I'm Snowbird Puananiopaokalani Bento here in Honolulu, Hawai'i, land of the hula.
This is "If Cities Could Dance".
- [Snowbird] Hula is the way that Kanaka 'Ōiwi of Hawai'i, the Native peoples of Hawai'i, tell our stories.
- [Pilialoha] And it's a spiritual endeavor, as much as it is a physical.
- [Kilinoe] As hula dancers, we are recorders of time and events that will eventually be retold in the future.
[Diane] How are we going to make sure that the messages of these dances are going to carry on forever?
(upbeat music) - [Diane] In Honolulu, you have the tourism industry offering a very entertainment focused style of hula.
And then you have hula for cultural perpetuation, for ceremony.
Dancing hula to really internalize the messages of our kūpuna, our ancestors.
(Hawaiian chant done to ukulele) - [Snowbird] Hula needs the words because that's where the story is.
We come from an oral tradition.
We pass on our moʻolelo, our history.
Our kūpuna, they could hold hundreds of years worth of generations of ʻike, just remembering the words of a chant.
(Hawaiian chant done to a pahu drum) - [Snowbird] The word "au'a" is to stand apart.
This comes from the prophecy that the big fishes will come and swallow up the little fishes, and that we are to hold fast to the culture.
Hula is the way that we ensure that we are not erased from our own history in our own land.
(Hawaiian chant done to a pahu drum) (Hawaiian ukulele song) - [Snowbird] I am a kumu hula, and one of the definitions of kumu means to be the source of knowledge.
I started formerly dancing hula when I was nine years old.
But I knew from a young age that I loved this so much because it was so much a part of this land that I belong to, that my kūpuna come from.
We are a generation where our parents fought, so that we could speak Hawaiian.
As a kumu hula today, the ability for me to speak my language and to have my cultural practice as intact as it still is, is mind-blowing.
(Hawaiian chanting done to Native percussion) - [Pilialoha] With the suppression of hula in the 1800s, it's amazing that we still have hula available for us today.
In the early 1800s, after the arrival of Calvinist missionaries from New England, and as Hawai'i started to convert to become a Christian nation, the art of hula was seen as lascivious and almost heretical.
And so hula got pushed into underground scenes and were maintained in secrecy.
And it wasn't until Kalākaua became king in the 1870s in which hula was revived to its former glory and Kalākaua included hula as a major part of his two-week coronation celebrations.
And so hula was seen publicly for the first time after decades of being pushed underground on the grounds of Iolani Palace.
Iolani Palace is significant to the revival of hula that we see today and that we're able to enjoy today.
(Hawaiian percussion) (Hawaiian chant done to a pahu drum) - [Snowbird] Hula was passed down through a very small group of people who then taught it to another finite group of people.
So to be part of this continuum as a kumu hula -- that's predestined, I believe.
(Hawaiian chant done to a pahu drum) - One of the ways that we keep hula alive today is through the 'ūniki process.
- [Pilialoha] First tier of 'ūniki is to become an 'ōlapa, which is the dancer.
- [Kilinoe] We have to work hard to be a hula dancer.
It definitely takes tears, blood, and plenty of sweat.
- [Pilialoha] The second tier would be ho'opa'a, the vocal and musical accompaniment to the dancers in which you memorize and chant the songs and lyrics that inspire the dancer.
And then finally the third and final step in the 'ūniki process is to become a kumu hula, and now you're entrusted to be the one to maintain the teachings beyond just yourself.
- [Snowbird] Then, your kumu will decide if you're ready to become a source of knowledge in hula.
(Lo-fi hip-hop, chill beats) - [Diane] Even though I've been dancing for thirty something years, I still feel the more you know, the more you realize how much you don't know.
- [Kilinoe] The hula helps me vision what Honolulu used to be and could potentially be again.
- [Pilialoha] To be a dancer today is a true gift, knowing that there was generations of fearless, strong kūpuna who fought for the tradition to stay alive past them.
- [Snowbird] Hula is the way that we express our feelings about our people, our land, our history.
It is embedded in our identity as kanaka and it is embedded in who we are as a part of this world.
- Mahalo for watching.
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