In Love With Hula

Kumu hula Shane Kamakaokalani ‘Maka’ Herrod, who lives his passion for the Hawaiian culture, heads up the 2013 Kaua’i Mokihana Festival coming up Sept. 22-28

Kumu hula Shane Kamakaokalani “Maka” Herrod has a sincere appreciation for the Hawaiian culture and has dedicated his life to ensuring that the knowledge of his ancestors is passed on to future generations.

“It’s my responsibility to teach our children,” he says.

Herrod began teaching the ancient art of hula to keiki in 1992 when he formed Na Hui O Kamakaokalani. The halau continues to this day in Kapaa, where each Monday he teaches people of all ages and levels at First Hawaiian Church. He also has a kupuna class at Sun Village in Lihue. In fact, he recently entered his kupuna class into the Kamehameha

Hula Competition for the second year. The group came in third.

“It was really special,” says Herrod, whose mother (Juliette Aukai Kawahakui Herrod) was Hawaiian.

Each of his classes, including a weekly chant class, focuses on traditional and modern Hawaiian-style hula. Though he teaches people of all ages, he especially enjoys passing on the legacy to keiki.

“They’re the ones who will continue the tradition,” he says.

Watching beginners of all ages learn the art also is rewarding for Herrod.

“Their faces light up,” he says. “They’re not doing the motions correctly, but they’re just enjoying themselves. That’s payment for me.”

Herrod was drawn to Hawaiian dance and music as a child after one of his sisters brought him to her hula classes on Oahu, where he was born and raised. He quickly picked up the moves and teachings.

“That’s where I fell in love with hula,” recalls Herrod, who also regularly travels to Japan to teach the art form.

By age 11, Herrod began training formally at Iwalani School of Dance. At the time, however, hula was more of a way to entertain without much coaching, as far as background of the culture was concerned.

“I wanted to dive in more,” explains Herrod, who yearned for a greater knowledge of the traditional dance as well as the instruments used in performance. “I also wanted to put myself in the composer’s shoes and what their thoughts were when they were writing or creating that particular song.”

Herrod began visiting locations mentioned in chants and songs; he also delved into researching hula by visiting libraries and speaking with kupuna.

“I wanted to merge with the Hawaiian culture as much as possible,” he says.

Herrod continued to absorb the culture throughout the years. In the meantime, after graduating from Waialua High School in 1986, he attended trade school on Oahu, where he studied to be a travel agent. Shortly after acquiring his certificate, Herrod moved to Kaua’i not only because his family had a church in Koloa, but also because he “always wanted to live on the island.”

The Anahola resident landed a front-desk position at Kiahuna Plantation in Poipu, and acquired several different jobs from concierge to human resources within the hotel industry throughout the years. He eventually found his way to Ho’ola Lahui Hawaii – a community health center – where he served as human resources director. After several years on the job, he decided to branch out on his own and now is contracted independently by Kawaikini Public Charter School and others to help perpetuate the local culture by teaching Hawaiian music, history and everything else related to hula.

One of the things Herrod is most proud of achieving in his life was his official initiation as a kumu hula through the historic uniki ceremony. Several years ago, he was advised by colleagues to participate in the training to achieve traditional recognition and acknowledgement.

“They wanted to be sure that I am there at the same level; that people would respect me for who I am and what I love to do,” says Herrod, who also sings and plays ukulele.

He graduated from the ceremony in 2005.

“It was hard emotionally, spiritually, physically,” he says.

Learning ancient chants, such as ones that are executed on the floor, was no easy task.

“It’s a constant thing,” he explains. “You’re actually trying to perfect it.”

The performance at the end of the uniki to assure that the kumu hula are consistent in their practice was challenging, yet it was well-worth Herrod’s time and effort.

The Haleiwa native carries on this traditional knowledge not only through his classes, but with the annual Kaua’i Mokihana Festival, which is entering its 29th year this month. Herrod has participated in the festival since the mid-1990s, and took the reins from its founder, Nathan Kalama, four years ago.

The festival began as an all-kane (male) dance competition and then, more than a decade ago, it started to include women. One thing that has remained consistent in the competition is the use of implements or instrumental accessories. In fact, one of its more unique categories is where the dancers are invited to use an implement of their choice. Some people get really creative with the category, including using Pringles cans filled with objects to make noise.

There is a theme each year, and this year’s week-long celebration of local culture is titled “Year of Ola Pono Hawaii” (Hawaiian health).

When Herrod isn’t creating themes or preparing for the yearly festival, he likes to emcee various events across the island and is known to many as Boom Shaka Laka Maka.

He is a self-proclaimed “people person” and loves to make people laugh.

“I don’t like a boring party,” he says.

Herrod also is a family man and likes to spend time with wife Iwalani, a child protective services supervisor, with whom he has three children, Anuhea (19), Aulii (18) and Kalalea (13). Even though Iwalani also is of Hawaiian descent, she admits she didn’t identify with her native culture until she met her husband.

“But that’s our life now,” she says.

She found satisfaction in watching her children grow up with the language and culture instilled because of him.

“Hula is life to him,” she says. “He loves it.”

Herrod also loves watching his students excel and display the same level of passion about hula as he did growing up.

“When I see children or even visitors learning different things about hula, the language and our culture, it opens up a greater appreciation not only on their part, but on my part because I am fulfilled by educating them.”

Kaua’i Mokihana Festival will be held Sept. 22-28 at Kaua’i Beach Resort. Tickets are available at Vicky’s Fabrics in Kapaa, Kaua’i Beach Resort in Lihue and Kaua’i Music and Sound in Kapaa. Visit for more information.