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Thursday, September 27, 2001

Thursday was for real Hawaiian dance.

We began the day lazily. After sleeping late, we headed towards Hanalei. We poked around here and there along the way, stopping at a few art galleries, looking at Tahitian pearls (you can get a necklace for a mere $10,000), decided NOT to buy Tahitian pearls (unless I can get a jeweler's discount on raw pearls), bought some gifts, had a Bubba's Burger, tried shave ice (not shaved ice), and went back to the condo.

From there we headed towards the first Hula contest -- you remember, one of the main reasons we came here.

Now, this is something. This was definitely not "Hey, were you from? California? Well, this Hula goes out to you, baby" like Smith's lu'au. This was genuine, powerful.

Even the very first boy (left) that came out, who was extremely nervous, forgetting some of his chant and some of his steps, was worth the trip in itself.

Each solo or group came out and began with a chant asking for permission to approach the stage. Their teacher usually was on another stage and, since this was the night for traditional Hula (tomorrow is modern hula), he usually played a drum made out of a carved coconut trunk. The drum had a dumbbell shape and was played by slapping it with fingers or with the hand, for sharp percussive notes, or was thumped on a pad on the ground, for the deep, booming notes.

There are several kinds of chants sung by Hawaiians, but those used for the Hula usually consisted mostly of a single note, or, rarer, 2 or three notes. If there was more than one chanter, and if any harmonies were present they were usually simple thirds, or the brilliant fifths. Rarely, the moderate fourth was used, or, rarer still, a note or two of minor thirds. The difference between a simple chant sung with one note, using vocal inflections, versus a band playing minor and diminished chords is stunning. The first is powerful, primal, moving. The second, unless done with a lot of attention to musicianship, with the right style of music, and with control over a minimalistic delivery, is cheap and tawdry. The first is Keats. The latter is Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs.

The performances ranged from kids to young adults, from solo to groups of over a dozen (middle picture). The costumes were compelling -- no plastic flowers to be found anywhere. From the opening ceremony to the last performance, everyone involved cared about the art and culture on display.

The performace did start late, and ran later. Some performances were less exciting, having a minimum of movement and occuring late in the evening. One performance had what would have been a show-stopping accident in another venue. No, I won't tell you what the accident was in the BLOG. But in this venue, art and caring won out.

The information about the celebration has certainly been thin, and often wrong, though. We've missed several events this week because we simply didn't know about them. Tonight was supposed to be solo performances, so we were told. When we arrived, we found that solos were on Saturday, long after we will be on our way back. Fortunately, videos will be available of everything.

Tomorrow should be rather hectic and, according to some people we met that suggested the activity we're going to do tomorrow morning, it should also be rather exciting. If we get back in time, we'll tell you all about it in tomorrow's BLOG.

I can definitely recommend the festival, if you're about to plan your vacation for Hawaii.