Pueo Pata Scores a Hana Hou

To view Anne E. O’Malley’s slide show of Monday night’s EKK click here.

So what is the program going to be? -- Every Monday my phone rings off the hook as visitors call to see what the EKK program is about so they can decide whether to come or not. I can never answer that question. One question was, "Is it traditional?" I ask, "What do you mean by traditional?" "Weeeelll, is it the LA hula ... things like "Little Brown Girl in the Little Grass Shack?" "Nooooooo...far from it. But honestly, I never know what to expect; but if you miss it, you will hear from others what you missed. Take a chance and come see for yourself what EKK is." Once they come and experience an EKK evening, they plan their Kaua'i trip to coincide with the EKK season.

Cody Pueo Pata, Kumu Hula of Halau Hula Ka Malama Mahilani, paid a high compliment to the EKK audience by the program that he presented on Monday, February 22; he recognized that our audience would appreciate the real deal. It was a glimpse into the allowable protocols and practices of his halau well represented by his halau alakai, Ku'ulei Alcomindras-Palakio, Alexandra Kahiau Rodrigues and young student Christian Keli'i Lum with music provided by their husbands, Dennis Keohokalole on upright bass and Mark Palakiko on guitar. The surprise guest who had everyone crowding to the front for a glimpse was two-year old neophyte dancer-in-training Kawekiu Palakiko. It was a dazzling evening of non-stop chants, hula, singing, stories, and laughter. The short intermission felt like a rude interruption and everyone pretended we were not running overtime.

For the Sunday gig in the Shutters Lounge, Pueo began with a chant from Maui followed by the epic tale of Pele and Hi'iaka in music and dance, but for Monday he started with a chant from Kaua'i which says "hold my hand; if I fall, you fall"...so the entities will do everything to make sure that I won't fall. He said Kaumakaiwa gave the same chant last week at EKK...."Kaumakaiwa was just here, yuh, I am finding her hair all over the stage....just kidding."

Pueo studied with seven recognized masters. Aunty Eleanor Makida is a kahuna pule who spoke the formal Hawaiian language and trained Pueo to compose the chants in the traditional Hawaiian way. She asked Pueo to compose chants for every occasion until one day she told him he no longer needed to come to her. Pueo came to recognize the difference between slang language and the formal language, but he did not know the school Hawaiian until he studied it in school. The okina or glottal stop was often not used by native Hawaiian speakers.

He shared a number of chants, legends and kahiko dances to show the many steps that the dancers needed to go through to find the proper mindset to dance before an altar, to dance when offering awa and to dance when asking for strength, endurance, longevity, fertility; he invited the audience to add their own prayers to the dance. The turtle dance was shared with a warning that when their halau did this dance en masse, many of his dancers become pregnant. A kahiko number by Keli'i Lum included war motions which was practiced to maintain strength and flexibility at a time when fighting was not condoned.

Pueo said he presented the kahiko style first so that we could see the roots or origins out of which the auwana developed -- the drum beats, the hula movements, the chants. The commitment of a hula dancer to hula as a way of life and their sense of respect for the kumu hula was quite obvious. He thanked Kawainui Dela Cruz and Nick Castillo for bringing the ipu drums for the kahiko portion.

The auwana portion of the program was face paced, lively and packed with a variety of songs, never missing a beat while he called out translations of the lyrics between singing each line. He sang songs from Kaua'i, songs from Maui, songs he composed and songs composed by others.

"Maile Lauli'i," written by a hawaiian man to his sweetheart with freckles, names all the plants that grow and live together happily in the Hawaiian forest; it was Pueo's invitation to everyone present that we could all live together in harmony. Spending the weekend on Kaua'i, the group went to Hanalei to look for limu kohu which they did not find, but he invited dancers in the audience to come up and dance to "Ka'ulu Wehi O Kekai", a song about seaweeds by Aunty Edith Kanaka'ole.

"Olinda" is a place song above Makawao where Pueo makes his home. Here he introduced his secret weapon, two-year old Kawekiu who is "one of the products of the turtle dance"; she did the hela in the womb and came out doing the ami. She did a masterful job of following mom Ku'ulei and Kahiau while Pueo sings, translates the lyrics, and calls out the hula moves...that's a singing kumu hula for you.

"Nahiku" is about Uncle Matthew Kalalau, a truck driver from Hana who drove to work in Wailuku everyday and when he passed Nahiku on his way back to Hana, the would stop to pick yellow gingers and make a lei for his wife; Kuulei and Kahiau danced this lively dance with little Kawekiu keeping up with all the twirls and skirt-swishing moves.

Between Nahiku and Haiku is beautiful Keanai, a place that still maintains the kalo tradition much like the beautiful Hanalei taro fields. A romantic mele in English brings images of moonlight rippling on the ocean waves through coconut leaves. Little Kawikiu really loves the flinging of the skirts and the quick spins; she always got those right. Can't imagine a 2-year-old keeping step with these fast-paced hula numbers. Just think...in about twelve to fifteen years, we will probably be seeing her on the Merrie Monarch stage.

"Koali," a verdant place on the east end of Hana Maui was written by a a group of composers including the late Aunty Nani Kaina and the late Aunty Elikapeka Konohia among others. Of the original 12 verses by lauhala weavers who sat together to weave and gossip every day, only five verses remain. Ku'ulei and Kahi'au dressed in beautiful iridescent maroon/russet dresses depicted the story about the beautiful iwa bird that roosts on an ugly hala tree. It's always a surprise to find out what some of these lyrics reveal. All these songs about place on Maui makes me want to take a weekend trip driving to all these special places on Maui.

