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UH Manoa performs Mo'olelo play Nā Kau a Hi’iaka at BYU-Hawaii

Image by: Olivia Tsan

The Hawaiian Theatre and Dance Program from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa performed the Hawaiian play “Nā Kau a Hi’iaka” in collaboration with BYU-Hawaii from Mar. 9-11. Written and directed by Puakahiki Kau’i Kaina, the play portrayed Ko Mo’olelo o Hi‘iakaikapoliopele, or “The Epic Tale of Hi‘iakaikapoliopele.”

The entire performance was performed in Mo’olelo, the Hawaiian language. The play featured traditional Hawaiian dance, Hawaiian drums, and native Hawaiian costumes.

“Nā Kau a Hi’iaka” is a story about a woman named Hi’iakaikapoliopele (played by Punihei Lipe) who was sent by Pelehonuamea (played by Kalehua Kawa’a) to find Pele’s lover Lohi’au (played by Ioane Goodhue).

Pele promises Hi’iaka’s grove safety, and Hi’iaka journeys alongside Wahine’ōma’o (played by Ku’uleimakamae Gante) and Pā’ūopala’ā (played by Kawehi Housman) to find Pele’s lover, facing challenges and trials along the way.

After Hi’iaka breaks Pele’s guidelines and makes love to Lohi’au, Pele destroys everything dear to Hi’iaka. Hi’iaka retaliates in anger but is helped by Wahine’ōma’o to make amends and achieve deification.

Watching the play performed entirely in Mo’olelo left a significant impact on audience members. John Chock, a local community member, said, “I thought [the performance] was amazing. The whole thing. I thought Punihei did an amazing job as Hi’iaka. I really appreciated that the play was in Hawaiian.

“There aren’t too many plays that have been done entirely in Hawaiian in the last century. To have this opportunity to come and listen to Hawaiian is really amazing for us.”

Caylee Honda, a local community member, said, “Because I go to Kamehameha School I know Mo’olelo, and it was interesting to see a whole production in the Hawaiian language. At school, I have my Hawaiian language class, but it doesn’t go beyond that. It’s so great to see something more for the language. It’s such a beautiful language.”

Kawehi Housman, who played Pā’ūopala’ā, is a BYUH student from the district of Puna on the Big Island studying elementary education and Hawaiian studies. She said, “I've learned a lot about the story itself and I've realized how much people don't know about the Hawaiian culture, especially in terms of how the language status today is growing and thriving.

“A lot of people just assume no one speaks it, but there are a lot of Hawaiians who are passionate about our language and sacrifice our lives learning, strengthening, and teaching the next generation.”

Housman continued, “I've been in three Hawaiian plays and I love theater. Even though it may not be in my priorities, this was an opportunity to reconnect with my Hawaiian side and even share some more of the traditional things of the Hawaiian culture with BYUH and the PCC.”

Attendee Kealoha Kaamalu said, “I thought it was a very strong depiction of the story. I’ve read the story as both a child and as an adult in both English and Hawaiian. To see it played out on stage and the nuances they included was really impactful and had great moments that brought laughter.

“I thought they made great use of the space. A lot of the visualizations and scenery put you into the story. There were moments where I almost had goosebumps, and it’s [wonderful] to see that great things are coming out of the program at UH Manoa.”

To learn more about plays the University of Hawai’i Theatre and Dance Program offers, visit

Writer: Hyram Yarbro| Ke Alaka'i | Parker Lovett| University Relations |

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