Bringing The Sounds Of Tahiti To Kaua‘i

Sophia Rivera dances at
the ’07 festival

Nobody gets more stoked by the sound of Tahitian drums – the pahu, fatete and toere – than Tepairu Manea, co-founder and president of the nonprofit, all-volunteer Heiva I Kaua`i Ia Orana Tahiti, now in its ninth year.

Loosely translated, the title of the festival means “the event on Kaua`i that welcomes Tahiti.” It happens this weekend, July 31 and Aug. 1, at Kapa`a Beach Park. Gates open at 9 a.m., with Tahitian dance and drumming competition starting at 10 and running all day.

The drums get inside you. It happened to Manea.

For many years, Manea says, he’d pretty much lost contact with his culture – he’s Tahitian and Cook Islander by heritage, born in Tahiti, raised in New Caledonia, married to an American and living on Kaua`i. About two decades ago he attended the Kaua`i Tahiti Fete, a festival no longer in existence.

Manea recalls saying to himself, “This is beautiful. I don’t pay attention to my culture.”

A construction worker by trade, he began making Tahitian drums, listening to recordings that taught him rhythms from which he learned to hear how to tune his drums as he made them.

“My first drum was ugly,” he says, standing among a variety of his pahu, fatete and toere in varying stages of completion. “I knew it was going to take me some time to get good.

“It took me about eight years to learn. I’m the first Tahitian who lives here and can make instruments.”

The drum man: Tepairu Manea

For a long time, the drum making was enough – that and playing them and teaching others how to drum, and visiting the annual Tahiti Fete. But he realized he wanted more.

“I was just looking from the outside,” says Manea, explaining his visits to Tahiti Fete.

When the Kaua`i Tahiti Fete ceased, many felt the loss. A friend, Stella Miyoshi, suggested Manea start a new festival – they co-founded the Heiva, with Miyoshi as vice president.

Manea lights up when he talks about this year’s program that welcomes five pupu ori, as halau are called in Tahitian. Among them will be two young, gifted choreographers, cousins who hail from Kaua`i and who studied with “Tetu” Kamenui, now deceased.

“He was one of the best Tahitian choreographers in the world,” says Manea of Tetu. “Those two guys danced for him – they’re the next generation of the big stars.”

The two are Nick Kaneakua, kumu of the Kapaa-based pupu ori Ori Uvira. The other is Kaneakua’s cousin, Kamuela Hepa, who choreographs for and dances with the Lihue-based ori Tamatea Nui O Kaua`i. This marks the group’s first appearance at the Heiva.

“Each year,” says Manea, “I like to have the Heiva grow and benefit the island. How would you have a show with only one pupu ori?

“I feel it’s important to give something new. This year, I’m teaching Ilima Rivera how to drum so she can participate in any other event, not just ours.”

Rivera is going into her fifth year of volunteering with the Heiva I Kaua`i Ia Orana Tahiti. She began by performing music, then collaborating with her friends Lahapa Santiago and Kaua`iki Olores in their halau.

Tepairu Manea and Ilima Rivera

“It wasn’t a solo, I just wanted to dance for fun with three of my daughters, to support them,” says Rivera, a composer, recording artist, kumu hula and entertainer. She’s also supported the festival by entering students from her halau in the Heiva competition.

Growing up in a musical family headed by her father Larry Rivera, Ilima says she hadn’t danced Tahitian since her days with him at the Coco Palms. When her father and sisters saw her dance Tahitian at the Heiva, she says, “They were like, ‘All right, Ilima, you get ’em!'”

Manea is teaching Tahitian drumming to Rivera, two of her daughters and two other peopleshe teams with in her halau. This year, she’ll drum for the Heiva.

“Whatever Manea wants, we’re there to support him,” she says. “Everybody should help each other in the community, supporting each other with halaus.”

Last year, Manea helped the group that Hepa choreographs. His kumu, Wailana Dasalia, wanted her halau to learn Tahitian drumming and Manea pitched in, watching as she and her halau made their drums and she taught them Tahitian dance.

“That’s one of the biggest halau competing this year,” says Manea.

In addition to competition and exhibition performances, the Heiva will also feature multi-cultural exhibition dancing, singing and crafts.

Vendors will have an array of items from south and western Pacific islands for sale, and among them, you’ll find Manea, along with his hand-crafted drums and a coterie of drummers and friends, all getting into the groove.

You can get a taste of it with some hands-on right there.

Says Manea, “You don’t have to be Tahitian to learn Tahitian drumming. It’s open to anybody.”

Heiva entry is $5 per day; children ages 6 and younger are free. It’s supported in part by the Hawaii Tourism Authority and the County of Kaua`i. For information on the Heiva or drumming lessons, call 822.9447 or go online at

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