My Life in Hula–continues

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.

My ipu heke made from two gourds sewn together
My ipu heke made from two gourds sewn together


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!


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