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Hawaiian hula performers return to campus

<ast weekend, Hula group Hālau Kiawekūpono O Ka Ua of O’ahu, Hawai’i was warmly received by Carleton for the third time since 2012.

Their visit was coordinated by Associate Professor of Religion Kristin Bloomer, who met Ulukoa while teaching at the University of Hawaii, where he was a student in her “Field Methods in the Study of Religion” class.

After learning that her student was the Kumu Hula (hula teacher) of a Hālau (hula school), Bloomer collaborated with Ulukoa to facilitate a week of events in Minnesota in 2012.

Now, the biannual visit of Hālau Kiawekūpono O Ka Ua is widely anticipated, and includes a cultural exchange between local Native Americans at the American Indian Center in Minneapolis and an open master hula class and hula performance at Carleton.

Bloomer regards the cultural exchange as an especially meaningful event. Sponsored by Mni Ki Wakan and the Indigenous People’s Decade of Water Summit, and facilitated by leaders Wakinyan LaPoint and Thorne Bordeaux, the exchange focused on the protection of sacred waters.

The visiting Hawaiian delegates shared with local Indigenous groups how they have engaged to protect waters in Hawaii, and prepared a dance incorporating themes of water to perform at the event.
“Indigenous peoples have been increasingly mobilizing across tribal and national boundaries,” said Bloomer.

Ulukoa demonstrates this, as he has organized similar cultural exchanges between five continents with the Hālau, as well as testified at the United Nations on behalf of Chamorro self-determination as well as with the Hawaiian delegation.

“Globally Indigenous peoples are recognizing what they have in common,” said Bloomer.

Ulukoa spoke of the Hālau’s involvement in social justice as an essential and conscientious way of life.
“We shouldn’t be in our own bubble. It should disturb us if others near and far are suffering. People ignore or justify other people’s suffering, they justify the taking of other people’s lands and resources, they ignore the unequal access to health care and education.  All of these things should bother us.”

The Hālau also visited Bloomer’s “Sacred Body” course, where the group contributed dialogue to the class’s conversation.

“The visit of the Hālau helps us learn more about native Hawaiian approaches to the body and earth as sacred while also connecting us to people living these beliefs,” said Bloomer.

The master class and performance were not only attended by Bloomer’s class, but by staff and students from Carleton as well as the wider community.

After the performance on Saturday night, Abigail Polk ’18 explained that she had been interested in learning about a culture she had limited knowledge of.

“I feel honored to have been given a glimpse of traditional indigenous Hawaiian dance, song, and storytelling,” said Polk.

This storytelling is one of the most important aspects of Hula. “Hula is a subjugated knowledge—a knowledge that has been pushed out and considered marginal,” said Bloomer.

“There’s a long history of Hula having gone underground after missionary contact, and part of the reclamation of Hula by Hawaiians is part of the Hawaiian sovereignty movement in the midst of this postcolonial commodification of all things Hawaiian.”

The performance featured four hula dancers in traditional dress, with a string of dances that included storytelling, solo dance, and tributes.

Ulukoa offered insight into the process of preserving the heritage and carrying stories from past generations as a Kumu Hula.

“There are many things you need to be aware of when you’re a Kumu, a teacher, leading a hālau. Part of my purpose is to train these guys to be there as they should because this kuleana [responsibility] is passed on to me from my teacher’s teacher. So I’m always encouraging them to be a source for others in a good way,” he said.  

The visit and events were made possible by the Public Works Mellon Grant, Class of ’57 Visiting Scholar for Interdisciplinary Studies Fund, Asian Studies, Religion, Studies in the Arts, American Studies, CAMS, Chaplain’s Office, Dean’s Office, Environmental Studies, History, Theater and Dance, and Women’s and Gender Studies. 

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