He shared a true story about 18-year-old Christian Keli'i Lum as introduction to his auwana number. Keli'i washed all his clothes in preparation to come to Kaua'i before he went to perform with the group on Saturday night. When he got home from the concert, all his clothes were stolen off his clothesline. He must have bought new rags for "Sweet Lei Roselani" because he looked very snazzy. This is the first time he danced in public since the Keiki hula festival where he won third place. "Kumu in a Mu'umu'u," a hapa haole song written by Jack Pittman, is a play on red fish or ku-mu which is also slang for good-looking. Keli'i placed third place in his first public performance at the Keiki hula competition. Pueo pointed out that he won that same competition as a teenager.

To honor and share the songs of Kauai, he showed his scar on his arm which is a memento of his surfing trip to Polihale with Nick and Kawainui. As he was paddling out, Nick nicked him, he started to bleed profusely, and Kawainui shouted "Look! the mano coming in!". His storytelling was hilarious about his frightening encounter with what he thought was first a shark and turned out to be a giant turtle swimming up under him. Fearing to go back into the water, he thought he might walk to Nohili, but Nick told him they could be arrested for trespassing on a military base, so he had to just imagine it in one of the most beautiful songs about Kaua'i. He harmonized beautifully with Mark and Dennis...and when Mauli Cook got up to dance the hula, one could picture the exquisite white sand stretches of the sand dunes of "Nohili E".

Pueo invited his good friend falsetto singer from Waimea to come up and sing. He said he first heard about Nick Castillo's singing from his kumu hula who came to the Kauai Mokihana Festival to judge and told Pueo he had to meet this boy from Kaua'i. They eventually met when he heard Nick sing in Kihei; his voice was so high that "a pod of dolphins beached themselves." Nick sang "Nani Kaua'i" with the beautiful Nalani Duarte dancing.

For his hana hou, Nick asked if Pueo would sing his favorite song with him. Years ago Nick discovered a CD by Dennis Pavao when visiting Hawai'i island. He fell in love with "Holei" and came home and sang it over and over until his falsetto style of singing evolved; he ended up recording it on his CD. About the same time Pueo recorded it on his CD. Nick shared his admiration for Pueo's vast knowledge as he learned the whole background of the song through a lecture that Pueo gave about the exploits of Hi'iaka and Pele. They have a mutual admiration society friendship.

Pueo's sense of humor pops out everywhere as we discovered from his funny stories all evening. Before Pueo and Nick sang "Holei" together, he wanted the audience to know that before them was standing two-thirds of the "Sakura Sisters" as they are known in Japan; the third member of the trio is Kaumakaiwa Kanaka'ole. The duet with Pueo and Nick was such an unexpected treat; can't help wondering what it would sound like with Kaumakaiwa.

While in Japan an Okinawan classic entitled "Hana" danced by Japanese kumu hulas caused the three judges to cry; they had to ask the kumus for a repeat performance. The message of the song about the circle of life...that one cannot know happiness without sadness...was so meaningful to Pueo at a time when he lost three of his teachers -- kahuna pule Aunty Eleanor Makida, master lei maker Aunty Diane Amadeo, and Uncle JayJay Akiona. He added his own lyrics to the melody in a song entitled "Ho'i ika Piko". The ukulele gang who learned this exquisite song in circle played along with the musicians. Out of the seven instructors with whom Pueo had trained, only one is left after Uncle George Naope passed on in November. "Kipu'upu'u" was composed by his good friend Kehau Tamure who used to spend time with his halau in Waimea on the Big Island.

Pueo has the ability to see a song in everyday experiences and create a unique mele to capture that experience. One of Pueo's most original songs is based on the slangs of each locale, giving us spoken examples of what some sounded like. He composed a song in Hawaiian pig latin called "Laga Haga"-- a fast-paced song that has secret messages hidden in the words which perhaps only those who understand the slang can grasp. Lagi Hagi...ala hala....laga haga...some Hawaiian chants have such phrases in them. Hmmmmm...a whole area to explore.

For their hana hou number, Pueo chose to sing "A'ali'i", a deep-rooted plant that is a symbol or metaphor for love. Ku'ulei and Kahiau danced the hula to this beautiful harmony which was the perfect ending to such a special gift of hula, songs, chants, stories, humor and surprises by a sincere group of talented and dedicated dancers and musicians. By evenings end we truly felt like 'ohana and everyone gave a hana hou thumbs up for their return to EKK. The one thing that we did not get to see was a hula by the master himself...next time!

Saturday, March 6, 7:00 pm, Palani Vaughan and his entourage in concert featuring the songs of Hawaiian Monarchs at the Kauai Community College Performing Art Center.
Sunday, March 7, Donald Kaulia, Kimo Artis, Lance Artis and Wendy Fitzsimmons will be doing a special jam in Shutters Lounge at the Kauai Beach Resort from 6:00 to 9:00 pm; anyone is welcome to come and join in the jam.
Monday, March 8, Donald Kaulia and Wendy Fitzsimmons be presenting a program that promises to be completely different from the EKK Concert at which Donald will be a special guest. The instrumental hour goes from 6:00 – 6:45 and the main program goes from 6:45 – 9:00 pm. Food and drink is made available by Kauai Beach Resort so you can come straight from work.

Tune in to KKCR Radio -- Linda Lester will be interviewing Donald Kaulia on Monday morning, March 8.

Contact the Kauai Beach Resort at 245-1955 for EKK Special Room Discounts.

(s) Carol Kouchi Yotsuda, www.gardenislandarts.org -- “Celebrating 33 years of bringing ARTS to the people and people to the ARTS”

E Kanikapila Kakou 2010 -- Hawaiian Music Program is funded in part by the Hawai’i Tourism Authority, the County of Kaua’i Office of Economic Development, and Garden Island Arts Council supporters with support from Kaua’I Beach Resort.

Garden Island Arts Council programs are supported in part by the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts through appropriations from the Legislature of Hawai’i and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.