George Naope performs at the 1982 Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo: “My type of dancing is not commercial. But it reflects the inner feeling; I guess it’s because I come from the old school…”
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“Hawaiian Heritage Culture Revue,” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Waikiki Shell, will feature a number of Hawaiian acts including the eminent George Naope and his Kona Gardens School of Hawaiian Arts.
Hawaii Talents International is presenting the evening of Hawaiian songs and dances, which also will feature:
- The Dela Cruz Brothers, with the Na Opio Koolau Dancers.
- Ka Ua Kilihune, spotlighting male hula, with Al Barcarse.
- The Nuuanu Brothers, blending Hawaiian and contemporary music with comedy.
- Kawai Liula Halau, led by Chiky Mahoe.
- Kimo Kahoano, master of ceremonies.
Tickets are $12 for reserved seats, $10 for the terrace section, and $8 for general admission. Tickets are available at the Neal Blaisdell Center box office and at STAR outlets.
Boone Morrison photos
George Naope: kumu from ‘the old school’
“I created my own style of dancing, years and years ago,” says George Naope, 58, a kumu hula from Kona and an acknowledged expert in hula kahiko (ancient or traditional hula).
“Over the years, my style hasn’t changed. Same thing, very traditional. So my dancers see all the things happening today, and they complain, ‘we look like old farts.’
“Sometimes, I see how hula has become commercialized—and it disgusts me,” he continues. “There are so many halaus now; so many kumu hulas. You know, my group is called the Kona Gardens School of Hawaiian Arts—notice, no ‘halau’ in the title—because there are far too many of ’em today. I finally changed mine to a haole name.”
Naope makes a rare Honolulu appearance with an entourage of 20 of his dancers, in a program entitled “Hawaiian Heritage Culture Revue,” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Waikiki Shell.
A purist who is unafraid of criticism, Naope will stage a rare dance—the dressing chant—on the Shell stage.
“My female dancers will enter the stage dressed in pareus, and will proceed to show how dancers get ready for the hula,” says Naope. “Now, I know this is going to offend a lot of kupunas—those who are 70 or older,maybe some even 60 years old—who are going to say, ‘Auwe, what is he trying to do!?’ This dressing chant is not usually done in public—usually within a halau only.
“However, I feel that it’s important to show the proper way to dress. I learned it early; and often, when you read books today, you only get the haole perspective—from the eye, not the heart.
“It’s very ceremonial—with chants about the leis for the hands and for the feet. I wanted the girls to appear nude—you know, with body suits—but I don’t want to be that controversial.
“We do things with authenticity and tradition. We use natural things indigenous to Hawaii; and we treat the ti leaf with great respect. For the Hawaiians, the ti leaf is sacred; it’s used as medicine, it’s used to ward off evil spirits, it’s used as an offering to Laka, the goddess of the hula.
“What offends me is how so many halaus misue the ti leaf; some use it as undergarments, can you imagine?
“My dancers treat the ti with No. 1 priority. I have the girls use three tiers of leaves for their skirts; for a skinny girl, it takes 320 leaves, and I insist that they strip them, almost hair-thin. It’s a lot of work, sure; but it’s traditional.
“It’s clear that Naope is a hula dancer; and a meticulous one at that. When he speaks, his hands engage in a furious dance, making a point, telling a story, animating what is in his heart, reflecting the essence of the mana’o inside.
As a co-founder of the Merrie Monarch festival in Hilo, Naope knows his turf. By choice, he adheres to largely educational ventures these days, often conducting lecture-demonstrations under auspices of the Kalihi-Palama Culture and Arts Society.
“My type of dancing is not commercial,”he admits—with a somewhat of an apologetic tone. “But it reflects the inner feeling; it reflects what my halau is all about. I don’t give shows for the malihini visitor, and I don’t do the hula for the all-mighty dollar.
