Going Native On The North Shore
Members of the newest Hawaiian civic club, Ahahui Kiwila Hawaii O Moikeha, are “Keeping the Culture Alive” at this year’s May Day by the Bay. The annual celebration, where Hawaiiana prevails, happens May 14 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Waioli Beach Park at Hanalei Bay. “The idea was to bring world-class music and hula to Kauai,” says Julie Kanealii, one of the club’s founding members, regarding why the event originally started in 1981.
Doug Chang and Kuulei Cooper, founders of the event, were responsible for bringing a mix of Hawaiian musicians to different Princeville locations, beginning with the Hanalei Bay Resort, each year until 1993. It wasn’t until 2011 that a group of citizens, including Kanealii, yearned to bring the experience back to Kauai. Since then, she helped form the island-wide civic club which has committed to hosting the North Shore celebration each year — where the native culture is paid tribute to through music, dance and a number of other participatory activities including konane and lauhala weaving.
“Instead of just bringing more entertainment to the North Shore, which we don’t get a lot of, we thought it would be great to create this whole family environment day that the residents would enjoy attending as well as the visitors to learn more about the culture,” says Kanealii.
“It’s harder and harder now to find people who are in their small way keeping the culture alive.”
When Kanealii first moved to the island in the early 1980s, she was lucky enough to hear Brothers Cazimero play in Hanalei.
“And I immediately had chickenskin,” she says.
That was the beginning of her cultural voyage that has continued to sail since that moment. Not only has she studied Hawaiiana through reading, she finds connections within her family including her adult children, Alicia (who also volunteers for the club) and Russell Leong, who are part-Hawaiian. Her husband “Koko,” to whom she has been married 20 years, is also of Hawaiian descent. He has served as May Day by the Bay’s emcee for many years, including during the 1980s and ’90s.
“I am very much pulled to the Hawaiian culture,” says Kanealii, who owns Makamae Weddings with Koko, who is also an ordained minister. “It’s never been separate for me.”
Originally from Oregon, Kanealii moved to Maui with her family in 1975 during her senior year of high school. Needless to say, it was difficult leaving her friends behind.
“I cried the entire way over,” says Kanealii who graduated from Lahainaluna High School.
But she ended up falling in love with Hawaii, especially Kauai, where she landed seven years later.
“I just absolutely love it. I really feel like this is home. I’ve really made a great life here,” she says. “I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”
That’s one reason why it’s been so easy for her to find meaningful ways of giving back to the community.
“I’m a doer — I like to do. I don’t just like to sit on the sidelines. I like to be a part of things,” she says.
She’s excited to expand the duties of the Hawaiian civic club, which was named after one of the first Alii Aimoku of Kauai (Moikeha). Workshops like teaching kupuna how to navigate the latest computer technology are among the many ways the 28 founding members have sought to help members of the community.
They’re also dedicated to helping folks find a larger platform for important issues and to have a voice in the legislature regarding topics such as native rights and housing.
“We definitely have issues on this island that we’d like to shed the light on,” says Kanealii.
The group also is looking forward to presenting Ka Moku O Manokalanipo Paani Makahiki, Feb. 4, 2017, at Waimea Athletic Field. The event mimics the Lono banner that would travel to each ahupuaa around the island, collecting taxes and tributes for the chief. The first year of the celebration, which features 10 Hawaiian games, was held in 2014 in Hanalei, the following year in Kapaa, and this year, Koloa. It’s one of many ways the club hopes to bring people closer to the native culture.
“We all want to connect to something bigger than ourselves, so I think it’s important to perpetuate it,” says Kanealii.
May Day by the Bay will offer shuttle services from Waioli Town Park. Admission costs $5 and is free for keiki under 5. Visit moikeha.org for more information.