Most hula dancers start at the age of about 4 or 5 and many will stay with the same halau (hula class) throughout their entire lives. Dancers, in Hawai’i have a hula lineage that can date back decades. Many are lucky enough to have a hula master that has gone before a panel of kumu hula, tested rigorously and then given the blessing to teach. Many inherit their skills from their parent and progress through their supervision. Some are alaka’i (leaders) in a halau and become the kumu due to an unforeseen accident or death. Some just love to teach. With my kumu hula I not only learned the dances, but I learned to make all of my own implements…the ipu heke or ipu heke ‘ole, gourd percussion implements; the pahu, a drum made from a coconut tree; ‘uli’uli, a small gourd of la’amea with seeds inside, topped with a platform of colored feathers shaken like a rattle; pu’ili, bamboo that has been slit into 11 or more strips sounding much like a rattle when struck together; ‘ili’ili, stones collected from the beach which are held two in each hand and are clicked together (a little like castanets); ka la’au or sticks that are struck together and the ‘ohe hano ihu or nose flute. There are some more uncommon implements that I have yet to make.
The pahu is considered the most sacred of the implements. The steps of the hula are different when done to pahu. The beat has a haunting echo from the past. My pattern of my carving came to me in a dream…whales dancing above the waves, then diving below the surface with only their tales left to see. The pahu took me weeks to carve…with chisel and a mallet.
My kala’au were left on the big island so I will have to make another set. However, I’ve always made them of strawberry guava wood and I’ve as yet to see a tree here on Maui. Auwe!