times, there are plenty of cultural events on each of the main Hawaiian awaiian Hawaiianislands.
They are the life blood of the community. But Kauai
was in a state of shock. Thus it was some time before the cultural calendar
there started filling up again. We made it a priority to attend any cultural
event that was held and, as the number of events began to increase, we found
ourselves out more and more.
Hawaiian concert we attended was in April of that year at Vidhina Stadium in
Lihue. The community was still under enormous stress and, even seven months
after the hurricane, destruction was evident everywhere. The concert offered
welcome relief and a chance to have much needed fun.
of the performances, it was announced that there would be a special guest
dancer. A tall, slim figure came to center stage. Clean shaven with soft
features that were refined, yet unmistakably Polynesian, his graying hair was
pulled back into a pony tail. His clothes were unique. They looked more like
something from India than Hawaii with a long kurta-like
shirt and slightly baggy pants, also made from soft material, that were
gathered at the ankles. His long sleeves were rolled up revealing tattooed
rings in Polynesian designs down the length of each forearm.
Even to my
inexperienced eye, his style of dance seemed different and unique. His
movements were graceful and deliberate yet sparing. His dance, telling the
story of the beauty of the island
of Kauai, was entrancing
and easy to understand. He had a look of sheer ecstasy on his face. He was
introduced as Frank Hewitt, although he now prefers to be known as Kawaikapu
Hewitt. (His full Hawaiian name is Kawaikapuokalani – The Sacred Water of the Heavens).
As soon as
he began to dance, I noticed that Elandra rushed to sit in front of the stage.
I was impressed, but did not fell the need to move from my seat. Once again, I
was getting my first sight of another musical virtuoso who would have a
profound influence on my life, although I had no idea at the time.
In my hunger
for Hawaiian music, I would try to listen to it on the radio as I drove to and
from work (or anywhere else, for that matter). Incredibly, there was no regular
Hawaiian music being programmed on Kauai. I
was able to tune into a station from Honolulu
but only on the parts of Kauai that were
closest to O’ahu.
began to find out more about the music and the artists. I found out that most
of the songs that I found the most moving and entrancing, were written by the
same man. His name: Kawaikapu Hewitt.
Antion with Blaine Kia
things were close enough to normal that Elandra and I began to seriously
consider finding ourselves a teacher. We had learned enough to know that
everything cultural in Hawaii
revolved around hula so the obvious thing to do would be to join a hula halau
(dance troupe). Elandra wanted to be a dancer; I wanted to be a musician
island has a number of hula halau. As we familiarized ourselves with the way
things happen in Hawaii,
we found out that you cannot just walk into any hula halau and expect to be
accepted. Things have eased somewhat over the last fifteen years but, in 1993,
there were plenty of halau that would not accept white people. Even if you were
able to get into a halau, there was often racism and cliquism within the halau.
I also found out that hula is very political. This kumu (hula teacher), for
example, would not associate with that kumu, if you had been with this halau
you could not associate with that halau. Though after twenty years of Sikh
politics, it all seemed pretty tame to me.
were invited to join a halau that accepted white people. After just a couple of
weeks, I was castigated by one of the senior disciples (white) who accused me
of flagrantly disregarding the traditions and protocol of the halau. I was
deeply hurt since everything I had done had been under the direction of her
husband who was also a senior member of the halau and Hawaiian to boot. I
retired into myself and decided that I would just give up on the whole process.
A few weeks
later, Elandra said, “There’s a new kumu who’s coming over from O’ahu every
week to teach. He says that anyone can join his halau”.
said, “I’ve had enough.”
going even if you’re not”, she said.
returned from the class she said to me, “Look I talked to him. He says he’ll
teach you to chant and how to accompany hula”.
least come by and meet him”.
Thursday I showed up at the Outrigger Hotel at the end of class. The kumu’s
name was Blaine Kia, a strikingly handsome Hawaiian with more than a touch of
Chinese in his makeup. At the time, he was thirty one, exactly twenty years
younger than me.
he said in what seemed to me to be rather too enthusiastic and jocular a tone,
“I’ll teach you how to chant and how to play ipu heke”.
into his eyes and I could see what he was thinking. “This funny looking haole
(white) guy won’t last more than two weeks”.
showed up for class the following Thursday. Blaine said “Hi” and went on to teach the
class. I sat and watched. And observed. At the end of the class Blaine said “Goodnight”.
This went on for six weeks.
