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The Hawaiian Renaissance by George S. Kanahele
May 1979

While dance and music enjoy the highest visibility, there has been great interest shown in other arts and crafts of Hawaii-nei. Take, for example, featherwork, which the ancient Hawaiian craftsmen did more skillfully and beautifully than any other Polynesians. 40 years ago it was virtually extinct except for a few practitioners such as Johanna Cluney. But in recent years several thousand people have taken up the lost art. Mrs. Mary Louise Kekuewa and her daughter Paulette have taught more than 2,000 students since they organized their first classes eight years ago. Imagine, in one year they'll purchase as much as $10,000 worth of feather for their classes alone. [And that ain't chicken fee--or feathers either.] Mrs. Kekuewa, who just last year published the first book on how to make feather leis, states that in her 24 years of featherwork she has never seen so many people involved in learning the art.

Another example in the art field is the dramatic emergence of another Renaissance organization, Hale Nauä III, made up of Hawaiian artists. Set up in 1976, they have already made an impression on the community through their exhibits culminating in their recent Bishop Museum show. Since it was the first time in the 90-year old museum's history that a contemporary exhibit was allowed in its halls, it means something. I don't know exactly what, from the museum's point of view at least, but I think it has given credence to the Society's claims that they are Hawaiian artists who produce Hawaiian art imbued with a Hawaiian feeling. Although one can certainly argue this point--after all, the world view of the ancient Hawaiian artists was much different from contemporary Hawaiian artists, no matter what we may say--what's important is their belief that their art is an expression of their Hawaiian identity.

Another manifestation of the Renaissance is in sports, which was such a huge part of the life of ancient Hawaiians. We all know what has happened to the sport of Hawaii's kings--surfing. It was nearly dead by the turn of the century but by the 1960s surfing had not only become the number one water sport in Hawaii, but had also become an international craze. Incidentally, next to Hawaiian music, surfing is the only other aspect of Hawaiian culture that has been so widely accepted around the world.

More than surfing, canoe racing is a product closer to the Renaissance. With more than 50 clubs and 10,000 members, canoe racing is flourishing today. Hui Wa'a fast overtaking the HCRA as the number one canoe organization with 21 clubs on 3 islands was only organized in 1974. In the words of its founder Joseph Stu Kalama, Sr., its major purpose is "to maintain and perpetuate canoe racing (as a part) of Hawaiian culture."

An additional boost to the sports revival came a couple of years ago when island high schools organized the first canoe racing league.

All this stand in stark contrast to that bleak time not too many decades ago, when the only koa racing canoe gathered dust in the Bishop Museum.

Of course, one canoe stands alone, the Hokule'a. Its successful voyage to Tahiti and back is one of the most singular achievements to happen during the Hawaiian Renaissance because it symbolized one of the greatest accomplishments of the Polynesians. It was an extraordinary feat by any definition. I don't want to be too hard of Pierre Bowman, but this is hardly "scant evidence" of a renaissance taking place.

One of the most fundamental givens of a culture is its language, and no culture can long survive, let alone achieve a renaissance, without its language being spoken and understood. I can remember when people said and when I said it, too, the Hawaiian language is dying. We know its' been dying for a long time. When Kaunamano established his Hawaiian language newspaper in 1861--the first native Hawaiian to do so--he was afraid it was dying too. And only last year, Leslie Kuloloio of Wailuku, Maui told a congressional hearing that the Hawaiian language is an "endangered species," when less than 1 percent of the state's estimated 30,000 Hawaiian children are able to speak it.

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