The 41st Annual Prince Lot Hula Festival is set for this Saturday and Sunday in a new venue. This event, now at ‘Iolani Palace, is cherished as the largest non-competitive hula gathering in the islands. Twenty distinguished hālau will perform, as the Moanalua Gardens Foundation pays tribute to chant and hula from Hawai‘i Island. HPR’s Noe Tanigawa spoke with Professor Kalena Silva, who will be honored with the Namakahelu Oli Award.
The 41st Annual Prince Lot Hula Festival runs this Saturday and Sunday, July 21 and 22, 2018, at ‘Iolani Palace, with crafters, cultural practitioners, and local food available across the Palace lawn. Bring mats and beach chairs. There’s free admission to ‘Iolani Palace on both days.
Dr. Kalena Silva has been called one of the greatest chanters of his generation. He is a scholar and Director of Ka Haka 'Ula O Ke'elikolani, the College of Hawaiian Language at the University of Hawai'i at Hilo is the Director, College of Hawaiian Language of University of Hawaii. He is a master chanter, a kumu hula, a musician and a scholar of Hawaiian language, history, and culture.
Dr. Silva says Hawaiian chant is very different from western singing.
Silva: It’s a higher sound, it’s more in the head, not so much in the chest.
Silva says you hear it elsewhere in Asia and Polynesia, too
Silva: Ni‘ihau people when they sing hymns, have retained a lot of this nasality in the way they sing. If you listen to some of the falsetto singers today, they’ve retained some of that nasality. That comes from chanting.
There seems to be a sort of buzzing quality about the chanting sound.
Silva: I’m so glad you heard that! We have a word for that in Hawaiian, it’s kind of a humming sound or a buzzing sound, we call it “hano.” If a chanter is producing the sound correctly, and I hope I was, you can hear what we call “hano,” that kind of humming sound behind the vocal sound itself.
This Sunday, the Moanalua Gardens Foundation will present Dr. Silva with the Namakahelu Oli Award, named after Namakahelu Kapahikauaokamehameha, the last chantress of Moanalua. She was recorded in the late 30’s, and early 40’s. Hear her voice and the voice of Dr. Silva in the recording above.
Silva: Exceptionally beautiful. She had a deep voice, Namakahelu did, very resonant voice. Effortless. When she chanted it sounded like a bird flying over the ocean effortlessly. Exquisite. She’s one of my favorite chanters that’s why I was just delighted when I got the call I did say to them, the Foundation, that I really can’t accept this until my own teacher, Ka’upena Wong, who is living in Mākaha still, he’s almost 90 now, until he is honored.
Master chanter Ka’upena Wong was Silva’s teacher, and the first recipient of the Namakahelu Oli Award.
Silva says it’s hard to think of an aspect of traditional life that was not accompanied by chant—he says every Hawaiian “expressed, affirmed, and influenced the course of his or her life through the mana of language which was given form and direction by chanting.”
There were also spontaneous exchanges of chanting, that might be affectionate, admiring, or even taunting.
Silva: Although spoken Hawaiian is heard more and more today, that ability to improvise, spontaneously compose in Hawaiian is another step up. That’s why I have so much aloha for the kūpuna who have passed, the kind of mental dexterity as well as vocal dexterity that the old people had. What that requires of us, some generations hence, it requires us to rekindle the interest, and to make the effort to retrieve it, but with the understanding, which is very important, that it’s not going to be exactly the way it was then. It cannot be.
Silva: Things that are living have to evolve. Those of us in Hilo who want to see Hawaiian flourish, we also want our Hawaiian speakers to be very a much a part of our global society, citizens of this world! The chanting is not going to be the same because our world is different, so what we bring back is going to be in response to what works now.
Dr. Silva says he has great hopes for the generation of speakers and chanters now in their 20’s. He will receive the second Namakahelu Oli Award this Sunday at the Prince Lot Hula Festival, honoring his ability, his scholarship, and his contributions to the art of Hawaiian chant. On Saturday, sisters Pualani Kanaka’ole Kanahele and Nalani Kanaka’ole of the award-winning Halau o Kekuhi will receive the Malia Kau Award, for their enormous contributions to hula and Hawaiian culture.
If you're interested in Hawaiian chant, don't miss this paper on the topic written by Dr. Silva.