PCC celebrates 27th annual Moanikeala Hula Festival

Hula dancers from Japan

The Kamaluwehiokapalai halau hula from Japan

Story and photos by Mike Foley
[First published in the Polynesian Cultural Center blog, February 2017]

As it has for the past several years, the Polynesian Cultural Center hosted its annual Moanikeala Hula Festival on February 4, 2017, in a perfect setting — under the monkeypod tree in the Hawaiian Village.

Pomai Krueger

PCC’s current kumu hula [or hula master teacher] Pomaika’i Krueger explained, as it has for the past 27 years, this year’s annual festival honors the legacy of the Center’s first kumu, the late Aunty Sally Moanikeala Wood Naluai. She taught “many, many students” until she retired in the 1980s (and she remained active as a hula consultant until she passed away in 2000.)

In addition to participating halau or schools, the festival also included a special display about the life of Aunty Sally, as well as a Hawaiian arts and crafts fair featuring local vendors. Lono Logan, whose grandparents were among the first Hawaiian Villagers at the PCC, also put on a poi-pounding demonstration; and Hawaiian plate lunches were sold throughout the afternoon.

The Iosepa — BYU-Hawaii’s 57-foot twin-hulled Hawaiian sailing canoe, had also been pulled out of its permanent “home” in the village and put on display. PCC guests were invited to climb aboard, where the mast had been steeped and crew members provided information.

H?lau Hula O Kekela

Halau Hula O Kekela

Krueger noted that during the years Aunty Sally taught at the PCC, “she had four students who uniki‘d or graduated as kumu hula under her direction”: Cy Bridges, Keith Awai, Ellen Gay Dela Rosa — all of whom recently retired from the Center after many years of service — and Aunty Sunday Mariteragi, who worked for years at nearby Kahuku High School and established her own halau, which she still leads. She and Dela Rosa are sisters, and Aunty Sally’s nieces.

“Uncle Keith told me they were very lucky because they weren’t trained in a halau as most dancers are; they were trained here at work,” Krueger continued. “They were also very fortunate to see their hula master dance solo at the PCC many, many times.”

Krueger then introduced his Kamaluwehiokapalai h?lau from Tokyo and Guma, Japan — the first group to perform. Other participating halau included:

Puanani Aloha, from Nagoya, Japan, led by Yuko Kawamoto under the direction of Dela Rosa. “They are very excited to perform here,” Krueger said. “They have performed in the Moanikeala Festival each year for the past five years.”

• Halau Hula Kula Ki’eki’e o ‘Aiea from Aiea High School (Oahu), under the direction of Jessica Nahale and Melanie Kauvaka, the latter a PCC alumna. “This is their first time at the festival,” Krueger said.

• Ka Hula O Kealamailani from Oahu under kumu hula TeHani Gonzado performed in the kahiko or ancient style. Gonzado, who won the 2000 Miss Aloha Hula title that year at the Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo, has had a stellar hula career.

Following their numbers, Krueger pointed out that hula kahiko dancers enter and exit the stage dancing. “The Hawaiian thinking is that the area where we dance is sacred,” he said. “This is where these songs and chants have been passed down to us; they are our history and our identity. This is the space where we share those things, so we just don’t walk onto it.”

He also pointed out that the stage decorations, though simple, were symbolic: They included a kukui tree, the word for which “ in Hawaiian means light. It represents what Aunty Sally taught all of us.” There are also two kinds of ferns — kupukupu, “which means to grow, and laua’e — the traveling fern. In other words, they represent the ‘light’ Aunty Sally gave to the many students who worked here at the Polynesian Cultural Center that continues to sprout, grow and travel around the world.”

“To become a kumu hula is a long and difficult task,” he continued. “Everything that I stand on is from Aunty Sally’s foundation. I never had the opportunity to meet her, but I studied under her students, who were also kumu hula here at the Polynesian Cultural Center.”

PCC Hawaiian villager
PCC Hawaiian Villager

Halau Hula O Kekela from Laie, led by kumu hula Kela Miller. She explained she started her halau 26 years ago “with my own grandchildren, and since then our halau has grown. We are always happy to be at this wonderful occasion to honor a beautiful, wonderful woman. As one of the first dancers here in October 1963, we were taught by her to dance so we could perpetuate the hula.”

“I come from a long line of kumu hula,” Miller continued “One of them was my great-grandmother, Tutu Luika Pele Ka’i’o: She wrote one of the songs I’ve taught to all of my students, who all come from around here.”

Before her group performed, Miller also honored Aunty Donna Fernandez, a former member of her halau who now lives in Arizona. “She just became a kumu hula, and has a halau there.” She also presented leis to Kaipo Manoa, the Hawaiian Village “chief,” her nephew, Pomaika’i Krueger, and one to Lehua Kalili, who used to dance at the PCC but now lives in Georgia. “Whenever you come, you always bring a ho’okupu [offering],” Miller said.

Next, several of the PCC Hawaiian Villagers shared their talents with both music and hula. They were followed by several groups all from Japan:

• The Kageyama Hula, led by Noriko Kageyama; Hula Halau O Waipuilani, led by Yukiko Lehua Nani Abe; and Santa Hula School, directed by Koko Jitosho.

Sunday Mariteragi

• Hu’i Park Hula Studio in Honolulu, which has been participating in the Moanikeala Festival since 1994, is now under kumu hula Kepo’omaikalani Park. “Her mother worked closely with Aunty Sally,” Krueger said. “We’re grateful to have them join us again this year.”

And Napuananionapalionakoolau of Laie, led by kumu hula Aunty Sunday Mariteragi, who championed the concept of the Moanikeala Festival almost three decades ago, and whose halau still practices at the PCC so that guests can also see this aspect of Hawaiian culture.

At the end of the festival, all the kumu and dancers performed Moanikeala together, a song written in Aunty Sally’s honor.