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ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi play at UH Mānoa explores what it means to be Hawaiian

Christine Lamborn
UH Mānoa

A new Hawaiian language theatre production at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa explores the complex issue of Native Hawaiian identity and what it means to be Hawaiian.

The story is told through the comedic lens of UH Mānoa graduate student and Hawaiian theatre major Ākea Kahikina.

The university's latest Hawaiian language hana keaka, or play, is called "Hoʻoilina," which means legacy or inheritance. The story revolves around a Hawaiian family who recently lost their beloved and wealthy matriarch, and is anxiously waiting for the reading of the will.

Just as the will is about to read, in walks Lililei, a Hawaiian woman with a Texas drawl.

The family later learns she’s a biological daughter of the late matriarch and intends to stake her claim to the endowment. The conversations that ensue are ones commonly heard in Hawai’i.

UH Mānoa graduate student and Hawaiian theatre major Ākea Kahikina sitting on stage during rehearsals.
Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi
UH Mānoa graduate student and Hawaiian theatre major Ākea Kahikina sitting on stage during rehearsals.

Ākea Kahikina, who wrote the play for his Master of Fine Arts in Hawaiian Theatre, says the play explores a question that many in the Hawaiian community struggle to answer.

"ʻO ia he aha ia mea ʻo ka Hawaiʻi? No kekahi ua hānai ʻia ʻo ia ma Texas, akā he Hawaiʻi ʻo ia ma ka palapala ʻeā? No kekahi o kākou ʻo ka ʻōlelo kekahi mea e Hawaiʻi ai ka Hawaiʻi? ʻO ka hana kekahi mea. ʻO ka hānau ʻia ʻana ma ʻaneʻi kekahi mea. No laila, he mea ia e hō’euʻeu i ke kūkā ʻana i ka Hawaiʻi ʻana. ʻAʻole pili i hoʻokahi mea wale nō."

“What does it mean to be Hawaiian?” He says, for some, they may have been raised in Texas but they are Hawaiian on their birth certificate.

He says, for others, speaking Hawaiian or practicing the culture makes one feel Hawaiian. Kahikina says the play helps stimulate these conversations and showcase the multitude of forms of Hawaiian identity because there really is no one form.

Another intriguing component of the play is that it is performed mostly in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi, but audiences will also hear a variety of languages including English, Pidgin, and what Kahikina dubs ʻōlelo mahū or queer creole.

He says it’s really fun to do, but for those who may not understand it, it may just go right over their heads. He says the Hawaiian language has this long-standing tradition of secret codes developed by garbling the language.

UH Mānoa professor Tammy Hailiʻōpua Baker, who established the Hawaiian Language Theatre Program at the university in 2014, says "Hoʻoilina" is different from past student productions because it centers on modern-day issues in the Native Hawaiian community.

Christine Lamborn
UH Mānoa

"Pono nā ʻano moʻolelo like ʻole ma ke kahua. Pēlā kākou e hōʻike ai i nā ʻano ʻokoʻa o ko kākou nohona. Ma loko o kēia hana keaka aia kahi ʻōlelo, “He miliona nā Hawaiʻi a he miliona nā ʻano Hawaiʻi.” A he ʻoiaʻiʻo. ʻAʻole kākou he kanaka hoʻokahi. Nui nā ʻano o ka Hawaiʻi ʻana. ʻO ia kahi mea nani."

She says we need all kinds of stories to be told on stage. That’s how we showcase the different lifestyles we lead.

Baker says there’s a line in this play that reads, “There are millions of Hawaiian and there are millions of kinds of Hawaiians.”

And it's true, she says, we’re not all the same. There are many ways to be Hawaiian and that’s the beauty of it.

"Ho’oilina" debuts Friday, April 15 at the Kennedy Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Click here for tickets and more information.

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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