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By Vicki Viotti Advertiser Staff Writer

HONOLULU, Hawai‘i (October 20, 2000 – Honolulu Advertiser)---About 75 people from Hawai‘i set off this week for a family reunion of sorts, a cultural celebration by the clan of Pacific peoples who share a sense of being kinfolk.

Twenty years ago, dancer and chanter Kalani Akana occupied the ranks of the performers, but now, as director of the new non-profit group Halau Haloa, he leads the Hawai‘i delegation of hula dancers, actors, artists and craftspeople at the Pacific Arts Festival.

The event, which runs from Monday through November 3 in New Caledonia, takes place somewhere in the Pacific region every four years to celebrate what’s shared and what’s distinct about the cultures of the 27 participating nations.

"It’s not just a valuable experience," Akana said. "There are contacts to be made and a lot of ideas that can be exchanged, like about indigenous copyrights and trademarks, a lot of ideas about art being transported out without permission of the native people."

Mapuana deSilva, whose hula school Halau Mohala ‘Ilima is the Hawai‘i delegation’s largest contingent, underscored the trip’s importance.

"We’re not just representing hula and ourselves, we’re representing the nation of Hawai‘i in the Pacific island group," she said.

This has been a long journey, in more than miles. The halau raised $150,000 for the trip, including $30,000 from an anonymous donor.

The extent of government help: $5,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts funds, allotted by the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts. This grant helped cover some Neighbor Island transportation costs for participants attending planning meetings over the past year; NEA rules bar the use of these grants for international travel, said Ron Yamakawa, state foundation director.

When Hawai‘i first participated in the festival 20 years ago, it had little cultural standing in the Pacific, said Keahi Allen, who organized that delegation.

"I think they were surprised to see that we did have a culture, that we were practicing it," Allen said.

"For many, many years, we were the example of what not to become," added Akana, who helped found Halau Haloa last year to organize this year’s expedition. "Waikiki was what you should not re-create.

"Despite all of that we have overcome many of these situations, and we still are doing the best that we can, preserving a lot of our traditions, bringing it back."

A few traditions were brought back virtually from the grave. Moana Eisele quietly pounds out kapa (tapa) in her Foster Village home, bringing in from the Big Island or other Pacific sources the wauke, or paper mulberry, needed to make the bark cloth.

When Eisele learned kapa making in 1978, she studied with Dennis Kana‘ekeawe, then the only one giving classes. Even today, she said, the perpetuation of the art lies in the hands of only a handful of regular practitioners.

The craft is far less endangered elsewhere in the Pacific, where the techniques devised by other cultures produce cloth of varied textures and designs. There are common threads, Eisele said, fingering one of the ‘ohe kapala (stamps) used to print the cloth.

"Wherever you go, you see the same triangles," she said, pointing to a popular motif. "In Samoa, it represents a shell; here, it represents the hala key, the small brush-like fruit of the hala tree."

Among the characteristics of Hawaiian kapa: The water marks pounded into the cloth and then flattened, visible when the kapa is held up to the light.

Eisele has been to other festivals, and she knows she’ll see admirable work from other islands, even though kapa from Hawai‘i is reputed to be among the world’s best.

"A lot of people have said that," she said, "but I don’t feel comfortable saying that.

"For me what’s important is that Hawai‘i be represented, and represented well," she added.

Others in the delegation felt the same imperative. Kuahiwi Lorenzo has been for many years a dancer and maker of hula implements with Kaha‘i Topolinski’s hula troupe, Ka Pa Hula Hawai‘i, also participating this year.

But it’s been only a few months that he’s tried his hand at crafting the feather capes that were the hallmark of Hawai‘i’s chiefly class.

Topolinski taught him the art, adapting the ancient traditions: Goose and rooster feathers, 20,000 in all, stand in for those of now-extinct or threatened native birds. Still, the finished cape, along with a feather lei, is seen as a suitable gift from the people of Hawai‘i to those of New Caledonia.

After six weeks of work (Lorenzo guessed he worked three or four hours most nights), he lovingly packed away the finished cape for the flight on Tuesday. It’s dubbed Na Maka Aloha O Kawena ‘Ula O Kalani O Hawai‘i Nei, a name that pays tribute to one of the Hawaiian scholars Topolinski honors most, Mary Kawena Pukui.

Other delegates represent newer arts, videography, painting and drama. Haili‘opua Baker, a Hawaiian language lecturer at the University of Hawai‘i, is taking her troupe, Ka Halau Hanakeaka, to perform a play in Hawaiian about the life of the demigod Maui.

Baker has produced a program in Hawaiian, English and French (the national language in New Caledonia), but she hopes the familiarity of the Maui legends throughout the Pacific will help to convey the story to audiences.

But Baker wants to please more than the crowd.

"One major goal is to represent our kupuna well, to take down our history and tradition and share that," Baker said. "In return, I know we will have wonderful exchange and be inspired to come back and do even more."

For additional reports from The Honolulu Advertiser, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Honolulu Advertiser.

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