And the end
of that time, I suppose I must have convinced him I was serious, because he
started to teach me.
same time, he said to me “Bring your guitar next week, we’re going to do auwana
“OK”, I said
“what are we going to do?”
a song from my CD” he said.
I went home,
got hold of the CD and thoroughly learned the first two verses of the song,
knowing that he would not teach the dancers more than that during class. I
memorized the Hawaiian words and the harmonies.
week at class, Blaine
handed out the words to the song as he always did before teaching it. “Would
you like a songsheet?” he asked me.
I replied. He gave me a funny look.
singing, the norm is for one person to sing a verse and then for everyone to
join in for the second time through singing harmonies. That night, every time Blaine sang the verse for
the second time, I joined in, word and harmony perfect. After that, he started
treating me with much more respect.
Antion and Blaine at Ka Hula Piko
Blaine was young for a kumu hula. His hula
lineage was from a legendary teacher named Darryl Lupenui, who brought about a
revolution in men’s hula in the early eighties but then died young. Blaine had also learned
from the late Uncle John Ka’imikaua, about whom, more later. His other kumu was
Kawaikapu Hewitt. This was great for me. I felt like a circle was being closed,
bringing me back in touch with a man who had been such an inspiration to me.
Blaine had started teaching to propagate
the lineage of 'Ihi'ihilauakea (Darryl Lupenui). Over time, he began to
introduce more and more of Kawaikapu Hewitt’s material, both songs and
choreography, into his repertoire. I received a very thorough education in
song, chant, cultural tradition and, even though I never danced, in hula
itself. Even though I was mostly learning in the tradition of Kawaikapu, I
began to feel the huge presence of 'Ihi'ihilauakea. Which is why, even though I
never met him, I always honor 'Ihi'ihilauakea ‘o Kapuwailani ‘o Noenoe’ula as
one of my Hawaiian teachers.
Blaine gave me the Hawaiian name of Pu’ukanio Ka Lani (the sweet voiced singer of the heavens).
Blaine stuck his neck out for me in many
areas. He never said anything to me but I think he copped a lot of flack for
giving such an unusual looking haole guy a prominent role in his halau. He was
a dedicated and devoted man and I felt privileged to learn from him. It wasn’t
long before I was playing guitar and singing with him for rehearsals and public
performances of the halau.
public oli was at Ka Hula Piko on Molokai in
1998. Ka Hula Piko is an annual festival founded by the late Uncle
John Ka’imikaua to celebrate the birthplace of hula according to Moloka’I
was an extraordinary man. Discouraged from learning about his Hawaiian heritage
when he showed an interest as a young boy by his parents, he began to learn
from his grandmothers. He was then taught by a 92-year-old woman named
Kawahinekapuheleikapokane (Sacred Woman Traveling on the Night of Kane), who
began mentoring him at age 14. The Molokai kupuna (elder) taught him 156
Molokai chants, ranging in length up to 928
lines – 'an unbroken oral history of our people for 1,000 years,' he once
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. Uncle John felt that now is that time.. And
Kawahinekapuheleikapokane 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
his teacher’s death when he was 16 years old did Uncle John understand that
kuleana. In 1977, at age 19, he opened his own halau. “The night I opened it, I
understood,” he said. “That first practice, I realized the kuleana: to educate
and enlighten all people about our ancestral past.”
The event at
the heart of the festival, takes place in the mountainous area known as Ka’ana,
located on the heights of MountMaunaloa, in the arid
area of West Moloka’i. At around three am on Saturday morning, hula halau and
committed spectators gather on the windy and often bitterly cold heights of
Ka’ana. Sometimes there is a moon: sometimes not. Without a moon, there is no
light to even see the dancers until the sky lightens in the East. That is not
considered important. Each participant considers it an honor just to be there.
The whole event is considered kapu (sacred).
is allowed one oli and one hula; there is to be no talking. The discipline is
strong and strict, the respect palpable. It was in this pressure cooker that I
performed my first public oli and I was very nervous.
As we sat
back down on the dirt after our hula, I felt a huge whack on my back. I turned
round and there was Blaine
beaming at me.
the day long ho’olaulea (festival) that follows, Uncle John was kind
enough to congratulate me on my oli. That meant a lot to me.
to practice with the halau and appear with them in public performance. Once,
after a show at KukuiGroveShopping Center
on Kauai, an old Hawaiian lady came up to me
after we had finished.
“I know who
you are, I know who you are”, she called out to me.
“Who am I auntie?”
