Interviews with the Hula Experts

For more than a decade, the Hula Preservation Society has been interviewing, and videotaping, hula’s most respected elders, capturing their knowledge, their memories and their stories. The result is a treasure trove of history and culture; here, we present just a few excerpts from the hundreds of hours of footage.

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Nona Beamer enjoys some kanikapila during an interview with Furtado.

Leilehua Desha Becker Furtado

Born 1927

Furtado spent the majority of her career as a singer, dancer and television personality. After receiving hula training from Louise and Helen Beamer, Lei performed as the star of the New York Lexington Hotel’s legendary Hawaiian Room in the 1940s, and appeared regularly on KGMB’s Kini Popo Show in the ’50s. In this 2002 interview, she talks about how hula has changed over the years.


 Leilehua Becker Furtado at her home in 2002.

Years and years ago, different islands had different styles. That’s what makes hula so interesting. It’s the difference between the different dancers. When we danced, each family had a style all their own, and you knew it. You knew who came from where. They’d always say, That’s a Beamer dancer; That’s a Bray dancer. It was wonderful to differentiate between the families. Now it’s all blended. You don’t know who they took from.

I’m not lambasting them. I’m glad all of this stuff came back. The soloists they have at Merrie Monarch are quite good. The olapa (ancient-style hula) as well. I don’t know about the auana (modern) stuff. I love the olapa, because the girls come in and chant. There’ve been a couple that were wonderful. But it’s just the regimentation. You wonder what they’re training with. A metronome? Or rock and roll? [chuckles]

They’re not sloppy. These girls are, you know, doing exactly what they’re supposed to do, which is a regimentation. You know, like the Rockettes. It’s all in the right place, but you’re not having hula, because you’re not having the inside coming out.

For the most part, most of the time I see people dance, they don’t convey the joy of what they’re doing. And that’s really missing. A zest in it.

Of course, I should talk; I don’t watch the whole Merrie Monarch. I try to watch when they have the soloists on and you know, ’cause it’s just not what we knew hula to be. And I really don’t think it was ever competitive. It was sharing. Hula is sharing, not, you know, I’m gonna win and you’re not.

Emma Kapunoulaokalani Kauhi

1916 – 2006

Kauhi grew up in Kapaahu on the Big Island, speaking Hawaiian as her first language. In this 2001 interview, she shares the beliefs instilled in her as a child and her experiences with the goddess Pele:

Being born and raised in Puna from a very young age, it was drilled in my mind that Puna is Pele’s land. I heard it growing up. My mom put emphasis on that. Mom was a practicing Catholic all her life. And she respected Pele. Mom used to say, Pele can appear any time. As a beautiful woman, as an old lady, a haggard lady. When you’re driving and you see somebody on the side of the road, stop and pick them up, especially if it’s a lady. You can never tell that it might be Tutu Pele. That’s how I was brought up.

We lived in Kapaahu. There’s no radio, no TV, no telephone. So you’re really isolated. There was no outside communication, so we didn’t know when the Pele was going to erupt. And the only way we know is, usually we have earthquakes. When the earth shakes, that’s a sign that Pele is going to erupt.

I remember one time, my aunt said to my uncle, Well, now that Pele has come back to Halemaumau, we should take the kids to go see the Pele. Four or five of us piled into the car, and they took us to the volcano. And this was the first time I ever saw the lava activity in Halemaumau.

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,September

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