by Kirsten Atterbury
photos by Banzai Films
During my conversation with Nina Maxwell, I realized I was speaking with someone Great. Not that we aren't all Great. We are. How many of us though, are actually making some kind of difference? The Pukalani Hula Hale, directed by Nina and Charlie Maxwell, has been educating boys and girls of all ages and backgrounds in the Hula. For thirty years, Nina, side by side with her husband Charlie, have lived and are living a life that is effecting our children in a most positive way.
We all know, or should know, the story of the Hawaiian People. How it was forbidden to dance the Hula, speak their language and practice their herbal medicine. Today that culture, one that harmonized man and woman with the earth, has breath in the songs and chants of the Hula. Its a physical art, which can enliven the learning of history, geography, spirituality and music. This is not History 101. This is the Hula. Of the thousands of keiki the halau or school has instructed, I spoke with four of it's current students.
In September, Miki Tokunaga will be a high school senior. Miki has been with the halau since age six. Her goal is to one day become a kumu, or teacher. One cannot just proclaim themselves a kumu; it must come with the o.k. of an existing teacher. Miki taught me how the students learn both the kahiko (ancient) and `auana (modern) songs and dances. The two differ in that the kahiko are chants while the `auana are songs accompanied by instruments such as the Ukulele. "Most recently," Miki told me, "we have learned a chant called ėKekau Kaea', it calls the rain." No doubt this is in response to our current drought on Maui. Mrs. Maxwell explained to me that here, there has always been a history of water shortages. The Hawaiian people would often kill their chiefs, who they would blame for the lack of water. She also told me a story of an upcountry drought that she experienced as a young girl. It lasted 9 months. I hope the "Kekau Kaea" works.
Uluwehi is fifteen and a grandson of Nina and Charlie Maxwell. As an infant and toddler he began watching classes, and at age five, became a student himself. Uluwehi is a State Hula Champion and one of the performers, or should I say survivors, of a rigorous 14 day, 14 city promotional tour of the mainland. He is fluent in the Hawaiian language and is already beginning to carry on his family's tradition by instructing a group of young boys at his canoe club. One of Uluwehi's favorite songs is "Holoholo Ka'a". It is a truly modern piece about driving a car up the winding mountain road, breaking down, and having to hitch a ride back. "It is an honor and a privilege to be learning the hula, it has shown me many things that to most are hidden, the way things used to be," says Uluwehi.
Moana Sato is ten years old. She and her seven-year-old sister Amy have been studying with the Maxwells for two and a half years. Moana explained that she feels very lucky to have been selected as a student. The school holds auditions once a year and accepts only one third of those who audition. Moana tells me that through learning to dance the Hula, she's also been educated about the Hawaiian people, their high chiefs, history, language and flowers. She has enjoyed learning how to make leis and is excited for her first competition. Her favorite story is the "Okalau". It tells of the beauty of Kauai and of the wonderful smell of the ferns. Moana's younger sister Amy explains, "I like to dance the hula because it's fun."
The Pukalani Hula Hale has always placed in every competition they have entered. As a group, they will often travel to the place that they are singing about in order to get the feeling or the spirit of that place. Mrs. Maxwell explained to me some of her concepts in teaching the Hula. "We want the students to come in for a time of peace, to open up and learn. We ask them to perform only for themselves. To have confidence in there own accomplishments, to have them know that what they do in class and in life is from themselves, no one else. We want the keiki to have love and understanding for each other." The Maxwells help reconnect their students to the natural world in hopes that they can appreciate its healing ability. They transmit this knowledge directly from teacher to student. They extend themselves and their family to enrich the lives of others and to keep alive a once forbidden culture. This is Great.
Pukalani Hula Hale O Maui performed for KITV (channel 4) at Waikaloa
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