McLaren Center erupted in a collection of effervescent song and dance, shouts and cheers as Hui O Hawaii hosted their 46th annual lu’au on Saturday afternoon. The event, a culmination of months of work, is the cultural organization’s main event of the year. It was a massive show of over 30 dancers and musicians performing traditional Hawaiian and Polynesian hula dance and included a decadent feast.
Hui O Hawaii is an organization that can be found on many campuses and first came to USF in 1972. According to lu’au coordinator and senior Alyssa Lam, the organization focuses on fostering Hawaiian community and education throughout the Bay Area. This lu’au is the group’s flagship event, and it shows. The space in McLaren was host to over 200 people; families and community members from the city rubbed shoulders with Dons to take in the celebration.
The majority of the afternoon was dedicated to jaw dropping performances of hula dancing. The student performers had been working with kumu (Hawaiian for teacher) Marlo Caramat since February to learn the complex movements and coordination needed for good hula. Caramat has been working with USF students to create the lu’au for almost 20 years and is the head of the respected Te Mau Tamari’i A Tiare/Nā Kamali’i troupe, a group that performs hula to acclaim across the Bay Area. He is a charismatic leader and has an impressive command of the vocals and drumming that provides backbone for the dancers. But at USF, he successfully shared the spotlight, emphasizing the impressive amount of work that the student dancers had been dedicating to their performances.
If anything, Caramat undersells the abilities of his students. The dancers took to the stage in pristine, clear movements, moving as one absolute unit. Awash in blue light and backed by Caramat’s almost transcendent vocals, the students looked otherworldly and in sync with some larger group thought. Simultaneously, the performers were able to demonstrate a superhuman control of their own bodies, making the smallest and most deliberate motions with their wrists and hips to sync perfectly to the drums.
Three separate performances made up the larger celebration: Hula Kahiko, dance before the arrival of the West; Hula ‘Auana, dance after the arrival of the West; and Ori Tahiti, or “Tahitian dance.” Each had a unique way of movement and a mood that went with it. The Kahiko dances had a feeling of connection to the natural world; it was like watching the movement of water. Ori Tahiti was almost combative and erotic; performers in this section stared into each others’ eyes as the drums pounded, intimidating each other. It was a spectacularly entertaining game of physical chicken, one that immediately transported the entire room into the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
The tone of the entire afternoon was jovial. Hula is not a dance that is watched quietly with a severe expression. Friends and family of the dancers screamed and cheered as the drab McLaren Center took on the feeling of a rock concert at 4:00 p.m. This was helped by several games that a pair of masters of ceremonies hosted to separate the different styles. Most popular was the “chee hoo” contest, where four people were chosen to give their loudest, most powerful versions of the Hawaiian colloquialism of excitement. Suffice it to say, there were many chee hoos during every dance.
As the performances wrapped up, the audience was directed toward a gorgeous buffet, featuring all of the lu’au necessities. Seeing the Bon Appetit staff arranging tables to accommodate a full roast pig was certainly strange, but welcome; I propose that is the only way that anyone should eat pig. After a semester of instant ramen and peanut butter sandwiches, looking at food as gorgeous as lomi salmon and coconut pork was enough to excite me.
More than anything, the lu’au was able to fill the role designated by Hui O Hawaii: it built community. This was every prom, school play and wedding that you have ever been to, combined. It was a beaming community event – the students, friends, families and all the others walked out with the buzz of happy drunks, even though there was no alcohol. The lu’au is a USF staple, and it will most likely remain that way for ages to come.
Featured Photo: Hui O Hawaii presented a traditional hula performance at this year’s Lu’au in McLaren Hall. Victoria Hunt/FOGHORN