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Kumu Hula Interview

2013 Merrie Monarch Festival Overall Winner

Kumu Hula Chinky Mahoe

Kawailiula Kumu Hula,
whose Kane performance won the overall first place in 2013 Merrie Monarch Festival.
It was very first time that Kane used puniu in Merrie Monarch and
their unforgettable performance received roars of applause.

Kumu Hula Chinky Mahoe

Photos: Marlene Palaualelo

"Hula is not just motions and being perfect.
When a dancer understands what they are dancing about, hula becomes special and true"

Q.How did you come up with the idea of `O Kilauea Noho Lulu for Merrie Monarch?

We wrote this chant ‘O Kilauea Noho Lulu because I wanted to do the story of the fire goddess Pele meeting the handsome young Lohiau of Kaua’i. The reason for this story was because Lohiau lured Pele with his pahu as he danced in Ha’ena.


Q.What was the biggest challenge in practice of `O Kilauea Noho Lulu?

The biggest challenge for the men was to be able to dance on their knees.
Men are not used to doing hula noho or “sitting hula".
They had to overcome the pain in their legs and knees.

Q.What is the strength of Hula Noho as a stage performance? What are difficulties?

The strength for this particular hula noho was using the puniu or knee drum. The strength from the men hitting the drum and slapping their chest was very loud and strong. One of the difficulties was getting everyone to hit the puniu at the same time. Timing was a big part of this dance. It was obvious when a dancer was off timing and not hitting the same time as everyone else. Another difficulty is being able to chant, hit the puniu and dance at the same time. In a hula noho, the dancer must chant and dance at the same time. The kumu or ho’opa’a (chanter) is not allowed to chant with the dancer. It is a tradition that the dancer chants. So coordination is a big factor in doing a hula noho.

Q.When using hula implement, what is the most important thing to know? Is there any difference from hula without implement?

When using a hula implement, it is important to know that the implement becomes part of your body or hands. Again precision is a must. Every implement needs to look the same. In other words, the angle of the implement needs to be the same. When dancing without an implement, it’s a lot easier. Some find it difficult to use a hula implement because of the concentration and coordination needed.

Q.What do you emphasize most when you teach your students learning hula? What do you think makes your hula special?

Hula should come from within. When a dancer knows and understands what they are dancing about, the whole feeing changes from within. Then you are able to see the true expression on the dancers face. That’s what makes the hula special and true. Hula is not just motions and being perfect. The audience will not feel anything if the dancer doesn’t feel anything.

Q.What is the best way for adult beginners to learn hula?

There is no best way to learn. Everyone is different! I usually depend on the person on how much desire and time they put into their hula. Many people want to learn, but think that it will just happen without the practicing. It takes many hours of practice by themselves to teach their bodies how to move.

Q.When dancing for the audience on the stage, what is important for dancer to be aware of or care about?

Again it’s how the dancer prepares themselves for a performance. Some love to dance and want to do their best, and some are just happy with how they look and will enjoy the moment. Depending on what the performance is for and the level of hula you are at. There are serious performers and entertainers, and then there are those who just want to do ho’ike and have fun no matter how they look. It’s up to the dancer and the kumu.

Q.Please give an advice for hula dancers. What could make their hula better?

This is a hard question! To me, their kumu is the first and most important person to help their student to get better. There are so many different hula styles today. Everyone is unique in their way of presenting hula. What might be better to one might not be for the next. Everyone is their own critic. One thing for sure is being dedicated to what you are doing.

Hula Dictionary
Hula Dictionary

[ `O Kilauea Noho Lulu ]
The tale of how Pele found her lover, Lohiau, lured by his drumbeat to Kauai. Kawailiula men performed this in 2013 Merrie Monarch.

[ Puniu ]
The coconut shell knee drum, used as a percussion instrument for hula.

[ Hula Noho ]
The seated hula, usually performed by women.