The story of my hula trip to Kaua’i begins seven years ago, at my first hula class. The mele was Nawiliwili, and kumu Mapuana de Silva was teaching us the hand motions and the steps, which were all new to me, as well as the tune to sing along. I wanted to quit at the end of the hour, almost in tears, convinced that I would never be able to learn hula — it was too much. At the end of the class, Kumu Mapuana said, “Try and practice before we meet again next week. But even if you don’t practice, just come back again, and next week will be easier, and the week after. Keep coming. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get it now, because you will.”
So I came back the next week, and the week after, for seven years, pausing classes only for Jillian’s birth and for the three months in Rhode Island last year. Learning more, week after week.
And so on July 15, 2014, I flew to Kaua’i with my class, Kukuna La, with our kumu, (my hula teacher) Kahikina, who is Aunty Mapuana’s daughter. Kahikina’s younger sister, Kapalai, was our van driver, who educated us on the plants we saw along the way, how she was soaking hau for use as cordage, how the flowers turn from yellow to orange to red throughout the day.
Our first stop upon arrival was at Ninini point, overlooking Nawiliwili harbor. We saw ilima flowers, the symbol of O’ahu and our halau. We saw pa’u-o-hi’iaka next to the rocks along the cliff, which had grown to shelter an infant Hi’iaka when her older sister Pele had gone surfing so long ago. Uncle Kihei — Aunty Mapu’s husband and Kahikina’s father — told us the stories of what the area was like before so much development. Stories of Menehune holding rock throwing and diving contests, of people waiting for the return of their loved ones by steamship (and while he said this, airplanes flew overhead to land in the airport behind us), of people who knew Ha’upu as meaning “remembrance” instead of “Queen Victoria’s profile.” He spoke of the double vision of Hawaiians, one foot in the past, one in the present, and how hula gives us a long memory, to see what’s underneath.
We chanted “E o ana Kaua’i” to the land and sea, and for once my voice did not hesitate.
Then it was time to dance Nawiliwili. I stepped back, but Aunty Mapu overheard me say that I had learned it. She told me to join in, no matter how long ago it was. And so I danced in the back, mostly following, but with the memory of so many other hula giving me confidence and the ability to not stumble too much.
And when we were finished, I made my way over to Aunty Mapu, to give her my thanks, tears in my eyes, and she said to me as she wrapped me in a big hug, “Aren’t you happy now that you danced?”
Yes, yes I am, so happy indeed.