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Photo: J. J. Williams/Public domain
Hawaiian hula dancers photographed in J. J. Williams’s photo studio, circa 1885. The art form was suppressed for many years but is now celebrated around the world.

I was thinking recently that I’d love to learn some new dance forms. I took lots of ballet as a kid, and I keep reading that dancing is good for your health when you’re older. Essentrics, an exercise program I love, has taught me to focus on moves that are beneficial, not contorted. So what kind of dance would be good? Someone I know teaches salsa. Should I try that?

The following article got me wondering if hula might be good for me.

Ligaya Malones writes at Atlas Obscura about Hawaiʻi’s Merrie Monarch hula festival, “arguably the most prestigious event of its kind.

“Every spring, thousands of hula fans descend upon the Hawaiian town of Hilo and line the bleacher seats at Edith Kanaka’ole stadium. Thousands more across the islands — those unable to make it to Hilo themselves — watch live broadcasts on their televisions or computer screens. All these people are showing up and tuning in for the beloved Merrie Monarch Festival, sometimes referred to as ‘the Olympics of hula.’ …

“The three-day competition is part of several week-long events held throughout Hilo, home of Merrie Monarch since 1963. … Much credit is given to King Kalākaua, the last of Hawaiʻi’s kings, for reclaiming hula’s place in Hawaiian society. He was elected to the throne in the 1870s by the Hawaiian legislature, and often hosted hula-filled celebrations, including at his coronation. Merrie Monarch was Kalākaua’s endearing nickname and it is his contribution to hula that the competition honors every year.

“ ‘It’s electrifying,’ says Robert Ke’ano Ka’upu IV, who grew up in Hilo. Ka’upu has participated in the invitation-only competition for the last 30 years as a spectator, dancer, chanter, costumer, and now as kumu hula. … ‘I don’t get excited like this for any other competition,’ he says.

“During the festival, every inch of a performance is scrutinized. Dancers are evaluated and earn points for the way they enter and exit the stage, their facial expressions, posture, costume, lei, and adornment, says Ka’upu. However, the bulk of scoring is placed on the kumu’s interpretation of a song, known as a mele, and how well dancers interpret their kumu’s vision of the performance.

“To assist in deliberations, every competing group provides judges with a fact sheet that corresponds to each performance. These fact sheets, which are due before the competition, explain everything from a mele’s background to the meaning of the lei that dancers wear ‘so [the judges] get a better understanding of what each halau is doing,’ says Ka’upu. He adds that his halau will submit more than 70 pages of fact sheets to the judging panel for the competition this year. Judges bestow high scores to those who best personify technical excellence, and ultimately the expression of Hawaiian identity through chant and dance. …

“Hawaiian culture existed without the written word until western contact, so Hawaiians passed down knowledge orally and through dance. Through chant and movement, hula narrates place; honors goddesses and gods, such as Pele, goddess of fire; celebrates nature’s surroundings, from birds to waterfalls; and records genealogy and human emotion. ‘Kaulilua,’ for example, is one of Merrie Monarch’s most performed ancient hulas. The mele likens a woman to the island of Kauaʻi’s verdant Mount Waiʻaleʻale. …

“As Western influence grew and Hawaiʻi’s fate approached annexation and eventual U.S. statehood, so did the need for local manpower to fuel its new sugar economy. In 1858, missionaries with a keen interest in sugar’s profits pursued legislation to suppress hula even further, citing lethargy in sugar cane fields, promiscuity, and attrition from Sunday service. Records show a code of conduct published in 1859 required a license for ticketed, public hula performances. Yet hula persisted under the mesh of legal restrictions and moral shaming. Hawaiians still danced, particularly in more rural areas where government oversight trickled, missionary presence was scarce, and police all the more so. ‘Hula was never lost,'” says Dr. Taupouri Tangarō, director of Hawaiian culture and protocols at University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo.

For more on the competition and for more-contemporary hula photos, check out Atlas Obscura.

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Photo: Honolulu Museum of Art
“Black Lava Bridge, Hana Coast No. 1,” 1939, by Georgia O’Keeffe.
 

Who knew that the great Southwest artist Georgia O’Keeffe also painted Hawaii? I myself was surprised to read the report at the New York Times of a new exhibit showcasing the artist’s Hawaii art.

William L. Hamilton writes, “Finding out Georgia O’Keeffe had a Hawaiian period is kind of like finding out Brian Wilson had a desert period.

“But here it is: ‘Georgia O’Keeffe: Visions of Hawaiʻi,‘ 17 eye-popping paradisal paintings, produced in a nine-week visit in 1939, and now on display at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, through Oct. 28.

