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Living, Breathing Things Hawaiian

Bob Jones
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Wednesday - March 30, 2005
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The way the leader of San Diego’s Halau Hula Na Lei O Liana sees it, Hawaiians find it “economically better to live away from home. Today there are more Hawaiians living on the Mainland than there are living in Hawaii.”

Ke po‘o (teacher, a step down from a kumu or master) Liana Iona is back in her homeland this week with her dancers for the Merrie Monarch Festival.

Not as performers.

As watchers and learners.

Liana says: “In my halau we have people who are part Hawaiian and people who have no Hawaiian at all, but who have chosen to take the Hawaiian culture and embrace it. They have come to love the hula so much so that they live and breath all things Hawaiian and have become very good dancers.

“I decided to take a group of them to the Merrie Monarch Festival so they can see how hula is danced and taught in Hawaii, and that it is not so much different from what we learn. They will also be able to see the places that we dance about — the volcanos, Kona, Ka‘u, Akaka Falls.”

Liana is a Waimanalo and Palolo Valley native and Kaimuki High School grad (class of ’78) who moved to Hilo. She began studying under reknowned hula master George Naope. “He used to come over to my grandma’s house on Oluolu Street in Waimanalo to drink and play music, and I would go over to their house to watch his halau.”

Then Ray Fonseca opened a halau. “I was one of the five students he started with, practicing in a garage in Panaewa, and I stayed with him for a few years. It was my sister, me and three other girls, and the garage was at Aunty Lucille Waikiki’s house. Ray became very popular quickly and his halau began to grow fast. Before long, his was one of the halau everyone wanted to dance for. I was so proud to be with Uncle Ray and watch his halau grow.”

But she didn’t uniki (graduate) to get that kumu hula title.

Ten years later, Liana decided she need to give the Mainland a try. First San Francisco, then Los Angeles.

And then: “I discovered that San Diego was not much different from the Honolulu climate and decided to stay there and make it my home.

“I left Hawaii but Hawaii never left me. I still teach hula, play ukulele and sing. I found a place here where I can buy poi. Poi, can you imagine? It was like striking gold for me. They sell laulau, kalua pig, Portugese sausages. They’ve even got those red hot dogs they sell in Honolulu.”

She started her halau in 1999 after the Pacific Island Festival Association asked all the San Diego halau to dance as one big group representing Hawaii.

“At the end of the festival, most of the dancers went back to their own halau. One teacher held a kahiko (ancient hula) workshop, open to anyone who wanted to attend. At the end of that, there were dancers who didn’t belong to a halau where they could dance hula, but who wanted to learn. I was asked by the ke po‘o who did the work shop, Nahokuokalani Gaspang, to take those people and teach them. And so I took those students, two of whom are still with me today, and opened my own halau. I wanted to

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