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Young Hawaiian Playwright Brings Ancient Saga to the Stage in "N? Kau A Hi?iaka"

Na Kau A Hi'iaka

One of Hawai?i’s oldest stories is making a new appearance on a local stage. It’s a legend that has been passed down through hula for generations, and it is now being performed in Hawaiian. HPR’s Ku?uwehi Hiraishi talks with Hawaiian playwright and director Kau?i Kaina.

Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi
Hawaiian playwright and director Kau'i Kaina (right) with her son Iosepa in tow, goes over some last-minute notes with her female lead Punihei Lipe, who plays Hi'iakaikapoliopele in the Hawaiian-language production Na Kau A Hi'iaka.

N? Kau a Hi?iaka is a play based on the story of a woman named Hi?iakaikapoliopele who was sent on a journey across the island chain by her older sister Pele, the volcano goddess, to find her sister’s lover Lohi?au and bring him back safely.

“She was faced with several different obstacles, different creatures or beings that were trying to stop her but she kept persevering,” says Kaina.

35-year-old Kau?i Kaina is the playwright and director of N? Kau a Hi?iaka, a Hawaiian language play based on the Hi?iakaikapoliopele saga.

Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi
In this scene, Hi'iakaikapoliopele slays a mo'o (lizard), one of many obstacles along her journey to find her sister Pele's lover and return him safely to Pele.

“Through her perseverance she was able to strengthen and grow from this young innocent girl to this goddess,” says Kaina.

Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi
The cast of Hi'iakaikapoliopele huddles before their first full rehearsal.

Kaina spent the last three years studying the epic tale Hi?iakaikapoliopele through hula and reading it in Hawaiian language newspapers as far back as the 1800s.

Credit Ulukau Hawaiian Electronic Library
Ulukau Hawaiian Electronic Library
The epic saga of Hi'iakaikapoliopele appeared in several Hawaiian language newspapers dating back to the 1800s. Here is the version published in the newspaper Ka Hoku O Ka Pakipika on December 26, 1861.

“There’s 11 different versions in the n?pepa or Hawaiian newspapers,” says Kaina, “It’s a story that’s told through hula. In many h?lau, it’s passed down for generations. And there are over thousands of mele.”

She incorporates these elements into N? Kau a Hi?iaka, which serves as her master’s thesis. Kaina is the first student at the University of Hawai?i at M?noa to earn a Master’s in Fine Arts degree in Hawaiian Theater, a program established in 2012.

“So Hawaiian theater has, it’s kind of a mixture of the western theater world but focusing on indigenous language, indigenous culture, and even an indigenous world view, and done in a Hawaiian medium,” says Kaina.

Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi
Noah Ha'alilio Solomon tries on his mahiole or feather helmet in the during rehearsal. Solomon plays Lohiau, Pele's lover, in the play Na Kau A Hi'iaka.

Interviewing Kaina in the dressing room of Mamiya Theater, her 11-month-old son in her lap, one can’t help but feel a little bit of Hi?iaka’s spirit in her.

“You know we all have things that come up in our lives. Whether it be a relationship, a job, or a health challenge, whatever it may be,” says Kaina, “And going back to the question of why did Hi?iaka keep going? Why did she make the decision to keep going? It’s because she knew what her kuleana (responsibility) was. And as a kanaka and a l?hui (people), we have that same kuleana, for the next generations that come after us.” 

A profound sense of responsibility to her people and to their future.

Show Information: There will be both evening performances and school day performances of N? Kau A Hi?iaka. Evening performances will be presented Aug 18th & 19th at 7:30pm and Aug 20th at 4pm at the Mamiya Theatre.

Ticketing: Tickets are available at a cost of $10 to $20. Advanced tickets using a credit card may be done through www.showtix4u.com (keyword Chaminade or Honolulu) or by calling 1-866-967-8167. For more information call 808-202-6360.

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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