“It is the first time the largely unknown group has been shown together since its original exhibition in 1940 at Alfred Stieglitz’s gallery, An American Place, in New York. In addition, there are two oil sketches never before exhibited. And not a bleached skull in sight.

“As with previous shows on artists — including Frida Kahlo and Claude Monet — the Garden has also mounted a living display of the subjects depicted in the artworks, and more. In the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory are over 300 tropical plant types, representing the three major groups of flora in Hawaii. …

“[The] air is palpable in the humidly colored, freshly amplified palette of her paintings of hibiscus, wild ginger, pink ornamental banana, and the sea and landscapes in the library gallery, with its muted gray background, as meditatively sensual as a Hawaiian open-air church.

“That air also hangs, warmly spiced, in the Conservatory, with a profuse display of the natural exoticism of the islands that goes well beyond the painter’s depiction. …

“ ‘Every single portrait she painted — the heliconia, calliandra — they’re all imported,’ Todd Forrest, the Garden’s vice president for horticulture and living collections, said of O’Keeffe’s output. ‘That’s the sort of flora people have in their mind’s eye when they think of the islands.’ …

“Missing from her vision, as eager to absorb the overwhelming newness of the place as she was, were Hawaii’s true nobility: the hundreds upon hundreds of native species that exist nowhere else. To its credit, the Conservatory has represented them too, a group rarer to see than even the paintings. …

“O’Keeffe, of course, is an art world star, one of the first of the 20th century’s artists singled out for celebrity. Her larger-than-life flowers are famous too. Since 1924, she had studied and depicted them — gone to the startling heart of them — with her original style. …

“She was already a celebrity in 1939 when at 51, self-created and self-confident, she was asked by N.W. Ayer & Son, a Philadelphia advertising agency, to travel to the islands to produce two print-ad images for the Hawaiian Pineapple Company, later Dole. Not known for commercial work, O’Keeffe had completed a commission in 1936 — what would be the largest of her flower paintings — for the Elizabeth Arden Sport Salon in New York. …

“ ‘What she wanted was an adventure,’ [Honolulu Museum of Art deputy director Theresa Papanikolas] said. …

“ ‘Many of the native plants are endangered and therefore they can’t be shipped,’ explained Francisca Coelho, who designed the edenic installation. The Garden worked with the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Hawaii, which provided cuttings and seedlings of natives legally transportable. …

“And there are tiny groves of pineapples. O’Keeffe cavalierly neglected to paint any while she was in Hawaii on Dole’s dime. Her sponsors had to send her a pineapple when she got back to New York. Ignoring that, she painted a pineapple plant from her memory of being in the fields — a budding fruit guarded like a queen by its threatening wreath of swordlike leaves and fire-colored dirt.

“ ‘I laughed so hard,’ said Christine Gentes, who was visiting the Garden from Chicago with her daughter and sister. ‘She did it for an ad, and turned it into a painting. I mean, she really resisted. Artists never like to do that kind of work.’ ”

Lots of great pictures here and here.

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Photo: David Bedard
An example of the resurgence of indigenous theater is
Our Voices Will Be Heard, directed by Larissa FastHorse. It was performed at Perseverance Theatre in 2016 in Alaska. 

Another way that culture gets shared, revitalized, and preserved is through theatrical performances. Alaska and Hawaii, in particular, are seeing a resurgence of indigenous theater.

As Frances Madeson writes at American Theatre, “The pace at which producers of Hawaiian and Alaskan Native theatres are creating original offerings specific to their lands and peoples and mounting them on their mainstages ranges somewhere in the giddy spectrum between prestissimo and full-tilt boogie.

“ ‘We’re experiencing a Native arts revival right now,’ said Alaska Native playwright Vera Starbard, whose autobiographical advocacy play Our Voices Will be Heard was performed in Juneau, Anchorage, Hoonah, and Fairbanks. …

“Part of the exhilaration comes as a result of resources to match the rhetoric of support for Native theatre arts. In 2016 Starbard was granted $205,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to sustain her while she creates three full-length Alaska Native plays over three years. …

“There is also an attitudinal shift by institutional gatekeepers toward inclusion of Native theatre artists, some of whom have been maintaining the vision for a very long time with minimal support.

“The first Hawaiian-language play presented at the Kennedy Theatre at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa was in February 2015, ‘in the theatre’s 51st season,’ said Tammy Haili’ōpua Baker, who wrote it. … She repeated for emphasis: ‘Half a century to get anything Hawaiian on that stage.’

“But now that the vessel’s been unstoppered, there’s a growing groundswell of audience demand for shows with Native-centric realities and expression.

