Reflections on the European Teaching Trip

Aloha käkou!
I wish to share my reflections on the European trip which I was honored to take. I was one of a series of assistants whom Roselle has asked to accompany her and Jim.

In response to requests from interested groups, Jim skillfully arranged our travel to Berlin, Germany; to Bern and Dornach, Switzerland; to Vienna, Austria; and then to Munich, Germany. We traveled between cities via the comfortable and efficient Eurail. This allowed us to view the expansive landscape in a leisurely manner. I especially enjoyed the vistas of snow-covered alps, and the blossoming forth of yellow forsythia and pink and white flowering trees of early spring.

In or near each city, we were recipients of the exemplary hospitality of families and individuals who were involved in setting up the ongoing hula studies. Mahalo ä nui loa to each of these hosts for their provisions for our every need! Through conversations and sightseeing with our hosts and others, we were made aware of social issues and patterns, as well as of historical events. It was especially instructive to experience the climate in Europe during the start of the war in Iraq.

One of the results of the trip was that history (never my favorite subject) came more to life for me. Seeing the places which were previously just names in a book helped the events they housed to take on more meaning. Examples were the reminders of the Berlin Wall; “Checkpoint Charlie”; the airfield where the Berlin airlift was begun. It made sense that the biggest peace demonstrations occurred in Berlin, where civilians had suffered so much during and after World War II.

Other significant sites included Pottsdam; countless castles and cathedrals; an ancient Roman amphitheater and replica of a Roman residence in Switzerland; a former monastery of the Capucin order; the headquarters of Rudolph Steiner’s work, which influenced the Waldorf Schools. In Vienna, it was exciting to think that so many great musicians had lived and composed there- including Mozart, whose apartment I visited. Sigmund Freud had lived and worked there; although I didn’t see it, there was an exhibit in progress, titled “Freud’s Disappeared Neighbors.”

Relevance to Hula and Understanding of Culture

As enlightening as all the foregoing was, the most valuable aspect of our trip was the opportunity to participate in Roselle’s seminars. It was a privilege to observe again how she teaches, to be inspired afresh by the graceful nuances of her dancing, to dance and chant under her discerning eye and ear, and to help teach beginners. The trip even provided the motivation to work on my ukulele playing!!

As I started on the trip, I wondered, “What caused people far away in Europe to want to study hula (as well as other aspects of Hawaiian culture)?” What I gained from this experience was a fresh reminder, from an outside perspective, of the entrancing beauty of Hawaiian music and dance which appeals to something deep within the naçau.

Three examples in particular come to mind. There was the Swiss woman who was inspired to dare using one side of her body and her voice after many, many years of disuse and silence. There was another Swiss woman (who volunteers as a midwife for Doctors Without Borders) who was intent on learning “Puamana”. She wanted to be able to stand on a hill in her home region, and express her love for it by dancing Aunty Irmgard’s (-a German name-witness to the German presence in Hawaiçi) tribute to her Lähainä home. There was the youthful, gentle Viennese grandmother who had listened to her father’s Hawaiian music as a child, and longed, for many years, for an opportunity to learn hula. It was gratifying to be able to answer that longing.

During one class break in Vienna, we listened to a discussion about the shriveling up of traditional sources of spiritual grounding. (I had wondered what happened to the people who once filled all those cathedrals!!) The leaders there felt that this spiritual vacuum partly accounted for the keen interest in hula, and in spiritual/healing traditions in other parts of the world, including Hawaiçi.

Roselle encourages all her haumana to learn their genealogies and cultural roots- whatever they may be. It seemed that we witnessed this process beginning to evolve in some of the ladies in Vienna. Their work on the kuçi step in “Huki i ke Kalo” awakened recollections of a traditional Austrian folk dance which employed foot stomping, as well as kolohe gestures amongst the dancing couples. As they demonstrated, we roared with laughter!

A question that I turned over in my mind was: How can people maintain a cultural practice outside of its original context? The question applies to tangible things like finding lei-making materials. In their quest, the Berlin women discovered that ivy, (which survives even through snow) makes beautiful leis. They also used popcorn kernels (softened by soaking), and even amber!! In Switzerland, we were greeted with beautiful rose leis.

The question may also be asked of values and loina. How difficult or easy is it to attain lökahi, pono, to practice kökua, haçahaça, etc., if the community does not share these values and practices? Do we all have the same values, but just call them by different names? Do we just express them in different ways? Or do we actually hold different values? Does combining values lead to more or less richness?

This has been a question for immigrants to every place, through the ages- including immigrants to Hawai`i. It is a question for anyone trying to be true to his/her birth or “claimed” culture while living far away from it. Immigrants have established communities as they found answers to this question- or more correctly, they have found answers as they established communities.

(Interesting sidelights to this discussion include the following: a) our Berlin workshop was held in a dance studio housed in a neighborhood of Turkish immigrants; and b) recently, the government of Germany, which had sent Heinrich Berger in 1872 to be the Royal Hawaiian Band’s most historically influential bandmaster, honored Aaron Mahi, the current bandmaster.)

Equally challenging, however, is the issue, How do we maintain cultural values and practices within the original culture? A stimulating counterpoint to the experiencing of Europe was the reading material I had taken for the journey. This was the latest volume of çÖiwi, a Native Hawaiian Journal, which “gathers the literary, artistic, and scholarly work of the çöiwi, the native people of Hawaiçi, to express the endurance and vitality of our nation.” Interestingly,as a protocol for “entering” the writings in the volume, and also for entering the new epoch, the çOiwi staff had placed a traditional oli used for asking permission to enter a hula hälau or other revered place.

To my surprise, the journal contained an account of King David Kaläkaua’s travels in Europe, in 1881. This article was “Iä çOe e ka Lä: Around the World with King Kaläkaua”, by Arnold Hökülani Requilman. It was a journey which established Hawaiçi as a sovereign nation, at the same time that it further introduced the king to European ways. Unfortunately, the effect of the journey on the powerful American businessmen in Hawaiçi was to strengthen their resolve to overthrow the monarchy, which was achieved in 1893.

Kalakaua’s niece and heir apparent, Kaçiulani, was to write in 1898: “They [America] have taken away everything from us and it seems there is left but a little, and that little our life itself. We [native Hawaiians] live now in such a semi retired way, that people wonder if we even exist any more. I wonder too, and to what purpose?” *

Barely a month later, Hawaiians mourned the loss of the beautiful, articulate, and compassionate 23-year old princess. One wonders whether she died as much from sorrow over the fate of her people as from physical illness.

As I return to Hawaiçi, to work in part with women who are bearing the long-term results of the loss of their culture, I wish to say MAHALO to the Baileys again for offering me this rare opportunity; to the European haumana and hosts for their warm reception; to my supervisor and co-workers for permitting me the time and for covering my cases; to my family and friends for their enthusiasm and help; and to Michael Kahananoeau, for everything.

Cheryl Hiçipoikealohaokalanikçiekiçeloloa Ho

* These words of Kaçiulani are found in “A Hundred Years After the Pïkake Princess”, Arnold Hökülani Requilman,çOiwi, Volume 2, Honolulu, Kuleana çÖiwi Press, 2002, p. 198. Requilman, in turn, cites Allan Seiden, Hawaiçi: The Royal Legacy, Honolulu: Mutual Publishing, 1992, p. 142.