Experience the colorful culture of Polynesia this weekend during the 15th annual Heiva I Kauai. Join world-class Tahitian musicians, dancers and crafters of all ages from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 6 and 7 at Kapaa Beach Park.
The festival originally was established to perpetuate and promote Polynesian culture’s influence in Hawaii, with dance and drumming competitions by artists from around the Islands, as well as from the Mainland and Japan.
“We wanted to create a quality event for Tahitian dancers and drummers to perform and compete — an opportunity for the next generation of Polynesian entertainers to show talent and develop expertise and self-confidence in music, dance, choreography, costume design and overall presentation,” says event founder Tepairu Manea.
Originally from Papeete, Tahiti, Manea is a multi-talented artist. He crafts drums and instruments, and also creates detailed designs as a wood carver. He has taught Tahitian drumming to keiki and adults throughout the state and Saipan, and his passion is to spread his knowledge to future generations so that they can carry on Hawaii’s Polynesian legacy.
“It’s heritage,” he says. “It’s my life.”
A Tahitian festival had not existed on Kauai when the inaugural event launched in 2002. Manea was determined to change that. Stella Miyoshi recruited him, along with several others, to form the event’s original committee – Olinda Higashi, Linda Summers, Julie and Coco Kaneali‘i, Judy Ta‘afuli and Auntie Louise Marston.
Heiva I Kauai continues strongly today, drawing around 2,000 attendees each year. The competition’s popularity is thanks largely to a “welcome, friendly atmosphere,” says Pat Finberg, media coordinator.
Still, plenty of entertainment and shopping (more than 40 vendors are expected this year) are among the many reasons people keep coming back. No matter what draws attendees, they will leave with a new sense of appreciation for the “rigorous physical requirements to perform dance and drumming,” says Finberg.
They’ll also feel the fiery enthusiasm of the crowd, which includes members of competitors’ families as well as their friends, and witness the pride that radiates from the artists because of the acknowledgment.
“It is very inspiring to see these performers develop, build self-esteem, grow, learn and be inspired by other participants,” says Finberg.
It’s also an opportunity to learn more about how early Polynesian settlers’ culture influenced Hawaii. Lauhalaand coconut-frond weaving, woodcarving, lei making and fire knife dancing are among the many Polynesian arts experts will share.
This year’s competitors include Tava Nui from Maui, Tuamotu Api from Oahu, Tunui’s Royal Polynesians, and Ia Ora O Tahiti Nui led by Hawaii drummer Kevin Kama. The award-winning Tahitian dance group from Honolulu, Te Vai Ura Nui, will perform both days, and solo dancers ages 4 to 40 and older also will abound.
Manea, who grew up speaking Tahitian, is particularly excited about the quality of the drumming this year, as experts from Maui and Oahu will participate and several new group competitors have joined in.
Even though it’s challenging to put together such a grand event every year, Manea says it’s always rewarding to see the joy it creates as it brings people together in celebration.
Finberg looks forward to seeing the performers’ hard work come to fruition. “There is so much that goes into performing — it is so moving to see and feel the performers’ pride, enthusiasm and pure joy,” she says. “Everyone is smiling …”
She’s also excited because it’s always been a place where you can see old friends, eat “ono local home cooking” and support local crafters. “Tahitians know how to celebrate,” she says.
Tickets cost $6 at the gate. Children under age 6 are admitted free. Visit heivaikauai.com for more information.