Many may not realize that traditional hula dancers dance not to a beat but to a language. Since the Hawaiian people did not have written language until the 1820s, they passed down important information through the use of songs, chants and poems. Hawaiians developed several methods of recording important information, such as the history of Hawai‘i or the accomplishments of the kings and queens. These information were passed down the generations mainly by a form of oli (Hawaiian chants delivered with no musical instruments). In this year’s Founder’s Day celebration, hula teacher Kumu Ku Souza and his students perform oli and hula (dance) with mele (songs or poems) to thank King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma for the opportunities they created to benefit the next generations of students.
This year’s performance consists of hula titled, “He Ho’oheno No ‘Iolani,” which is composed by Kumu Ku. This meaningful hula depicts from where King Kamehameha IV came, and all of his accomplishments that benefited Hawaii and the building of ‘Iolani School. Before each verse, there is kahea, which is a communication with the audience and the chanter. Kumu Ku says that hula is sharing of stories, meaning that the mutual communication is crucial to the whole performance. Accompanying the hula is the oli, “No ‘Iolani He Inoa,” also written by Kumu Ku, and which honors the creation of ‘Iolani School, its founders and its religious foundation. The hula and oli is a form of ho‘okupu, or a Hawaiian ceremonial presentation of gifts offered to show appreciation and aloha to the king and queen.
“Appreciation is an important part of school experience because we are trying to build a foundation, shared among all the members of the school community,” said Kumu Ku. “Everyone has something to be grateful for.
To master all the graceful moves of the hula, experienced dancers in Kumu Ku’s hula class not only practice daily but also strive to learn as much background as possible to understand the history of Hawai‘i. The dancers emphasize that being able to know more about the story portrayed in the hula allows them to perform with expression and emotion, both are crucial to showing reverence to the school’s founders.
“Hula explain the story of our kings and our queens,” Kumu Ku said. “That is why hula dancers and I have to go through all kinds of preparation: learning the mele, learning the hula, and to learn about the background of the lyrics.”
Following the Founder’s Day event in Lower Gym, Kumu Ku and the dancers will travel to Mauna ‘Ala, or the Royal Mausoleum of Hawai‘i and resting place of two prominent Hawaiian families, to dance in front of the tomb of King Kamehameha IV and to honor the king and the queen.
“I have always thought that it is important to take responsibility to know our culture, and Founder’s Day has brought great opportunities for students to know about the beginning and the history of our school,” said Alyssa Acosta ’19. “Not many students know that our school is the only school to be founded by reigning king.”
Acosta added this is her second year dancing in Founder’s Day, and she is extremely proud to represent the school in front of the founders of ‘Iolani School. She also stressed that a week of intense training perfected her dance moves and this has helped her overcome the pressure of performing in front of the whole school.
Hula and oli are certainly instrumental to celebrating Founder’s Day. The joyous dances performed by the dedicated hula dancers share with the ‘Iolani community mo‘olelo (history) that they may not know about.
“I am really proud of my hula class students because they practice everyday, during their free time and after school, to master complicated motions,” said Kumu Ku. “I am really passionate about my job here because I feel that it is my duty to pass down my cultural backgrounds to my students.”