All Things Tahitian

Tepairu Manea, with wife Sally, might as well be Tahiti's ambassador to Kaua'i. The maker of all these traditional instruments hosts the 10th Heiva I Kaua'i Aug. 6 and 7

It was here on the Garden Isle that Tahiti native Tepairu Manea connected with his roots.

Manea, co-founder and president of the nonprofit Heiva I Kaua’i Iorana Tahiti, was born in Tahiti but raised in the Cook Islands and in New Caledonia. But it wasn’t until 1993, when he witnessed a Tahiti Fete at what is now the Aloha Beach Resort in Kapa’a, that he felt compelled to learn everything about his culture he had missed by growing up elsewhere.

“I got hooked and pulled in late,” Manea says. “It was pretty exciting to be able to see part of my culture. The whole weekend had this competition, dancing and drumming.”

It was the latter that really spoke to Manea, a drum and instrument maker since 1996 who crafts everything by hand from puniu and toere drums to the largerthan-life pahu in his Wailua workshop.

Tahitian music and dance is all about having fun. Mike Teruya photo

“That is how I started to, at 38, learn my culture,” Manea says, “and it’s a beautiful culture, yeah?”

Though home for Manea is on Kaua’i he wasn’t exposed to as much Tahitian culture elsewhere and is grateful to have learned it here sharing that knowledge with Garden Island residents is really what makes his heart and that of wife Sally Jo beat in sync.

This will mark the 10th year they’ve helped put on the Heiva I Kaua’i Iorana

Tahiti, which kicks off at 9 a.m. Aug. 6 and continues Aug. 7 at 8:30 a.m. at Kapa’a Beach Park.

Sally Jo, who met her husband in 1984 in Tahiti (she traveled there to paddle canoe) admits she wasn’t that excited about Tahitian dancing and drumming until she married Tepairu, but now that she’s experienced it, there is nothing in the world that compares.

Tepairu and Sally Jo Manea make music together. Amanda C. Gregg photo

“It is fast moving, colorful and exciting,” she says. “You can’t keep still when you hear those drums.”

For Manea, getting closer to his heritage began back in 1995 with drum lessons by Carlos Tuia, who started years of instruction with a monthlong visit to Wailua.

“He is one of the best drummers from Tahiti,” Manea says, noting that he couldn’t afford to stay long when he would travel to Tahiti to study.

“Sharing the knowledge is not easy,” he says.

Following that, Cynthia Lambrige asked Manea to put a halau together.

“I said, ‘I only have a little knowledge about drumming,’ as I was just starting to make drums,” he recalls.

Manea, who at the time was working in construction, decided he would focus more on drum-making. While the exciting part for him was traveling and meeting people, the cost of doing business began to set in once the airlines started charging more money for transporting his drums.

Tepairu Manea with some of the instruments he’s made. Amanda C. Gregg photo

Probably a better artist and living legacy than businessman (he doesn’t keep count of how many Hawaiian and Tahitian instruments he makes, for example), Manea says drum-making has served what he is most passionate about: teaching and creating.

“I got to be the ambassador of my culture on this island,” he says, “and I got to write songs.”

Manea has traveled to the Neighbor Islands including Lana’i to teach a group he assembled called Tana Tea Nui o Lanai. But he prefers teaching the students from Kaua’i’s West and South sides in his group Tana Tea Nui o Kauai because it allows him to more easily monitor their progress.

“It’s how I know that it is working,” he says. “I think it is good for the community that I’m able to help. No matter who you are, if you want to learn this culture, you’re welcome. No restrictions.”

Smiles are contagious. Mike Teruya photos

It’s with that ideology that the Maneas hope knowledge of Tahitian culture will thrive onisland.

“Our mission with the heiva is to keep the culture going,” Sally Jo says. “In order to do that we need to train the younger ones, so we provide the opportunity with our competition and festival for groups and solos to come.”

This year marks the heiva’s 10th anniversary, and the logo is made up of tiare blossoms (Tahitian gardenia) a metaphor for passing on knowledge to younger generations.

“Children are of the flowers of culture,” she says. “We are growing the garden.”

The festival provides the venue for the next generation to “show their stuff year after year,” says Sally Jo, adding that there is nothing like watching keiki grow up and “flower,” especially when the children of those children continue the legacy.

One blossoming example of Tahitian talent is homegrown Kapa’a boy Nick Kaneakua and his Ori Uvira, who took the championship last year.

Dancers young and not so young will perform

“It was so good that he is from here because for so long we didn’t have any champion on Kaua’i,” Manea says.

Now a teacher, Kaneakua was 15 when he started Tahitian dance. He won as a soloist at one of Kaua’i’s Tahiti fete competitions in 1999, and in 2009 won first place in his division.

This year’s event promises some of the same excitement, including a return of Kaneakua and guest performances by Oahu champion Te Vai Ura Nui (who was the 2008 overall winner of Heiva I Honolulu and first place in 2010 for Mamaru’au Ahupurotu) performing Otea, Aparima and Ahuroa dances, and Tahitian solo and group dance and drumming competitions. Of course, drumming by Manea also will be one of the highlights, along with getting to experience firsthand the hip-swinging pulse that beats with all those participating.

“Tahitians love music and love to dance and have a good time,” Sally Jo says. “They smile and laugh readily, and it is great to be around them they have a love of life that is contagious.”

Tahitian dance is always colorfu

The 10th annual Heiva I Kaua’i is Aug. 6 and 7 at Kapa’a Beach Park and includes Tahitian dance and drumming competitions, Polynesian arts and crafts, local food and coconut-husking contests.

Aug. 6:

* 9 a.m.: Welcoming ceremony starts the festivities, gates open.

* 10 a.m.: Solo competition including traditional Otea vahine and tane, for junior, senior and master (age 26+) divisions.

Afternoon: Group competition, including Otea, Aparima, Ahuroa and Tahitian drumming. (Schedules will be adjusted to accommodate the number of entries.)

Aug. 7:

* 9 a.m.: Gates open.

* 10 a.m.: Group competition continues, workshops are offered to the public for Tahitian drumming and dance.

Afternoon: Drumming competition, solo, group and drumming award presentations.

Cost is $5 a day at the door, free for children age 6 and under. To learn more, go to