Where Tradition Holds Sway

John Ka‘imikaua's Legacy Lives on through Moloka‘i's Homage to Hula

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Jill Engledow

hula traditionOne sunny Saturday last May, a crowd of hundreds fell silent as a big man in a bright yellow shirt intoned a Hawaiian chant across Moloka‘i’s Papohaku Park. The boom of his pahu (drum) set in motion red-clad dancers on a stage beneath a canopy of kiawe trees, strong and graceful men and women whose swift, flowing movements told stories of battling chiefs, of great storms, of the birth of Moloka‘i.

These dancers, heir to a proud tradition of hula, also were participants in an event that, all too soon, would itself become a legacy. Less than a month after this scene took place at the 2006 Moloka‘i Ka Hula Piko, founder John Ka‘imikaua was gone. A mellow mountain of a man, Ka‘imikaua died at age 47, cutting short the teaching of Hawaiian culture that was his life’s work.

“The halau [hula school] is carrying on,” dedicating this year’s gathering to her husband, says Ka‘imikaua’s wife, Ka‘oi. Her husband’s Halau Hula O Kukunaokala, with members on Moloka‘i and O‘ahu, will continue under her direction. Ka‘oi Ka‘imikaua is spearheading plans for the May 2007 event and working to find the funds to keep John Ka‘imikaua’s legacy alive, even as she copes with the grief of his loss.

Ka‘imikaua began Moloka‘i Ka Hula Piko in 1991, giving it a name with layers of meaning to represent Moloka‘i’s legendary claim to being the source of hula. Among the many translations of piko is “navel,” and in this use it implies the center or source of nourishment. The festival would celebrate the traditions of ancient Moloka‘i dance, passed along to Ka‘imikaua when he was just a teenager by an elderly woman called Kawahinekapuheleikapokane (Sacred Woman Traveling on the Night of Kane).

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