Kumu hula, family observe pahu tradition

Kela Miller and pahu[Story and photo by Mike Foley, originally published in Kaleo, October 21, 1999]

Ko’olauloa friends, family and students of Kela Miller experienced a rare opportunity on Oct. 14th when the well-known kumu hula carried out a special hoike for her new pahu — a beautiful, hand-carved drum that has its own name.
First, a little background: Kela, who lived for many years in Hau’ula, is a full-Hawaiian born and raised in Laie. She is the great-granddaughter of Luika Ka’i’o and the grand-niece of Pua Ha’aheo — both of whom are widely revered in hula circles for helping preserve and teach the ancient art form.

Kela’s own instruction — and love for hula — began when she was five, first under the direction of the late Aunty Christina Nauahi; then her late mother, Elizabeth Kuhia; and more recently under Cy Bridges and Hui Ho’oulu Aloha.

After serving as Bridges’ alaka’i for many years, Kela asked and he told her it was time she had her own halau. About a year ago Kela formed Halau Hula o Kekela and started teaching girls and women from ages five-and-up at the Kahuku Village Assn. building. About a month ago, she moved across Kamehameha Hwy. to Kahuku sugar mill and began teaching in conjunction with the Malama Youth Center.

About three weeks ago Kela’s cousin, Robert “Buddy” Maka’iau from Hauula — a retired police officer who had studied carving with Etua Tahauri, learned she had started her own halau and knew why he had been making a special pahu. He presented her with the pahu which is carved from a coconut log and is about two feet high.

She conferred with her kupuna, and decided to hold the hoike for the pahu at Hukilau beach.

The afternoon of Oct. 14th at Hukilau was beautiful: gentle trades, pink-shaded clouds at sunset, and the ocean calm. After the sound of the pu conch and Hawaiian chants, Kela told her friends and family, “It is from our hearts that we do these things.” Typically, she invited a number of her family members and others to speak.

“They [the Ka’i’o family] were one of the first families that came to live in Laie,” said Dawn Wasson, who also offered a chant. “We have the responsibility to learn our language and culture. We come from this land.”

“Kela has done so much for the community, and for Hawaiians; and I thank her publicly,” said Roland Ahi Logan.

Ka’umealani Walk, who teaches in the Hawaiian language immersion program at Hau’ula Elementary, said how fortunate everyone was to participate in this ceremony.

Gladys Ahuna reminisced about Hukilau beach: “For those of us who grew up in the community, this was Haumana’s beach. His canoe house was right there.”

She recalled that when fish were spotted in the bay before World War II, everyone would come to help with the hukilau-style fishing; even school would let out.

“The bag of the net was about 50-feet long,” she said. “I remember these huge wicker baskets. They pulled in from three-to-five tons — not just pounds.” Some was sold, she explained, but everyone who helped also shared. “We had fish for weeks.”

During the war Goat Island was used as a bombing target, “so the akule didn’t come then,” she added.

“Kekela’s grandmother was one of the greatest hula teachers that ever was,” she concluded.

Kela then called up her six children, 17 grandchildren and husband Martin who, she said, “stands behind me 110 percent.”

Two of Kela’s sons-in-law carried the pahu closer to the water, and everyone formed a circle around it. Kela’s father, Miki Kuhia, offered a pule in Hawaiian in which he blessed the drum “that it might bring joy, and that Kela might learn more.”

The pahu was given the name Ha’aheo o Mokuiki, honoring both sides of Kela’s family.

A pa’ina or feast followed.

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