Niihau hula legacy lives on - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Niihau hula legacy lives on

LIHUE, KAUAI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Once a month Na Hoku Hanohano award winner Kuana Torres Kahele travels to Kaua'i to teach hula to the ladies of Ni'ihau.

Hula is considered one of the most traditional and beloved expressions of the Hawaiian culture, but it's been years since anyone has taught hula on Ni'ihau. Now a new generation of dancers are helping to keep a family legacy alive -- even if from an island away. 

Kahele shares a very special relationship with the ladies of his halau.  Many of the mele, or songs, he teaches are about Ni'ihau and several of them were composed by Kahele himself. 

"I was gifted and blessed to get all of this mana'o from the 'ohana who entrusted the words to me and I was able to breathe life into the mele and give it melody, give it song, put it on a CD, and teach it to the 'ohana -- because it's all about them and their families and their lineage and their land and where they come from," said Kahele, a distinguished haku mele.

Kahele says he's inspired by his hanai mom, who everyone calls Mama Ane. At 78 years-young, Mama Ane Kanahele is the oldest living woman from Ni'ihau. She is not just a recognized composer and kahu, but also a master lei maker and she once taught hula herself on Ni'ihau.

"I'm so happy he is helping our 'ohana to keep on our hula, yeah? It's not different. It's the same like I was doing on Ni'ihau," Mama Ane described.
 
Mama Ane says she's glad to rest now and leave the teaching to her son, but the rythym still moves her.

"Some songs, when I heard him sing on the CD, I wanted to dance. I wanted to stand up and dance," she said with a laugh.

Depending on the night, Kahele has 15 - 25 dancers -- ranging from 3 years old to in their 60s.

"I look forward to learning new dances with Kuana.  He makes nice-moving hulas," described 12-year-old Kayla Pantohan-Kali, whose family is from Ni'ihau.
 
"He's been so great to us and we're so happy and we want our mo'opuna to learn and keep on with the culture, so they can share with their 'ohana too," said Kanani Beniamima, a dancer from Ni'ihau.
 
There's a deep sense of appreciation from the ladies for their kumu and how his lessons honor their special home.

"I love our island and the songs they touch my heart," said Miriam Kanahele, Aunty Ane's niece.

"He's a part of our family and we love him so much. I'm very honored to dance for him," said Miriam's daughter, Jade Kanahele.
 
Halau Nakamaoka'eokulani dances to connect, not compete.

"It's in the koko. It's in our blood. Hula is a part of us as a Hawaiian, so when we come here we do it literally because we love to dance,"
said Kahele.
 
Kahele has been teaching classes once a month on Kaua'i for the last three years and says he will continue to do so as long as there are dancers interested in learning.

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