Local Polynesian Dance Company Makes a Big Splash in Southern California
LOS ANGELES - It's a balmy 80 degrees, with an almost cloudless sky and cresting quarter moon over the hoizon. The subtle fragrance of plumeria hangs in the breeze, between wafts of the roasted pig wrapped in ti leaf, cooking in the barbeque pit. Most all the men have aloha shirts and board shorts on, and the women are coifed in pareos and flowery sun dresses, with hibiscus tucked over one ear, right or left depending on the relationship status of the particular wearer. Everybody is either barefoot or in flip-flops, and carrying either a Mai Tai or some other fruity drink with wedges of fruit and umbrellas in them. There is the distinctive, and somehow calming, rhythmic strum of a slack key guitar everpresent below the constant hum of revelers and partygoers.
You would think you were sitting on the Lanai at Duke's in Waikiki, but this particular polynesian spectacular is taking place at a fabulous estate in Laguna Niguel.While the view is of the same Pacific Ocean, it's less of a crystal blue here and you need a wetsuit if you want to spend any appreciable amount of time in the water. But it's nightime and the water is a tepid 75 degrees in the pool and 97 in the jacuzzi, and between the tiki torches, hula dancers, palm trees, music, food, and entertainment, you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference.
The transformation of this otherwise pretty standard backyard (standard for a multi-million dollar estate overlooking the ocean) into an authentic Hawaiian Luau comes courtesy of A Hawaiian Experience. Appropriately named, they have been throwing luaus like these for the past 25 years in the Los Angeles, Orange County, Santa Barbara County, and Las Vegas areas. The proprietor is also the matriarch of the group, Aurora Ka'awa (sounds like Ka'-a-va). A former Miss Hawaii and native islander, she founded the group over two decades ago. Her sister, brother, nephew, and two of her children are all members of the group along with about a dozen other polynesian dancers, performers, and musicians. It is hard to tell who isn't family in this tight knit group, although she tells me that if you look hard enough they are all related, and if they aren't related by blood they are related by common heritage and life experinces. I've come to find that it is this type of "aloha" that is prevelant amongst Hawaiians that makes them so special and the place and the people so alluring.
While most schools are concentrating on the three R's (and how that's not an educational contradiction is beyond me), Kamehameha's focus is on traditional Hawaiian arts.
Most students at Kamehameha have some Hawaiian heritage, while a good portion, some 10%, have a blood quantum of 50% or greater. Many of the students are alumni of Punana Leo and the school is steeped in tradition and traditional Hawaiian values.
The cirriculum encompasses traditional Hawaiian heritage and includes: linguistic courses; dance courses including hula, hula kahiko, and music courses ranging from the ukulele to the puniu; crafts including traditional handmade lei, ti leaf skirt and headdress, to carving tiki's and even Koa wood canoes and paddles; and botany including medicinal and ceremonial uses of indigenous plants. The cirriculum even includes marine biology and atmospheric science, which shows how intuned locals are to their changing environments.
Students are even given broad choices in choosing electives. They can take classes in agriculture and husbandry, to board shaping, to marketing. The current view is of Hawaiian culture, products, and even Hawaii itself as a product. And Hawaiian's seem to have tired of outsiders capitalizing on what they see as theirs.
Almost all polynesian dance companies and hula dance companies on the island are owned and operated by hawaiians, tahitians, or samoans. Paradoxically most of the venues that employ these dance companies including restaurants and hotels, are owned by non-polynesians.
Years of the asymmetric distribution of wealth and resources has resulted in a heightened awareness amongst native Hawaiians with regard to the soverignty of