Nanakuli is a town on the island of O’ahu.
It is known for being a town with a reputation, but, the truth is that all towns have a reputation. Whether it lives up to that reputation I will never know, because I have yet to meet anyone from that town who also does not remind me of people here in this town, which is Pomona, CA, which, for years, has gone by the monicker “P-Town.”
Cute. Lovely. Sounds way too much like “Oak-Town” to me (Oakland, CA, in case you were wondering), but Oak-Town has its own guy there, another hula guy…Mark Keali’i Ho’omalu, and even further north is another…mentor…of mine….Patrick Makuakane in San Francisco.
But…I am not writing about localities, and not writing about other Kumu Hula, because I have not, apparently, thought of myself as that- Kumu Hula – for quite some time now, and it was not that I could not anymore, but that I have another title to wear and to bear, and really, I am much better suited as Kahuna. (I am a bit on the eccentric side, and well, it isn’t a secret that I know how dearly powerful words really are….and that is what being Kahu is all about -knowing exactly how powerful words are.)
Yet, since it is that I have a great majority of my time alive and inhaling and exhaling all these years and all these experiences, and in those years and through all of those experiences, I spent a whole lot of time with a wood floor beneath my feet.
While I might not be able to dance like I once did, I WILL BE dancing for a completely new reason….but again, that is NOT the reason that this is being written today.
Being Written Today…
After plenty of videos in my Dance History class (Hey Professor…how are you? I hope you are doing well today…), and after not understanding some of them until the message was clear to us all and until it was that I chose, rather than with my dancer’s eyes, with my Hula Kahu’s heart and soul, and then, with my Los Angeles Born and Raised self (I gotta be me)…well, let’s just say that, I told only two people what my plans with my dance are, and both of them loved the idea.
I loved sharing it with them, and I loved thinking about it, and I loved everything about everything that I have been able to think of about this one thing….
When I thought about it, I did not know what to call it. Instead my mind went to things that have everything and nothing to do with Hula. The town of Nanakuli…meaning something about pretending to be deaf is one translation, but, when I asked a few people who study Hawai’ian language as part of their degree program at UH, I was told something else that, even though it did not make any sense in terms of anything that I was asking, what totally made sense was the inspiration for this writing…
“No na kuli…”
I have danced this dance my entire life. While it was that I spent a lot of time dancing and teaching this dance, what I did not take the time to do all those years, that I am way more prepared in the educator’s sense, is to learn, as well as teach, hula from another place – the place that is someone who explains what the meaning of kaona, or, the metaphoric language being used in the lyrics of Hawaiian music, is. I write, meaning that I understand what it is that the artist singing is trying to tell their audience. And the one thing that I have always told people is that our audiences are not aware of one true thing…Hula is not an Island Girl’s (or for real…an island boy’s…not all of them are LGBT…but, either way straight or gay…I Love You All !! #NoH8Straight) flirtatious way of snaring a mate.
The reason why anyone would believe this astounds me, really, because the only thing that a lot of people think is that when we are dancing Hula, we are shakin’ our butts…and that THAT is what we are trying to do…that whole…snaring a mate thing…
Remember – hula is poetry in motion, is the ocean, is the gods and the goddesses, is our kingdom which still is alive and well within each of us who call ourselves MAOLI. It is about the stars in the night sky, is sung by guys like a bruddah named Iz retelling a story of what lies just over the rainbow…
And to think that the only thing that we are doing is perverting something as gorgeous as this dance is …very, very….ugh, I don’t know how to say it without it seeming as though I am somehow the expert of all experts in terms of things Hula and words and kaona and telling stories with our hands and hearts and souls.
Hula is not about shakin’ your ass…that would be Tahitian dance, and yes, I know how to do that, too, but, I would rather dance Hula, for the simple fact that I have danced MY people’s dance for as long as I can recall, and what I cannot recall was my really being any good at Tahitian dance, at least enough for me to be confident in front of a crowd, and confident that my costume, with all of that…butt shakin’…goin’ on (but…again…it is NOT the okole doing all the work…please keep reading…) would not fall apart with the beads and the adornments on my belt flying in every direction…no thank you.
Hula and kaona go together, because Kaona is our poetry, is our love song come to life and danced by dancers whose ‘Aumakua dance in unison with us, never leaving us by ourselves to tell the stories of long ago, of love between the deities, between a man and a woman, between members of families not born into but being hanai and part of…hula and kaona go together like things that match…things like a crab and a fish and how they just go together….because they are not of the same family, but of the same hanai ohana…
The things that we learn about the parts of our bodies and being ashamed of those parts and what they are meant to do when we are too young to know better, makes me think about all those times in school when I defended what it was that I was doing on that stage, in front of my peers, in front of my friends, and again, in front of strangers who were not as …kind…as my pals were, all that time ago. My friends, many with whom I still have a close bond, when they got past all of the Gilligan’s Island Hollywood bullshit…they could “see” me, and they could see how much I love this dance and how important that it lives on through those of us who know it as well as we do, who were born into it, who were born to do it…I would be one such person, much as anyone who has loved it and danced it would be….
It is our ballet…can be thought to be akin to something called The Ballet Russes…it is ours, came from us, is handed down to our kids just like it was handed down to us. It is a family thing, and then it is a Hanai Ohana thing, which makes it a thing for each and every one of us to give to the rest of the world. It is a gift, one created of music and words that metaphorically tell a story of wars and deities and stealing kisses away in the night…It is many, many things, to many, many people, all over this planet.
