The evening of Saturday, 17 June 2017, saw Alaka’i Namiko, Dara and Dian presenting a few hula ho’āno to an international audience at this year’s edition of the biennial Worship Symposium co-organised by Trinity Theological College and the Methodist School of Music. It was, in their words, an “electrifyingly amazing” experience!
We had a fun combined workshop on the afternoon of Saturday, 10 June 2017; we learnt how to make lei hulu and also had a short demonstration and try-out session stamping cloth with stencils made from linoleum plates.
As an introduction to working with feathers, we made small hair pick-style accessories instead of actual leis, and the stamping was a preparatory exercise as we will soon we making our own pa’u. It was a fun and informative session in which we not only learnt new things about Hawaiian culture and hula tradition, but also about each other and our own personalities.
Saturday, 6 May 2017, was a busy but fun one for Alaka’i Namiko. In the day, she went with Aunty Cyrila and Angela Pycha, two of our hālau sisters on Kaua’i, to Ke Akua Mana Church’s Benefit Lu’au and Ho’olaule’a (loosely translated to mean a party and festive celebration). There, they and the many other event attendees were treated to a performance by the musical trio Keauhou. These brilliant young men — Jonah Kahanuola Solatario, Nicholas Keali‘i Lum and Zachary Lum — really heightened the atmosphere with their old school, ’40s and ’50s-style execution and flawless harmony.
The afternoon was spent blazing through the making of 78 pua melia (plumeria) lei from 1,500 specially imported Moloka’i blooms, in the ku’i style, with ‘Anakē Cyrila and Angela. The leis were then taken along to be given away to other guests in the audience when they attended an evening performance by Keauhou and Aulani Parker at the Kaua’i Beach Resort. The flowers filled the entire lobby with their sweet fragrance, adding layers to the already beautiful ambience.
Aulani, who is halau-trained by Kumu Hula Manu Boyd and who dances professionally for Kumu Hula Robert Cazimero, was an elegant and mesmirising presence; her gift of hula contributed a magical dimension to Keauhou’s already exquisite musical offering.
On Thursday, 4 May 2017, Alaka’i Namiko visited the Waipā Foundation in Hanalei, Kaua’i, to learn more about poi and participate in their weekly Poi Day. If you’ve been a part of Ka Pā Hula Ka Lei Maile Hi’ilani for some time, chances are you’ve had a chance to sample poi, as now and then we have portions of it brought back from Hawaii. That’s always a good time to refresh everyone’s memory of what’s currently our only hula about poi and how to make it.
Poi, a smooth, thick, slightly sticky off-white-to-pale-purple starchy paste, is a uniquely Hawaiian dish, a traditional staple that is made from the fleshy, bulbous corm of the kalo (taro) plant. The plant, which is also known as the dasheen or cocoyam, is grown and eaten all around the Pacific (the leaves are edible too!) but only in the Hawaiian islands is it made into poi.
Poi-making generally involves a lot of scrubbing (the kalo corms grow in muddy wetland and their roots like to interlock), peeling, cooking (boiling or steaming; the traditional method utilises an imu), mashing, and pounding — after which you get a paste called pa’i’ai. It’s when water is added (read: vigorously stirred in) to the pa’i’ai that you get poi.
Poi is traditionally eaten with one’s fingers, and the amount of water added affects the mixture’s consistency and texture; Hawaiians refer to one-finger, two-finger and three-finger poi in reference to how many digits are required to bring a morsel to one’s mouth.
Eaten fresh, poi has a light, faintly sweet taste; Hawaiians tend to prefer it fermented and on the sour side — the flavour increases with the number of days it’s kept (traditionally, wrapped in ti leaf bundles and set aside). We don’t know how long you can keep it for before it becomes inedible, though it’s said that poi (stored as pa’i’ai) was what sustained the ancient Polynesians on their long exploratory sea journeys — presumably quite a long time.
The Waipā Foundation website has lots of educational resources and is a good place to start for anyone who is interested in learning more about traditional Hawai’i. You can also click here to view Alaka’i Namiko’s Facebook post (with videos) about her visit. Those fascinated with poi might find this article interesting, as well (note that we do not have any affiliation with this site, nor do we stand by any of the claims it makes unless specifically mentioned).
Kaua’i’s annual Lei Day fell on 1 May this year, and Alaka’i Namiko was able to attend it with Kumu Lei — who was one of the judges of the lei-making competition — and our hula sisters from Hālau Ka Lei Kukui Hi’ilani. These are some of the beautiful leis that were on display at the Kaua’i Marriot in Lihu’e, captured on camera by Alaka’i Namiko.