Hawaiian in your last lifetime, but you were kolohe (naughty, bad), so
you had to come back as a haole guy!”
In 1999, I
asked Blaine if
I could compete in the Chant division of the King Kamehameha Hula Competition.
This annual festival features the leading oli competition in Hawaii. If the Merry Monarch Festival is the
Olympics for hula, this is the Olympics for chanters.
replied, “if you are prepared to work hard”. And so we began.
Blaine is extremely talented in many
areas. One in which he particularly excels is this: if any of his students
enters a solo competition such as solo hula, he studies their character and
writes a song and a hula that is a unique reflection of their personality.
In my case,
he wrote a chant for me in English that was translated into Hawaiian by his
friend and fellow kumu, the very talented Michael Keala Ching. The resultant
oli was about four minutes long, an eternity when you are out on the floor of a
huge arena by yourself. It was called Ku Na Iwi. The oli told the story of
someone (me) coming to Hawaii,
of being entranced by the beauty, by the fragrances, by the traditions, but
above all, seeking to know, to understand, to experience aloha.
together for about two and a half months. Blaine
gave selflessly of his time but the whole process was intense. We had a couple
of knock down drag out arguments and he yelled at me a lot, but we got it done.
before I was due to perform, Elandra and I were in bed at my elder daughter’s
house in the Tantalus district of Honolulu. I was so wired from nerves and
excitement that I was half out of my body. I could feel the spirits moving in
the jungle outside. All was silent in the house as my daughter was asleep.
heard a deep rasping breathing, like something from a monster movie. Elandra
heard it too. Then I remembered. I had seen Uncle John Ka’imikaua’s halau
perform a Mo’o dance and make this sound by moving their hands in front of
their mouths while inhaling and exhaling loudly. Mo’o are the legendary giant
lizards that populated ancient Hawaii
and are said to still exist although rarely in their physical bodies. According
to tradition, this was the sound they made.
We felt a
huge presence enter the room. It was neither good nor bad. It was simply
curious. It wanted to know who or what was impinging on a space where it lived
that was normally beyond the reach of humans. The presence examined us and then
left. As it left we heard the breathing again.
I was due to
go on at around 4pm. I spent the whole day in the halau dressing room (they
were competing in the hula competition) practicing. I was more nervous than I
have ever been in my life.
was time for me to chant. At these competitions there is always a hubbub of conversation
when one act finishes which only subsides when the next begins. My name was
called and I strolled into the middle of the Blaisdell Arena, a huge basketball
venue. By the time I reached my place on the floor, you could have heard a pin
The oli went
well and the crowd cheered me as I left the floor. As I stood, dazed, out in
back of the arena, a young Hawaiian woman rushed up to me and hugged me. “That
was WONDERFUL!” she said breathlessly. When they announced the competition
results, I recognized her as she accepted the prize for best chanter.
competition ended, Blaine
gathered all of the leis from all of us in the halau and took them to the grave
of 'Ihi'ihilauakea, to lay them there in tribute.
I didn’t win
anything but I felt I achieved a great deal by even competing.
an informal group of ladies who wanted to practice hula formed on Kauai. Many of them were students of the well known
writer Serge King and his organization, Aloha Internaitonal. Under the
direction and inspiration of Kawaikapu Hewitt, they later were given the title
of Halau Na Lei Kupua o Kauai and their
director, Susan Pa’inui Floyd was given the title of Kumu Hula. It is very
unusual and a great honor for a Caucasian to be so named.
While I was
never a formal member of this halau, I had the privilege to accompany them
musically for many of their performances. In return, they would often come to
dance at my shows on Kauai and on O’ahu. I owe
a great deal to them.
In 2001, I
began to record my first CD, One in the Goddess. In looking to forge a link between
my Indian and Hawaiian cultural heritages, I found that they had a strong
Goddess energy tradition in each culture.
Hawaiian part, I drew heavily upon the compositions of Kawaikapu Hewitt, some
of which had been co-written with Blaine.
CD, Antion, Live on Kauai, could not have been made without
the help and magnificent songs of Kawaikapu Hewitt.
compelled to honor both these men for the powerful traditions and teachings
that they selflessly shared with me.
I must also
honor the late Uncle John Ka’imikaua for his constant inspiration and
encouragement, as well as the late Darryl 'Ihi'ihilauakea Lupenui for
inspiration from beyond.
can contact Antion at (808) 482-1931 or by e-mail at email@example.com