“ ‘The success of Our Voices was completely community-driven,’ said Starbard. …

“Tlingit actor and playwright Frank Henry Kaash Katasse said he sees a category shift. ‘Indigenous stories are now seen as American stories.’ …

“Katasse teaches theatre in schools to Alaska Native kids, and encourages them to take acting seriously. ‘They didn’t even know this was a career option,’ he said.

“Indeed, to keep pace with demand, artistic directors Harry Wong III at Kumu Kahua Theatre and Eric Johnson at Honolulu Theatre for Youth (HTY) on Oahu, and Art Rotch of Perseverance Theatre in Juneau and Anchorage, are prioritizing both actor training and play development. …

“In Fairbanks, Alaska, [Allan Hayton, language revitalization program director at Doyon Foundation] pursues theatre as a vehicle for cultural and linguistic survival.

“ ‘We are restoring balance,’ Hayton said. ‘In indigenous tradition theatre is performed to achieve something for the people and balance for the world in the natural environment. Theatre is a healing art form in which we can address very serious and difficult issues safely, and offer a larger healing for society.’ …

“For Starbard, Alaska Native theatre artists literally standing on thousands of years of storytelling tradition have nothing to prove.

” ‘Our goal as Native artists and theatremakers is not to develop this “uncultured” audience so they can come in and understand what a Western theatre is like. I think that’s the attitude taken sometimes,’ she said, choosing her words with great care. ‘I’m proud of Native artists who are pushing back against this mindset. It’s not about how we can help our people adapt to the Western theatre, but how we can help Western theatre to be an even more dynamic and beautiful thing.’ ”

More here.

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Do you know about the “Great Animal Orchestra“? Rachel Donadio at the NY Times has the story.

“The bioacoustician and musician Bernie Krause has been recording soundscapes of the natural world since 1968, from coral reefs to elephant stamping grounds to the Amazonian rain forest.

“Now, Mr. Krause’s recordings have become part of an immersive new exhibition at the Cartier Foundation here called ‘The Great Animal Orchestra.’ Named after Mr. Krause’s 2012 book of the same title, the show opens on Saturday and runs through Jan. 8, [2017].

“At its heart is a work by the London-based collective United Visual Artists, who have transformed Mr. Krause’s recordings of the natural world into 3-D renderings. Imagine stepping into a soundproofed black-box theater whose walls spring to life with what look like overlapping electrocardiograms, representing different species’ sounds. …

“The installation includes recordings Mr. Krause made in Algonquin Park in Ontario, where he found himself caught between two packs of wolves; in the Yukon Delta, a subarctic area in Alaska, where birds from different continents converge; and in the Central African Republic, where he heard monkeys. He also captured the cacophony of the Amazon, and whales off Alaska and Hawaii. …

“Mr. Krause is a polymathic musician who performed with the folk group the Weavers and helped introduce the Moog synthesizer to pop music — including songs by the Doors and Van Morrison — and film scores. He hears natural sounds with a studio producer’s ear.”

Read more here about Krause and his efforts to get the word out on the disappearing habitats of his featured animals.

This article inspires me to pay better attention to the music of the natural world on my morning walks. So much beauty goes right over my head.

Photo: Tim Chapman
Bernie Krause on St. Vincent Island, Fla., in 2001.
 

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My friend was born and raised in Hawaii. His parents were Japanese-American. His mother was sent to an internment camp during World War II. It’s a complicated story how she got released and ended up in Japan for the war’s duration. Something like a prisoner swap. She returned to Hawaii after the war and raised a family.

My friend was invited to talk to fifth graders about his mother’s experience in the camp. He was reluctant. It’s painful to think about. Would young children get it?

In the end, he went, and it was a good experience for him as well as for the kids. I think he had an impact on how they think about differences in our multicultural society. And their curiosity and understanding was a comfort to him.

Here is what he put on Facebook this spring.

“Last week I spoke to two classes of fifth graders about my mom’s experience in a Japanese-American relocation camp during World War II. After the talk, one of the students asked me why the Japanese-Americans had been relocated to camps but the German-Americans hadn’t. Wow, I could have hugged that boy for asking such a perceptive question, and I was also touched by how the students were able to draw a parallel between the Japanese-American discrimination decades ago and the anti-Muslim sentiment that’s currently been gaining so much traction in the U.S. and elsewhere.”

My friend posted a family photo that he goes on to describe. It is not the photo I put below.

“This photo, taken in the mid 1930s, is of my mom and her younger sister when they were growing up in downtown Honolulu, before they were forced to relocate to a camp in Arkansas. My mom looks like she’s around the age of the students I was talking to last week, and when I showed those students this photo I got a little emotional imagining my mom as a young girl being in that classroom too, listening to me tell her story. In such ways, our stories really do have such raw power to connect people through different generations and cultures, which, I suppose, is why I first became interested in becoming a writer all those years ago.”

