Learning from Hula

Last October, I had a great opportunity to be an interpreter for Kumu (Teacher) Hula Leina'ala and for Japanese students.   They had an advanced workshop here on Kauai and most of the students were Hula Sensei or Sensei-to-be in Japan.  It was funny that many people were calling "Sensei" each other.  They called me Sensei, and I called them Sensei.   They were staying with Kumu and went all over the island while taking lessons of hula from Kumu.


At the very beginning I met them, one of the aunties I know, told me,

"Oh, Sensei, you are a brave man!"

I didn't understand it and asked her, "Why?".

She explained that I was brave because I was a only man in the total of 17 beautiful ladies group. "No worry, auntie. I'm not brave, but a priest. Nothing is going to happen"


Of course, nothing happened, but I felt lucky many many times while spending time with 17 ladies. One of the luckiest moments was the Kumu took us to the Laka Heiau which was believed to be the birthplace of hula.   I have wanted to visited there for a long time and I finally made it thanks to Kumu.   In addition, there were amazing performances at the Laka Heiau. Kumu chanted and one of her students danced for Laka, which gave me deep impression.  Anyway I felt I was lucky many times because I had an opportunity to learn hula by translating what Kumu said into Japanese.


The lesson was quite simple but very powerful since Kumu chanted in Hawaiian words. Kumu said original lyrics in Hawaiian and then students took notes words by words.  Then Kumu translated these Hawaiian words into English and I translated English meanings into Japanese. It was my first experience to know the meanings of Hawaiian songs. Lyrics are beautiful like pictures. They sing of mountains, rivers, ocean, and flowers around us. It was very interesting that each gesture/motion had its own source of image.   Kume often told students that "Imagine its original meaning while dancing."


In the beginning, Hawaiian chantings were all Greek to me, but I was able to imagine some images of nature while they were dancing and chanting in Hawaiian.  As I learned, I found Hawaiian Chanting and Hula was very attractive, beautiful, and spiritually powerful because it was chanted in the original Hawaiian Way.   I found the Hawaiian language very interesting because I had an opportunity to learn.  I'm just a beginner but I enjoy knowing the words of chanting in Hawaiian. I still don't know grammar of Hawaiian language at all, but just knowing the meaning of the original words make difference.


Surprisingly, they say there are over one million people who are now learning hula in Japan. There is very interesting fact about translations.  As for Buddhist Services, I know some Americans feel nonsense to chant it in Japanese.   They want it in American way by using English.   But Japanese people are not complaining that they cannot understand Hawaiian words, rather they want to do it in the original way, because they feel chanting is more than meaning.   Japanese don't want hula and chant done in Japanese way.  They want to try to accept them as Hawaiian do.  


I know there are some barriers and gaps among languages, cultures, and religions, but the most important thing is whether you truly want to learn it or not.   If you sincerely wish to learn it,  the cultural barrier should not be the issue. But if you have your own barrier toward other cultures/religions, there are little you can learn because of your own barrier.   So try to take your own barriers off.     If you can take your own barriers off, and then a brandnew world is just in front of you.   There is always something you can learn if you don't have a barrier.



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