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Fifth world conference on hula underway in Hilo

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Halau entered Edith Kanaka‘ole Stadium for the opening ceremony of the fifth Ka ‘Aha Hula ‘o Halauaola conference in Hilo on Sunday. More than 500 dancers participated in the kuahu (altar) ceremony with offerings of lei, an awa ritual and kahiko dance.

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Wahine from Puakalani Hula Hale entered the Edith Kanaka‘ole Stadium for the opening ceremony of the fifth Ka ‘Aha Hula ‘O Halauaola conference in Hilo on Sunday, June 17, 2018. More than 500 dancers participated in the kuahu (altar) ceremony with offerings of lei, an awa ritual and kahiko dance. Pictured in the center looking toward the kuahu is Jolene Villanueva.

The fifth Ka ‘Aha Hula ‘o Halauaola conference is underway in Hilo, with about 900 participants from throughout the world converging to share the art of hula through the end of the week.

A formal opening ceremony was held Sunday at Edith Kanaka‘ole Stadium, featuring more than 500 dancers from Hawaii, the mainland, Mexico, Japan and Europe. Hula practitioners held a kuahu (altar) ceremony with offerings of lei representing the deities of the forest, followed by an awa ceremony, and then performed two kahiko numbers.

The 10-day conference, held mostly at the stadium and University of Hawaii­-Hilo campus, includes workshops, lectures and panel discussions by prominent kumu hula from throughout the isles. The chants, hula and protocol for the world hula conference were specifically chosen to honor the stories of Pele and Hiiaka, including episodes of eruptions.

“We were planning and the eruption occurred very late,” said Noe Noe Wong-­Wilson, director of the conference. “We had a little bit of inquiry — is it dangerous, should we come? I kept saying we are fine in Hilo. Parts of Kau are very challenged right now, but fortunately, we are not, I said, ‘If you’re a hula dancer or hula practitioner, you want to be here. This is the energy you want to experience.’”

On its website, Lalakea informed participants a few weeks ago that the conference was still on and that there was no threat to Hilo, saying that the lava flows in Lower Puna were more than 20 miles away and that there were minimal effects. Only one participant canceled, said Wong-Wilson, because of concerns about safety.

Kumu hula Debbie Kapua Cabato had no doubt in her mind she would bring her halau to the conference from Fairfield, Calif.

“It’s very, very special,” she said. “A lot of us have had friends and family question if we could continue to come here, and there was no question we were going to come.”

The spirit and movement of hula are all about Pele, said Cabato, and there is no better time to be in Hilo than with her present, she said.

Participants also are taking field trips to notable places around the island. Only a few spots were canceled.

This week’s conference is the last in a series that first began in 2001 in Hilo and was then held once every four years at a different location, which included Maui (2005), Oahu (2009) and Kauai (2014). The conferences were designed to follow Hiiaka’s journey from Hawaii island to Kauai and back, and has come full circle, ending in Hilo this year.

Various halau will be performing at Edith Kanaka‘ole Stadium until Friday; performances are free and open to the public. Doors open at 5 p.m., and shows are from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Today a special tribute will be paid to the late kumu hula Leina‘ala Kalama Heine, one of the co-founders of the world hula conference. On Friday a kanikapila celebration from 5 to 8:30 p.m. features craft vendors and a live auction, with proceeds going to families in Puna affected by the Kilauea eruption. The conference’s closing ceremony is on Saturday.

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