It is danced from the knees and the ankles….no na kuli , as far as I have been told and as far as I understand it, translates to “of the knees.”
Please think about how much your knees do, all day long, and think about how much we use them. Think about what it might be like to have a knee that used to do so much for you and then one day, somehow the Spirits felt that it was the right time to tell the stories, using the hands and all those words of kaona and your heart and soul… from the point of view that is the person whose life has been lived with bare feet standing and dancing and jumping and howling on a wood floor…howling out the kahea, then one day calling the halau out and expecting that they answer ” ‘ae..” …not bad for a bunch of kids who lived life as a freckly-faced bunch of people who, without sunscreen, turned a very…dear…shade of human being red.
Think about the idea that the knees, they bear the weight, even though the feet bear it all..it is the knees that cause the shifting of the movement, just as much as it is the feet that makes a person mobile in their movements, mobile in the telling a story that has been told, again and again, for possibly generations, and it was all, as much as it is now, no na kuli…of the knees. It might be the feet that move us, but, it is the knees which get us there…without them, we have no actual direction.
Think about being a little kid and running down the street, running from your cousins Keoni and Kalani and falling onto your knees and wondering when the pain would stop and when it was that there would be the scab which would scar and become the reminder of lovely days as a child, running across the street to a place called Booth Park, at your Nana’s house on Namilimili Street, and all the Myna birds in the trees calling back to one another “Waltah! Waltah!…Kat-tran! Kat-tran!…” and knowing that those birds are mimicking the names that your Tutu man and your Tutu Lady…Walter and Katherine…used to call one another, all those years they’d lived there, on that street.
Now think about being a kid who became an adult who eventually took your own kids to this house that you, yourself, spent a lot of time at, with your own kolohe cousins, throughout your small keed time…and there are the birds, still calling each other Walter and Katherine, because that is what has been passed down through the generations, just like I did with my kids and the Silver Shaved Ice truck.
Sort of like teaching children that this is our dance, and these are our songs, and we sing in vibrant, pitchy and sometimes even purposely off-key styles, because that is our own. Sort of like teaching children the correct pronunciation of certain words in the Hawaiian language, and teaching them that Hula is all about telling a story with your hands, like sign language come to life, done en masse in dresses called Holoku or holomu’u or simply at your auntie’s house, dancing impromptu like all us guys did, all of our lives, on both sides of the Pacific Ocean.
Think about how much praying you have done, and that some of us did so on our knees, and some of us did so with our knees in Lotus position, and all of us know that in order to perform Hula Noho, it is our knees which we sit between, so as to use the torso as the part which does so much of the telling of the story, the delivery of kaona set to music.
The westernized world made it a wrong thing to be on one’s knees, making it seem as though we were begging for our lives or begging for mercy or begging an unkind, malevolent and misogynistic monotheist that someone called “God” and put in control of what we think of ourselves, thought of ourselves, made us ashamed of ourselves for being Native, for being Kanaka Maoli…
We were told who we were, that it was time that we get on our knees and pray to someone else’s false god. We were manipulated to believe that it would be through that false god and the one who we were bullied into believing would destroy us, that would turn us into what the foreigners turned us into – which were strangers in a land that these same foreigners took from our ancestors, our ‘Aumakua, and claimed it as their own.
They took the only thing that a bunch of naked people in the middle of the Pacific Ocean had and could truly call ours, and turned it in to the thing that they used to make us their slaves, and make us worship their god and follow their rules and pretty much tell us that we were no good and that we would end up in this fiery pit called hell…sent to Satan on a hollowed out tree, and then made us ashamed of who we are.
They took away our sense of cultural identity, and they took away who we were, and all these decades …these centuries later…we are still here, not on our knees and worshiping a god that we did not create, but, paying homage to the things that we know are the truth of us. We are not on our knees, we are dancing our dance and not giving even three or four large and ugly shits about what anyone who does not know better says. We dance from the place within that stands tall, that honors the life without by honoring the life within, that makes it so that we stand firm in our conviction, not down on our knees, but using them to look at ourselves, kahea to one another, and know that who we are and what we are is not subject to what history and a bunch of greedy foreigners mind-fucked us and bullied us with their violence and their gunpowder made us believe.
We are singing our songs and dancing our pieces, telling the stories of the things that have happened, things that happen now, in the lives of human beings. We are passing the stories of the past to our children, and with that story they are creating their own art, their own music, their own hula, their very own kaona.
We are reminding the world, specifically the one which we share with other Hawaiians, with other people of indigenous origins, that we have never been on our knees, but, our dance is of the knees.
I have learned a whole lot from my own injured knee…
I have learned to appreciate what it is that I can do, and more, what I am reinventing, all over again, as shared with my close friend and of course my other half….and I am not afraid.
Nervous is different than afraid.
Nervous means we are going to try and that we are going to make it through…afraid means that we are afraid…nervousness brings fear, and bravery requires fear…
Don’t be afraid…be brave…tell your stories…tell our stories…
…not praying when you don’t believe in someone’s big, scary, abusive god…
One cannot shake one’s okole when dancing hula noho…
…but one can pray to Laka by paying homage through the dance…
Be Maoli….it is sort of your Kuleana, as much as it is anyone who is Hawaiian
Be the one who teaches.
Be the one who honors the past by teaching now so that the future is set..