Hālau o Keikiali`i Shares the Rich Culture of Hawaii with Wellesley

September 13, 2016
RJ Muna

The Hawaiian cultural group Hālau o Keikiali`i, internationally known for live performances that tell the stories of the Hawaiian people, has joined Wellesley for a weeklong residency. Members of the group will teach students, faculty, staff, and guests about hula kahiko (ancient dance) and the chants, songs, arts, crafts, attire, and stories that come together in their performances.

The week will culminate in a mainstage performance entitled Ho`okupu: The Offering on Saturday, September 17 at 7:30pm in Jewett Auditorium. It will showcase hula as a practice and performance that is intimately linked to the customs and beliefs of the Hawaiian people and the natural world that surrounds them. The performance will highlight the deep and old connections between New England and Hawaii, including historic visits to Wellesley College by the last two queens of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1887 and 1893. 

“Kumu Kawika Alfiche, artist/director of the company, is a culture bearer, community leader, scholar, and a master performer and teacher,” said Isabel Fine, the music department's Concert Series manager. “He researches and performs ancient chants and dances, some of which are rarely even seen in the Islands.”

“I am most happy to be working directly with the Hui o Hawai`i club of Wellesley College for our second time,” said Alfiche. He met Wellesley students during workshops on campus last April, during which they provided input on what programs might be incorporated into the current residency. This week, he will be working with the student organization to teach them hula dances, and the students will join Hālau o Keikiali`i on stage during Saturday’s show.

Bridging Hawaiian tradition with Wellesley’s own traditions, Hālau o Keikiali`i will also work with students to create leis for use in Wellesley’s oldest and longest-surviving tradition, Flower Sunday, which dates back to 1875. During this fall event, first-year students receive flowers from an older student with whom they have been paired, signifying their “official”' welcome into the College community. The leis will honor Hui o Hawai`i, commemorating the group’s first Flower Sunday as an official student organization, and enhance the flower-filled Houghton Chapel for the community multifaith service that will follow the Flower Sunday ceremony.

“Kumu’s visit is a unique opportunity for members of Hui o Hawai`i and the Wellesley community to experience and appreciate Native Hawaiian culture beyond they way it is marketed in the tourist industry,” said Emily Natori ’17, president of the group. Tiffany Steinwert, dean of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, added that the residency gives the campus community “an opportunity to delve deeper into diverse traditions and cultures, not simply learning about them, but becoming part of their celebrations through dance, lei-making, and sacred rituals.”

Additional residency events that are open to guests include a free Midday Muse event on Wednesday at 12:30pm in the Houghton Chapel, and public workshops on Saturday in the arts of hula, lei-making, and lauhana weaving (which uses leaves from the hala tree to make everything from mats to decorative baskets, jewelry, and hats), in the Houghton Multifaith Center. Registration is required for the workshops, and reservations are recommended for the Saturday concert.

The residency program is hosted by the Wellesley College Concert Series and the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life with support from the Office of Intercultural Education, the student group Hui o Hawai`i, the Wellesley College Music Department, the Marjorie Copland Baum Memorial Fund, the Florence Jeup Ford ’22, Mary M. Crawford ’22, and Virginia Ford ’48 Artists-in-Residence Endowment Fund, and the local and regional Hawaiian community.