“I guess it’s because I come for the old school, and I’m not tuned in to the new music. I started dancing at 4, and I formed my first halau in 1946. I’ve always shared with my students…
Two of Naope’s dancers perform kahiko at Kailua-Kona’s Huliheʻe Palace, Kamehameha Day, 1982: “Nobody was teaching kahiko because some people felt it was spooky. It was a dance that often was performed for the gods, and the feeling among some was that you going’ come crippled if you did the dances.
…what I’ve learned from the masters.”
To Naope, “Dance is one’s ability to create an innermost feeling. And tell a story about some aspect of your life.”
He remembers vividly what King Kalakaua, a supporter of the hula, once said. “Kalakaua has said that the hula is the language of the heart, and therefore the heartbeat of the Hawaiian people,” says Naope.
“Our chants tell the history of Hawaii—and no books ever can tell you more than what is transferred through dance, down the ages.
“Halaus all have different feelings—so you have different dances. So who’s to say what is right or wrong?
“I get frustrated, however, when I realize what there is quite a void in the hula kahiko of then and the dances of now. Kalakaua was such a lover of Hawaiian folklore, he encouraged chants and dances about all facets of life. Many of these dancers still live today, telling little stories about people.
“But there is a gap. There are no kahiko about the last world war, about the coming of the first airplane, about Waikiki and what it was like before the coming of the Coney Island spirit, about the first astronaut in space. We have lived through these events, and there are no chants to pass on telling these stories. One hundred years down the road, these things, these stories, should be part of the kahiko dances. But no more.”
Perhaps fear of criticism, says Naope, has prevented him from changing his style, adapting to modern influences. Instead, he’s adhered to “traditional” Hawaiian, with some attention to hula auwana (modern), but remaining a specialist in kahiko.
“I love the Cazimeros,” he says of Robert and Roland Cazimero’s Hawaiian music artistry, and also of Robert’s halau. Na Kamalei. “I like their dancing—it’s their style, of Hawaii today. They don’t claim to be authentic; they’re show people, and they’ve done a lot to expose Hawaiian dance.
“Me, I’m not as brave. I go see them, but I can’t do that kind of thing. There are others who have gone to other extremes, but you couldn’t pay me to go to see them.”
Now a resident of Napoʻopoʻo, Naope helped found he Merrie Monarch Festival “in an effort to bring back the kahiko and you seldom saw it performed in a hotel. Only time, would be at a uniki (graduation-type recital). Nobody was teaching kahiko, too, because some people felt it was spooky. It was a dance that often was performed for the gods, and the feeling among some was that you goin’ come crippled if you did the dances.”
His commitment to his halau keeps him busy. Today, his students reflect the cosmopolitan mix that has become Hawaii, “with Japanese, haoles, Chinese, Filipinos all interested in learning the hula. Even what I call the Geritol set—old-timers who want to learn,” says Naope.
“What’s frustrating is that you try very hard to pass on your knowledge, and you expect your students to carry on the traditional hula. To stay strictly Hawaiian, and to remember your roots.
“Hawaiians are the worst, though, Maybe that’s why old Hawaiian people die with their knowledge. It’s not the easiest thing to pass along. I feel that you cannot sell your knowledge; it’s meant to be given and shared.
“But young Hawaiians love change. They learn, but they are creative. I prefer to teach the Japanese, the haoles, the Filipinos, the other races—they learn, and they remember what they learn. They feel it’s important to learn from a Hawaiian—and I am pure Hawaiian—and they don’t take liberties. The Hawaiians tend to change almost as quickly as they learn. If they like one new movement today, tomorrow they change.
“But I’m young yet; I won’t give up. They don’t want me up there (he looks upwards) and they don’t want me down there (he points downwards). So I’m stuck over here, for now.”
[Does anyone know of any previous reference to King Kalakaua saying that hula was the the language of the heart and the heartbeat of the Hawaiian people?]
(Advertiser, 6/23/1983, p. D1)