Tungpalan.
“Behind every movement is a reason, and with every reason comes a story.”
Cast members told this story with a variety of hula dances, ranging from the traditional form Kahiko to the contemporary form Auana. Students from Menlo College’s Hawaiian club also helped with the production as dancers and crew members. The Hawaiian Ensemble is comprised of both Hawaiian and non-Hawaiian natives.
Ke Kaonai Ke Mele opened with a scene of three girls sitting on a couch, watching late-night television. After skipping through reruns of Jersey Shore and The Office, the trio decided to watch a documentary on the hula. Throughout the performance, the Ensemble put on a show portraying the love story between Hawaiian gods and goddesses and the progression of the world-famous dance through the decades.
The haka performance riled up the audience with shouts and applause. “This dance does not fit into the history of hula, but it did tie into our theme of having a story behind every dance,” said Tungpalan. “It’s a calling out to our ancestors to help us in this world with their guidance and knowledge.”
In this New Zealand dance style, a group of men yell Maori chants, boasting fierce facial expressions and slapping their bare chests and other body parts.
In addition to traditional Hawaiian routines, a few members of the Ensemble also put on a Tahitian dance in which dancers vigorously shake their hips to the quick beat of the drums.
Other USF clubs participated in the production, posing as actors during the “commercial” breaks, showing off their talent and advertising upcoming on-campus events.
Although a majority of the audience members were local students and parents, many family members traveled from other states to support loved ones and the production. Mark Nishiyama flew in from Oahu, Hawaii with his wife and in-laws to watch his daughter, Alison Nishiyama. “We’ve been hearing about this all winter break,” he says. “The guys and girls put in a lot of effort. [The production] was very enjoyable.”
For freshman Chelsea Tom, this was her first time seeing a Ho‘ike performance. “I thought the show was great. The information was pretty accurate. It’s really nice to see people not from Hawaii dance. The show made me miss home,” she said.
Students who were unfamiliar with the Hawaiian culture expressed much appreciation for the show. “I felt like I experienced a genuine rendition of a Hawaiian performance,” said USF student Erwin Sunga. “The dinner was good too. It tasted authentic.”
In keeping with the authenticity and depth of the history of hula, members of the Hawaiian ensemble are taught the meaning behind each dance, according to Tungpalan.
Tungpalan said, “‘Ho‘ike’ is literally translated as ‘to show.’ That’s exactly what we wanted to do: to show and express a deeper understanding of the Hawaiian culture beyond what has been commercialized.”
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