Students share Hawaiian history and culture at annual spring lu`au
Skye Matsuura ’18 stood facing hundreds of students, faculty and staff members, neighbors, and friends gathered in Memorial Fieldhouse for the 48th Annual Spring Lu`au and shouted, “CHEEEEEEHOOOOOO!!!!!!!”
Inviting the crowd to echo each syllable back to her, Skye taught audience members the enthusiastic Hawaiian cheer of approval so they could show their support to the evening’s dancers in the same way locals would on the islands. But really, she was giving them a lesson in the aloha spirit.
Presented by Puget Sound’s Hawai`i student club, Ka `Ohana me ke Aloha, the lu`au is one of the largest celebrations of Polynesian culture in Washington state and features a Hawaiian dinner and a stage show with traditional dances from Pacific Ocean peoples. Not only a delicious buffet and entertaining evening, the event is an opportunity for Hawaiian students to share their cultural history with friends, professors, and the community.
“My goal was to tell the story of Hawai`i and of Hawai`i’s leaders,” says Amber Odo ’19, who serves as president of Ka `Ohana me ke Aloha and helped organize the lu`au. She and her team selected the event’s theme, “Ho`ohanohano I Na Mo`olelo I Na Ali`i,” nearly a year ago, shortly after the 2017 lu`au. Meaning “To Honor the Stories of the Ali`i,” the theme reflects the importance of sharing not only the beauty of Hawaiian song and dance, but its significance.
Amber grew up on Oahu, where she began dancing hula at the age of 4. She wanted those participating in the event, especially the dancers, to understand the meaning and context of what they were doing. “We encouraged our dance teachers to talk about each song with their dancers, explain what it’s about, who it’s for, why it was written.”
Ancient Hawaiians, relying on songs, or mele, to pass their stories from generation to generation, used lyric and movement to tell of Hawai`i’s gods and heroes, traditions, and customs. With the arrival of American missionaries and others of European descent, hula was banned and the performance of these songs and dances was relegated to secrecy or abandoned altogether. It was members of the ali`i, Hawai`i’s ruling class, thought to be descended from the gods, who restored the regular practice of Hawaiian culture and reintroduced hula to the Hawaiian people.
Throughout the evening, Skye and alumnus Kawehi Marshall ’83 introduced each dance with details of its origin and meaning. “With lu`au, people start to get a better idea of the place that we come from,” Amber says. “Back at home, it’s all about the aloha spirit, being very friendly and welcoming. We want to spread that up here, too.”