Where Tradition Holds Sway

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

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As part of the annual event, Ka‘imikaua presented lectures that included the story of what he learned from the old lady, 92 years old when the 14-year-old first met her. Like Kawahinekapuheleikapokane, he was originally from Moloka‘i. The old woman and the boy who would become her student were living on O‘ahu when they met, but the 156 chants she would teach him were pure Moloka‘i.

Those chants, and the dances that accompanied them, had been kapu (taboo)—hidden knowledge never exposed to the general public—and in olden times to break the kapu would have meant death, Ka‘imikaua told his audience at a Friday evening lecture that preceded Saturday’s all-day outdoor hula festival at Papohaku Park last year.

But his teacher assured him that his generation would fulfill the prophecy of a Moloka‘i chant from 1819, when Hawai‘i’s royal leaders ordered the destruction of the temples of the ancient Hawaiian religion and overturned the kapu system of rules that controlled Hawaiian culture. The Hawaiian people would be brought low to the earth, the prophecy warned, losing everything. But in time, there would be a resurgence of the culture. This is that time, Ka‘imikaua said. And Kawahinekapuhe- leikapokane told him that he and those who came after him would not have to live the kapu.

“All the knowledge I give you will be free of kapu,” she told him. “It will be taken at my time of death. There is no kapu, but there is a great kuleana.”

Only after his teacher’s death when he was 16 years old did Ka‘imikaua understand that kuleana, or responsibility. In 1977, at age 19, he opened his own halau. “The night I opened it, I understood,” Ka‘imikaua said. “That first practice, I realized the kuleana: to educate and enlighten all people about our ancestral past.”

Relevance transcends time in this dance by John Ka‘imikaua’s Halau Hula O Kukunaokala, as dancers wield ka la‘au (poles) in a stylized depiction of a domestic dispute.

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