Brandy Serikaku shares with us the importance of hula to share Hawaiian culture.
Even in Hawaiian legend, one can’t quite pinpoint the exact birthplace of hula. Wherever its precise origin may be, one thing is certain, hula always tells a story. Hula has survived for centuries through the teachings of devout cultural practitioners—even despite a time when the Hawaiian language was outlawed—and is perhaps Hawai‘i’s most beautiful, living cultural treasure. Accompanied by ancient and modern chants to convey oral history with beats created by traditional instruments like the ipu (gourd drum) and pahu (sharkskin covered drum), hula is perpetuated in the Hawaiian Islands today through numerous hālau (instruction houses). Hālau from every island congregate and perform at the most iconic and culturally significant hula event of the year, the annual Merrie Monarch Festival in historic Hilo town on Hawai‘i Island. It is through this festival and hula’s many practitioners, that Hawai‘i’s special dance, and its stories, live on.
Brandy Serikaku has performed hula most of her life and is now a cultural practitioner in her own right, sharing the stories and deep layers of meaning with the next generation. She has participated in the renowned Merrie Monarch Festival and has mastered not only the art of hula, but also shares her knowledge for creating handmade hula attire, made from native Hawaiian plants. Brandy shares with us the importance of hula to share Hawaiian culture.
Photos by OluKai
How long have you been performing hula?
Hula was pretty much my whole childhood. I started dancing when I was 4, when we moved from O‘ahu to Hilo. I continued to dance through high school and college, even after I started my own family. I learned from all of the different aunties who ran the class along side Uncle Johnny, my kumu hula. Not just hula, but how to present myself, to get ready and prepare for shows, to practice, to commit, —I think it really set a good foundation for me. Hula raised me. I belong to this hālau. I belong to this family. And they showed me the world. Hula really is the beginning of everything for me. It’s how I got into Hawaiian language and how I was able to travel.
How do you use hula to share your stories and culture? Everything thatʼs here on this island is unique to Hawaiʻi. We have the cleanest air, the freshest water, and the tallest mountains. We have the honor to live in Peleʼs backyard and call it home. Hula is Hawaiʻiʼs, and I feel like when we share it, we share the beauty of Hawaiʻi, our version, and I think thatʼs what is most important. It highlights everything that we feel- how special Hawaiʻi is to us. We share this feeling through the stories in hula.
What's the importance of making your costumes and how much time and effort goes into each piece?
It all begins with thinking of how much time and effort your kumu put into creating the song. Teaching the dance and making the story come alive through the dancers. So you have to take that same respect into making your costume because itʼs also another extension of your story, of your environment, and a reflection of your kumu. Surfing is also known as the sport ofali‘i, or kings, because it was a favorite pastime of the ruling elite. They rode wooden boards over 14 feet long that were solely designed for the chiefs.Ali‘iwere also known to declare a wave or entire beachkapu, or off limits, so that they could snatch the best waves without a crowd. We see theali‘i’s mark on surfing even today, especially at breaks like Queen’s in Waikīkī, which was named in the early 1900s for Queen Lili‘uokalani. The perfectly peeling wave fronted her beach home and was one of her favorite breaks.
What is the significance of hula? The dance is an offering not just to the audience, but itʼs the offering to the land, the place where you went to pick all the things to make your costumes from. Itʼs an offering to your kupuna who are listening and watching. Itʼs the offering to people who arenʼt there. Itʼs the beauty of the Hawaiian language and Hawaiian perspective in rhythm and motion.