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Kahikili: A Hula Drama of Maui's Paramount Warrior Chief

Outdoor Pose Recently I attended a hula performance at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts entitled Kahikili: A Hula Drama of Maui's Paramount Warrior Chief. As you all know, I love Hawaii — not only the place, but the people, the culture and the history. All of these aspects came into play with this performance by Pa`u O Hi`iaka, a Maui dance company. Accompanying the dancers was nā kumu hula (hula masters) Keali’i Reichel and Pali Ahue. I have several albums by Keali’i and he is fantastic.

It was all made possible by the National Endowment for the Arts American Masterpiece: Dance Initiative, administered by the New England Foundation for the Arts. And wow, what a performance — well worth the endowment and the cost of admission.

I apologize that all these photos from the Internet — as you might expect, cameras were not allowed.

Black Hula Male Chorus First you must know that there are multiple styles of hula. Most people are familiar with the slow movement of graceful young women where the hands tell the story. And many people mistakenly think that the fast hip-swinging dance by dancers in grass skirts is Hawaiian but is, in fact, the tamure from Tahiti.

This performance did include some of the slow hula but also much of the hard-hitting, fast-moving hula with body slaps and foot stomping — featuring both men and women. It gets your heart pounding with all the energy. In addition to the aesthetic appeal, this hula performance also tells a story — of the last king of Maui.

Six Pack of Images

Interestingly — "The dress is not totally authentic," said the show's director and hula master Hokulani Holt, "because, if it were, we would all be arrested." In other words, pre-contact Hawaiians didn't need the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition to admire the unadorned human figure. Nudity was just part of everyday life.

Plus, the fabrics of the minimal clothes they did wear was mainly bark cloth and, hence, not hardy enough for a 10-city tour of the mainland. Regardless of the small concessions to modernity, the touring troupe of 20 performers told in song, dancing and chanting, the engaging story of the last ruler of the Hawaiian islands before the arrival of the English-speaking, nudity-phobic Europeans.

His name was Kahekili (KAH-hay-KEE-lee) and his legend presents yet another reason that this performance cannot be strictly authentic, so we were told — because he was very tall, supposedly some seven feet tall and 300 pounds. And since Shaquille O'Neal was busy across town playing for the Suns, it appears that there is no actor who could fully fill the role of the man. Additionally, the entire right side of his body was covered with a solid black tattoo. He must have been incredibly imposing in real life.

Kahekili rose to power from his base on the island of Maui and came to rule all of the Hawaiian islands with the exception of the big island of Hawaii. According to Hawaiian legend, Kahekili was known as a fierce warrior and a wise ruler — although he could also be incredibly cruel to his enemies. His subjects believed him to be divine — in much the same way that Egyptians revered the pharaohs.

I cannot say that I understood all the songs and the meaning of the dance but it was a wonderful treat for someone like myself — who feels as if he were Hawaiian in a previous life. If you ever get a chance to see it — go. You'll love it.



 Life is good.

 B. David