University of Hawaiʻi students, staff, faculty and community members have been rehearsing for months in an old World War Two Quonset hut on the Hawaiʻi Community College campus in Hilo. The 25-member hālau is preparing for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington D.C. later this month.
“We’re actually transporting our village. Our hālau,” said Taupouri Tangaro, kumu hula and chair of Hawaiʻi CC’s Hawaiian lifestyles and humanities department.
The hula group Unukupukupu hired a professional moving company to ship decorative plants, 50 conch shells, 25 drums—a total of 2,200 pounds of hula equipment and plants.
The hālau will perform twice a day on the National Mall during the two-week festival, as part of the University of Hawaiʻi’s 80 member delegation. About 1.5 million people will visit this annual festival, which will mean huge exposure for the University of Hawaiʻi and its community.
Unukupukupu wants to demonstrate the many ways hula helps the community.
“If they walk away realizing that hula is not entertainment more than it is a process for transformation, I’ll be satisfied. We’re taking this 2,000 year old story and we pull out of it leadership models,” Tangaro said, referring to his use of hula in academics.
The performers will be doing pele lava dances, temple dances and numbers not commonly seen at lūʻau and the Merrie Monarch Festival.
The performers include faculty, staff, administrators and students from the entire university system.
“We blend those communities so the people that serve the students are actually now students. And we just blend them. And that works really well for student success,” Tangaro said.
“This is wonderful because it dissolves barriers between all the different categories. So we’re all part of the village, so we look at the students as part of the learning process. We learn together and support each other’s growth,” said Professor Trina Nahm-Mijo, head of Hawaiʻi Community College’s Social Science and Public Services Division.
Nahm-Mijo found that she is also the oldest hālau member heading to Washington D.C.
“It’s on my bucket list of things I wanted to do. So I get to do it as a senior citizen. It’s wonderful,” Nahm-Mijo said.
Smithsonian Folklife Festival
The Smithsonian Folklife Festival begins on Wednesday, June 27 and ends on Sunday, July 8.
There will be a host of other University of Hawaiʻi exhibits, including aquaponics, a mini taro patch, traditional navigation, Hawaiian health and healing through hula, medicinal plants, lomi lomi, makahiki games and much more.
This year’s Smithsonian Folklife Festival celebrates the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Morrill Act, which paved the way for working class citizens to attend college. Prior to the signing of the Morrill Act, only the wealthy could afford a higher education at private colleges.
The University of Hawaiʻi will be one of 20 public land grant universities participating in this year’s festival.
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