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Honoring Hula History, Hula Masters Recognized Through Preserved Performances

The Hula Preservation Society (HPS), the BYU­­-Hawaii Joseph F. Smith Library, and the University Archives, honored great hula masters with a hula performance and digital footage of five award ceremonies from the1980’s of “Na Makua Mahaloia: Cultural Greats of the 20th Century”, for students and the community on Tuesday, May 5.

The organization’s goals are to gain awareness for the project that has been in the works for years. The audiovisual footage of Na Makua Mahaloia has been restored and repaired by the Archives, and then digitized with the help of BYUH alumni, the late Dr Ishmael Stagner, and HPS, so it could be available for the public.

Stagner noticed Hula dancers and masters were growing old and disappearing without recognition. Stagner grew up surrounded by hula, and people sharing their talents, his mother being a kumu hula. He created Na Makua Mahaloia in 1980 to honor hula masters for the work they had done in contributing to the Hawaiian culture.

The first Na Makua Mahaloia performance was three-and-a-half hours long and filled with awards, hula, and singing. A Ke Alaka’I article of the time wrote, “It was a family reunion, with love showed in every direction, tears flowing freely and the Hawaiian mother-tongue blending all into a cultureal and artistic unity that became a wholeness, a completeness.” The performance became popular, and it was continued to honor others for another five shows, until 1989.

The events were filmed and stored in the University Archives for 30 years until Dr. Stagner approached it with a proposal to digitize them and make them public. The work was able to go faster and gain a broader audience thanks to the HPS, according to Matt Kester, the BYU-H University Archivist. “The Hula Preservation Society is literally the ultimate partner for us,” said Kester. “It would have been great if we had just digitized everything ourselves and put it on our website, but it wouldn’t have been able to reach as many people and the right people – the people who are going to be interested and really going to use the collection.”

Maile Loo, executive director of the HPS, said the audience watched recordings of the performance and got “a little glimpse into the magic that was Na Makua. They also learned why it was worth all this effort and time of raising money and working on it over the course of years and why it’s irreplaceable.”  

“It’s very rewarding,” she continued, “because I know how I felt when I saw it and I want other people to experience that….I could see two generations back on stage, dancing family songs. They’re not just names in a book or banes in someone’s genealogy. They’re alive, doing their thing and being celebrated in this twilight time of their lives, which is a very special thing to do.”

Kester reported on the experience, “We wouldn’t have been able to partner with the HPS if it wasn’t for Dr. Stagner. Cradle to the grave, it’s his project and he brought the right people together before he moved on. He was able to do that before he passed away and left us, cementing his legacy as somebody who is a real scholar of hula and Hawaiian composition.”

Representatives of HPS and the Archives say they want to build a website open to the public with the audiovisual footage and photos they have gathered together. “It’s not so much about us. It’s about the production,” said Loo, executive director of HPS. “It’s going to deteriorate if nothing is done about it. We’re still working on it. Still hustling, still getting applications, proposals of things of all levels to make it happen.”

The footage shown at the presentation is available at the University Archives and at the HPS in Kaneohe. The BYU-H University Archives are open regular hours, and the HPS is open in Kaneohe by appointment only. 

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