As the vibrant Hawaiian music sounded through the conference hall, dozens of students in traditional Hawaiian costumes performed hula and Ori Tahitian dance, telling stories through their movements. “It’s never just, start learning the dance and not knowing what it’s about,” said junior environmental science major Andrea Perez, who has been involved with Hui O Hawai’i for two years. “We know what every movement is…and it’s very important to [our teacher] that every move that we make is very precise.” Several of the dances were telling the stories or honoring the lands of Hawai’i. One example was the hula dance Nohili, which spoke of the “barking sands” of Kaua’i that makes a barking sound when people walked on the surface, explained their kumu, or teacher, Marlo Caramat.
The interior of the McLaren conference center was filled with energy from Hui O Hawai’i’s Lu’au celebration last Saturday, featuring student dance performances, live music and a dinner of Hawaiian foods. Outside the building, members of the Pacific Islander Collective held an educational demonstration to raise awareness of issues affecting PI students.
Hui O Hawai’i is one of two Hawaiian cultural organizations on campus, and aims to celebrate the culture of Hawai’i in an inclusive environment. The club works with a halau, or dance group, to put together a lu’au every spring. The halau helps teach the dances and traditions, and to pull the lu’au together This year’s theme was Nā One Kapu O Kākou, or “The Sacred Sands of Our Land.” “Land is very important to Hawaiian culture. The ancient Hawaiians lived off the land, so it’s very sacred,” said junior hospitality and accounting major Alyssa Lam, the president of Hui O Hawai’i. “For our 45th annual lu’au, we just thought it would be only right to celebrate the sacred lands of Hawai’i.”
The PIC is a club of about six PI students on campus, according to senior sociology major Michaela Ruiz, who is chair of the PIC. “It’s there so we can talk about what PI are going through not just at USF, but back home or in the US. It’s to share our experiences,” she said.
The group stood outside of McLaren during Nā One Kapu O Kākou with signs, shouting phrases such as “I am not a stereotype” at passerby, hoping to catch their attention for long enough to educate them on PI issues. “One of the reasons we’ve also chosen this event is because we feel like, even though [Hui O Hawai’i] uses PI or Native Hawaiian culture, they don’t talk about PI people at all,” Ruiz said. “We’re here to raise awareness on some of the things that the PI community is going through.” Some of these issues include climate change and rising water levels, cultural appropriation and PIs in higher education, especially in regards to a lack of PI-specific resources at USF.
Although the PIC’s demonstration was perceived by some as a protest, the groups coexisted peacefully. “I’ve only heard the general of what they’re demonstrating about, I haven’t gotten any details,” Lam said. “I believe all students should be able to voice their opinions. I hope that, maybe in the future, it would be really cool if we collaborated. Because we’re both working toward the same goal, to celebrate not only PI culture, but the culture of Hawai’i, especially with our kumu. We’re all just here trying to have fun, trying to celebrate everyone’s culture.”
The lu’au performance featured several hula and Ori Tahitian dances, often accompanied by live music from their Caramat, who has worked with Hui O Hawai’i for 20 years. “[He and] his alaka’i, his helpers, always come to our practices and help teach us, and make sure we look really good for the day of [the performance],” Lam said.
The audience was encouraged to interact by cheering on their friends and family as they performed, and by playing trivia and other games between performances. Toward the end of lu’au, after the graduating seniors performed their last dance, they pulled members of the audience on stage and taught them how to dance some hula.
“I loved it—it was very amazing. I love the energy that they brought,” said senior kinesiology major Jonathan Madamba, who was a member of the audience. “It reminds me of home, because I’m from Hawai’i, too. Getting to see them dance really made me think of that.”
Photo Credits: Emily Nguyen