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Hale Pulelehua
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The Founding of HPS

Hula Preservation Society was established in 2000 and grew out of an earnest desire to honor our eldest living hula masters and hear their mana`o on this cornerstone of our culture beloved by hundreds of thousands worldwide.

In 1998-1999, Maile Loo-Ching had been studying hula kahiko with Auntie Nona Beamer at her home in Puna, working on the chants and dances passed on through her family. As a natural course of training, they delved into the many types of ancient hula, from the standing, to the reclining and the seated, the animal forms, the implements created by our forebearers to help tell their stories, and the tales of our ali`i and sacred places.

Waimea Ranch Hotel, click for larger view
Photo taken in front of the Waimea Ranch Hotel before it was destroyed by fire in the 1950s. Click for larger image.

During one of these sessions, Auntie shared a tragic story that ultimately led to the birth of HPS. As a young child, Auntie was full of natural curiosity. Her grandmother, Helen Desha Beamer, never got impatient with her when she would want to know more about something. In her 30s, Auntie reflected on her own cultural path and began a documentation of the ancient hula types she herself had learned, seen, heard of, or read about in her life to that point. This research was being captured on butcher paper which lined the walls of her study at the Waimea Ranch Hotel where she was manager at the time. Over the course of several years, the walls had slowly filled with more and more invaluable research and reflections.

Tragically, one night the entire Hotel burned to the ground. Luckily, Auntie and her two young sons, Keola and Kapono, were staying with her parents that night at the Beamer Ranch nearby. They learned of the fire when her father Pono brought the boys down to school. All that was left were the cement entry stairs and the lobby fireplace. She recalls the sight of the fresh milk bottles on the stairs that the milkman had conscienciously delivered that morning. They laughed hysterically!

In the years hence, Auntie did not attempt to re-document her lost research. It had taken her years to get to that point, and it was heart-breaking to lose it so suddenly. In 1998, a young eager hula practitioner came along named Maile Loo-Ching. Armed with her technology background from Stanford University and personal interest in cultural preservation, they decided to work together using the tools of the digital age to see if the project could be reinitiated. With Aunties blessing, Maile began documenting and cataloging their hula discussions and time together, as a means of honoring the teaching legacy of one of Hawai`is most beloved kupuna Kumu.

One day, during a hula discussion at the dining room table, Auntie Nona asked a simple yet profound question, I wonder what my hula peers know about this (hula type)? In that moment, HPS was born. It grew organically out of a desire to come to know more about what our senior masters from different hula lines and families had seen, heard of, experienced, and learned in their lifetimes about the hula of old, from the time when Hawai`i was a sovereign land.

That was 2000. Since then, HPS work has expanded to include not only kupuna Kumu Hula, but elders of the same age range who studied with the late great masters but could not dedicate their lives to hula as their peers were able to do. Their stories are of equal value as they share first-hand accounts of hula from a time and with people that we ourselves can never directly know or experience. Today, the elders HPS works with are approximately half kupuna Kumu Hula, and half what we call Na Pua o Na Loea Hula, or children/offspring of the hula greats.

The efforts of HPS will never replace the direct learning between teacher and student that happens through hlau hula, or hula schools. These resources support that critical relationship and embrace the `olelo no`eau (wise saying) "`A`ohe pau ka `ike i ka halau ho`okahi", which translated means, "One can learn from many sources." HPS work joins us all together, providing unique cultural resources to enhance our knowledge and appreciation of Hawaiian cultural practices and traditions.

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