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Nā Hula Festival in Honolulu returns with live performances

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Honolulu Department of Parks and Recreation
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HPR
Hālau Hula ʻO Hokulani has performed at the Nā Hula Festival for nearly 40 years. Pictured is the hālau at the festival in 2016, where they honored their beloved kumu hula Hokulani De Rego, who died in July.

Hālau Hula ʻO Hokulani has performed at the Nā Hula Festival for nearly 40 years.

Leonani Nahoʻoikaika-Medeiros remembers first performing at the event when she was a kid dancing with the hālau.

“We had actually just finished Keiki Hula … and so my biggest memories are just being able to go to like a grand stage again for the second time,” she said. “I remember a few times when it was at the Waikīkī Shell and that was super, super special because that venue is just so large and so grand.”

Now as one of the kumu hula, she is the one taking her haumāna to the festival, shuttling more than 100 of them from their studio in Kapolei to Waikīkī. She said they are excited to return to the Nā Hula Festival in person.

“We've been virtual for quite some time, and to see festivals come back in person and to see the excitement from not only our dancers but from any community that wants to really just embrace hula and watch hula and enjoy it, that is just amazing,” she said. “Because I really think it's that that we need back in our lives again.”

The City and County of Honolulu’s Department of Parks and Recreation has organized the Nā Hula Festival since 1940. It celebrates the artistry and grace of hula.

Due to the pandemic, the event was canceled in 2020 and held virtually last year.

Samantha Sun has organized the festival since 2015. As a former hula dancer, she said she enjoys watching the hālau perform. They’re expecting about 1,000 attendees, she said.

“For us, it's important to organize the Nā Hula Festival because it is the longest running non-competitive hula festival in Hawaiʻi,” Sun said. “All of the hālau that participate have parks ties somehow. They either practice in our parks or their kumu came out of the parks… Parks is really a part of helping to keep hula alive when it wasn't so popular.”

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Jayna Omaye
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HPR
Larry De Rego of Hālau Hula ʻO Hokulani

The festival was also one of Hālau Hula ʻO Hokulani’s first performances, said Larry De Rego. He and his wife, the late Hokulani De Rego, founded the hālau in the mid-1980s. They have since passed the torch on to their daughters.

“And so, Hokulani, she's getting ready to chant, and she's so nervous. She says, ‘Can you stay by me, honey, can you please stay by me?’ But it turned out really well,” he said. “And it was the beginning of a lifetime of love of our culture. And we hope that we've spread it among all of our students and people we come in contact with.”

The free event will be held on Sunday, Aug. 7, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Kapiʻolani Park Bandstand. Performers include the Royal Hawaiian Band and several hālau.

Jayna Omaye is the culture and arts reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Contact her at jomaye@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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