What is a Huaka'i?
A huaka'i, in hälau terms, is a travel experience with a defined purpose. It can be a local excursion to important cultural site, an outer island trip to visit and learn about cultural sites or a trip to another country such as New Zealand or Tahiti.
The itinerary for our huaka'i is carefully planned and the relevant information on the sites to be visited is prepared and printed for the benefit of the participants. The value to the students comes from the physical experience of the place that we have previously known only through the chant or the hula reference. To see, taste and touch the land gives immeasurable depth to the understanding of the particular hula associated with that place as well as the historical understanding of the specific place visited.
Because hula is such a visual art form, having the physical experience of the place about which we are dancing or chanting makes the dance live for the performer as well as for the viewer. For all of these reasons the huaka'i is an important teaching tool and a deeply enriching experience.
Our Huaka'i to Tahiti
Eight members of Na Puakea O Ko'olaupoko were joined by 32 members of Sandii's Hula Studio for an exciting cultural visit to Tahiti this past July. Our purpose was to immerse ourselves in the culture and the dance of Tahiti. The goddess of hula seemed to have conspired with the spirits of weather: because of heavy rains the week before, none of the scheduled dance competition had been able to take place. The result was that we had the unparalleled opportunity to see each and every evenings of dance competition held during this years Heiva. What a treat that was for us.
Imagine, if you can, an open-air stage filled with 200 to 300 dancers - male and female. Each night 2 or 3 groups presented a nearly hour-long presentations of legend or history interpreted in the chant and Ori Tahiti - the dance of Tahiti. The beauty, precision and elegance of the dance was only surpassed by the exquisite precision of drummers and singers. Their rhythms are so precise and so complex that one quickly realizes that one is experiencing a truly world class musical art form.
We were also privileged to take a class from the legendary master of the dance of Tahiti, Coco Hotahota. His group "Te Maeva" is world famous and has set the standard for the dance for many years. Along with his helper, he shared two wonderful numbers with our group, which we will treasure always. Mahalo ~ Coco!
A second dearly held hope came true for us, also. We were given a lesson from one of the lead dancers from "O Tahiti E", the award winning new group in Tahiti. Under the hot Tahitian sun we sweated away while we learned two new numbers from this valued source.
Of equal value was the time Manumele (Sandii) and I shared in conversation with the group leader, Marguerite Lai. While the dance forms of Hawai'i and Tahiti are very different in appearance, many aspects are very much the same. The importance of posture, footwork and the projection by the dancer of the inner meanings of the dance are equally valued in both dance forms. Imagine my amazement when Marguerite confided that she orders her mori skirts (the white or colored "grass" ones) from Hula Supply here on O'ahu! And that the reason we so seldom see the 'i'i (hand tassel) anymore is because the supplies are so expensive! It appears very few Tahitians are willing to do the labor-intensive work of stripping and preparing the hau for skirts. I myself, prepared one small batch of hau and I therefore fully appreciate the huge amount of work and time that is require to turn the fibers into a usable product.
Another highlight of our trip was our visit to the island of Bora Bora. The view from the air was one of unimaginable beauty. Picture an ink blue ocean. Then see a circle of white ruffled waves breaking on the barrier reef that completely surrounds the island of Bora Bora. Within the reef is a peaceful lagoon more than a mile wide. Here the clear turquoise water gently laps onto white sand beaches. It is what paradise should look like! It was with great reluctance that we returned to Papeete from this idyllic paradise.
We left Tahiti with a heart full of memories. We renewed long time friendships, made new friends and learned a lot about the culture and the dance. We are all anxious for a hana hou - a quick return to these enchanted isles across the sea