America has always needed people like my friend’s mother — people who carry on and return benefits to the place that harmed them. And there are lots of them. Even in the town where I live, a couple who suffered internment during the war became quietly known for philanthropy to both the Nisei Student Relocation Commemorative Fund, Inc. and our town, donating all their reparation money to local high school scholarships.

Photo: Dorothea Lange
Some Japanese-Americans who suffered from internment in World War II
still chose to return kindness for hurt after the war.

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Photo: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
A sponge the size of a minivan was found in summer 2015 in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument off Hawaii.

One of Earth’s oldest living animals is a sea sponge. As big as a minivan, it has been growing for generations unnoticed and undisturbed in waters off Hawaii.

Elahe Izadi writes in the Washington Post that a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) “captured footage of the spectacularly large sponge during a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration deep-sea expedition, and the species was identified for the first time in a study published [in May] in the journal Marine Biodiversity. …

“There’s more to this sponge than its girth: It could also be among the oldest living animals on earth. … Sponges can live for hundreds or even thousands of years. ‘While not much is known about the lifespan of sponges, some massive species found in shallow waters are estimated to live for more than 2,300 years,’ the study authors write. …

“ ‘Finding such an enormous and presumably old sponge emphasizes how much can be learned from studying deep and pristine environments such as those found in the remote Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument,’ Daniel Wagner, Papahānaumokuākea research specialist, said in a statement. …

“Christopher Kelly, NOAA research scientist and co-lead for the expedition, said the sponge ‘just appeared’ on the ROV’s high-definition camera, Australia’s Pacific Beat radio reported.

” ‘We were looking for deep water corals and sponges, and we had just gotten some close ups of some corals, then turned away to continue the survey and the sponge appeared out of nowhere.’ ”

I can just picture that cinematic moment of discovery.

More at the Washington Post, here.

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Although I didn’t get to see it in person, I was excited to learn from Timmons Roberts by way of Erik that the indigenous Hawaiian canoe Hōkūleʻa was making a stop in Rhode Island.

Lars Trodson writes at the Block Island Times, “The island welcomed the crew of the Polynesian catamaran Hōkūle‘a [June 21] at a ceremony held at the Block Island Maritime Center in New Harbor. The crew was greeted with songs sung by the students from the Block Island School, as well as greetings and tribal gifts from Loren Spears, an educator and former Council Member of the Narragansett Tribe of Rhode Island. Capt. Kalepa Baybayan of the Hōkūle‘a also offered brief remarks.

“The Hōkūle‘a is traveling around the world to teach about ocean conservation. ‘We live on a blue planet,’said capt. Baybayan. ‘Without the blue there would be no green.’ …

“Block Island is the Hōkūle‘a’s  only stop in Rhode Island.”

From the Hōkūleʻa website: “Our Polynesian voyaging canoes, Hōkūleʻa and Hikianalia, are traveling over 60,000 nautical miles around the earth, bringing people around the world together to set a course for a sustainable future.

“We are sailing like our ancestors have for a thousand years—using wayfinding. On board, there is no compass, sextant, or cellphone, watch, or GPS for direction. In wayfinding, the sun, moon, and stars are a map that surrounds the navigators. When clouds and storms make it impossible to see that map, wave patterns, currents, and animal behavior give a navigator directional clues to find tiny islands in the vast ocean. …

“Everyone can be the navigator our earth needs. Every person on earth can help navigate us to a healthy future where our Island Earth is safe and thriving again. …

“We are asking kids, families, governments, communities, and businesses to share how they mālama honua—take care of our Island Earth.  Please visit our Mālama Honua map, and help us grow the movement by adding stories of hope that can inspire and educate us all. …

“Hōkūleʻa, our Star of Gladness, began as a dream of reviving the legacy of exploration, courage, and ingenuity that brought the first Polynesians to the archipelago of Hawaiʻi. The canoes that brought the first Hawaiians to their island home had disappeared from earth. Cultural extinction felt dangerously close to many Hawaiians when artist Herb Kane dreamed of rebuilding a double-hulled sailing canoe similar to the ones that his ancestors sailed.

“Though more than 600 years had passed since the last of these canoes had been seen, this dream brought together people of diverse backgrounds and professions. Since she was first built and launched in the 1970s, Hōkūle’a continues to bring people together from all walks of life. She is more than a voyaging canoe—she represents the common desire shared by the people of Hawaii, the Pacific, and the World to protect our most cherished values and places from disappearing.”

Lots more at www-dot-hokulea-dot-com.

Photo: Block Island Times

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